Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Integrity

The reality is....  I want to be liked.

There.  I've typed it.  I want to be liked.

Now, I'm generally confused, frankly, when it turns out that I am well-liked.  I'm a thoroughly ordinary person and not someone anyone would ever describe as "warm," but apparently, I'm likable.  And I like being liked.

Even more confusing, though, is when I'm not liked.  This is true when the reasons that I am not liked are not readily apparent to me.  It is even more so when the reasons I am not liked are totally apparent to me.

Yesterday, I found out that someone who had previously liked me, likes me no longer.

And I am not, in any way, discussing romantic interest here.

I was un-friended on Facebook.

And I cried.

Now, I regularly go through my list of Facebook friends and remove people.  This, however, is a result of not having had any contact with them in 3 or 4 years, not receiving their status updates in my newsfeed because I never look at their page, and the fact that when they get married and change their last name, I don't notice, because I've forgotten what their maiden was in the first place.

Psychologists posit that human beings are incapable of maintaining active friendships with more than 200 people.  This strikes me as fascinating as I cannot manage active friendships with even 20 people.  My definition of friendship, however, is extremely specific, and whereas most people might call someone they've met a few times and whose name they struggle to remember a "casual acquaintance," if I'm not inclined to spend time with you one-on-one outside of work, school, church, or any other defined context where we are forced into one another's presence, no matter how much I might like you, enjoy your company, and delight in you as a person, you're an acquaintance.

I have approximately 35 friends.  I have closer to 250 acquaintances.

And so it happened recently, that I had a chance to spend some time with a few acquaintances, who for reasons of geography I had not yet met in person.  It seemed, initially, that they all had friend potential.

And as we were hanging out, a few of these individuals began verbally attacking another person who is, in fact, a very dear friend of mine.

Now, my immediate desire was to respond.

The problem is, as anyone who knows me can attest, I have a voice.

Yes, I am loud.  But it's more about tone.  And how I carry myself when I speak.  There is a definiteness to my speech that leads some to see me as arrogant when I talk about topics I enjoy.  When that voice, however, is directed at a specific person, and its a voice of displeasure....Well, it's been known to cause people to dissolve into tears and leave their self-esteem in tatters.

And because these were acquaintances who, I had thought, had friend potential, I chose the next best course of action.

I withdrew.

"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," my mother, kindergarten, and various facets of society have drilled into me.

So, I said nothing.  Because what I wanted to say was far from nice.

I felt, however, that some response was demanded.  Not a single person present seemed interested in addressing what had happened, and I felt it needed to be acknowledged for what it was.  So, I sent the group a collective message, privately, on Facebook.

It read as follows (with minor changes):

Dear All:

I was rather dismayed that dinner Saturday night turned into an hour-long character assassination of one of your office mates.

It was quite disheartening to see this side of your personalities.

I have not known this individual as long as any of you, nor, as you know, do I work in the same office. However, I have developed a rapport with this person, and we have talked about various topics outside of work.

In the times we've spoken, your group has been mentioned at most 2-3 times. In those brief mentions, when any of your names has been mentioned, this person has never spoken ill of any of you.  This person has, actually, spoken quite highly of all of you.

I was incredibly disappointed to learn that away from work you are all individuals of such poor character. I expected far better from each from you.

I wish you all luck on your continued life journeys, and I genuinely hope the behavior I witnessed Saturday night was a complete and utter aberration.

Sincerely,
Me

Now this, to me, was straightforward, honest, truthful, and still very kind.  Particularly when compared to my initial reaction, squelched at dinner, which included telling each one of them what fuckbag assholes I consider them to be.  I chose not to go that route.  (And people think I don't have a verbal filter!  If only they knew....)

It is the case that I was disappointed.  It is the case that I expected far better from each of them.  It is the case that the behaviors they exhibited did lead me to question not only their professionalism in their jobs, but their character as well.

It is also the case that thinking of them as fuckbag assholes was purely reactionary and I actually respect each of them too much to call them such names in a moment of anger.  Thus, I retreated and chose to address it at a later date, in a more adult fashion.

And then, I was un-friended by one of them.  Un-friended for reminding someone of the first rule of kindergarten:  If you can't something nice, don't say anything at all.

My sister has a sign on her refrigerator door.  It implores people to THINK before they speak:

Is it:
True?
Helpful?
Inspiring?
Necessary?
Kind?

If what you have to say does not meet at least two of these criterion, best to say nothing at all.

Calling people fuckbag assholes is not true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, or kind.

Telling people their decision to verbally eviscerate someone, who is not present and cannot defend themselves, is speaking truth.  It's necessary.  And I believe it's kind to all involved.  Is it helpful or inspiring?  If they make kinder choices in the future, maybe.

But even if no one else gets anything out of it, I know that I chose to act with integrity.  And if that costs me an acquaintance or two....well, at least I know who my true friends are, and that I myself have acted as true friend, in accordance with my beliefs.

And that matters more.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Big Bang....Wait. What?

Thanks to a very dear friend, I have a new addiction.  It goes by the name "The Big Bang Theory."  And it's hilarious.

For the most part.

It's also incredibly difficult to watch at times.

It's about a group of socially awkward physics geniuses.

Now, I did not enjoy the study of physics.  It simply was not in my limited area of interest.  But I am, in my own right, a socially awkward genius.

And while watching Leonard moon over Penny, and Raj freeze up and go mute in the presence of women, and seeing Howard use cheesy and grossly inappropriate pick-up lines in the hopes of attracting women is comical, watching Sheldon try to engage other people in his daily life....well, it's like watching myself.

The spot on the couch that is his--that he's painstakingly chosen because of cross-currents and angle to the television--and his inability to function when someone else sits there is just too much like real life.  I've had total meltdowns before when someone sat in "my spot."

Everything in Sheldon's kitchen has a purpose and corresponding label.  While living in community, I once didn't know how to handle the fact that someone tried to share refrigerator shelf-space with me.  Meltdown.

Sheldon has specific expectations of people, and when they don't meet those expectations, things get interesting.  I expect people to be clear about their expectations for me.  In my job, if you want me to complete a task, I want to know every step that is necessary, in the precise order, and I want this information before I begin.

One day at work, I was asked to do a task I did not know how to complete.  I searched, and searched, and searched and asked, and asked, and asked, and no one who was present knew how to complete this task.  So, I figured out a back route on my own.  Voila!  Task accomplished.  The next day, I was asked why I had done what I had done and more importantly why I hadn't done it in a specific way.  Melt DOWN!  A big one.

Or how about the work trip we took at the end of November, beginning of December.  I was not adequately prepared for precisely what was to take place.  5 hours of meeting one new person after another?  Meltdown.  In the ladies' room.  Meltdown in the van outside the restaurant.

The worst part of a Sunday morning for me?  The requisite line of 100 strangers all touching me.  Yes, I realize it's just shaking hands, but I have to take a breath and prepare myself for that touch before every single person.  When someone touches me unexpectedly anywhere else, I have to take a deep breath and consciously talk myself out of having a meltdown or tearing the other person's arm off.

Watching Sheldon figure out what a rhetorical question is....  Been there.  Done that.  Still struggle with it.

When Sheldon tries to explain Schroedinger's Cat to Penny in the first season, and when she does not get it, repeating the exact same thing to her in the exact same language....  "The weatherstrip on your awning window is pressure-fit in the kerf," was my response to the question, "How do I change the weatherstrip on my awning window?"

When the homeowner responded with, "Yes, but how do I change the weatherstrip on the awning window?"  I replied, "It's pressure-fit into the kerf."

And when they asked, "But how do I change the weatherstrip?"

I finally asked all of the questions necessary to identify that this was, in fact, an awning window, of a specified size, and responded, "You will need to purchase weatherstip A, remove the old weatherstrip from your sash, and pressure fit the new weatherstrip into the kerf."

And when the homeowner replied, "I have the new weatherstrip.  How do I put it on my window?"

I replied with, "It's pressure-fit into the kerf."

And when they asked, "But how do I do that?"

I replied, "You use pressure.  To fit it into the kerf."

Someone later pointed out to me that the homeowner, in all likelihood, doesn't know what a kerf is.  To which I responded, "Have they never watched New Yankee Workshop on Public Television!?"  At which point I was told, "Honey, no one but you watches New Yankee Workshop on Public Television."  It took me a moment to pick up on the facetious nature of her statement.  My first thought was, "If I'm the only person watching, they wouldn't have the rating necessary to sustain the show and it would be cancelled.  Therefore, what she said is inaccurate."

I once received a letter as an attachment to an email.  The sender of said letter wrote in their email, "Attached is a letter that will probably be difficult for you to read."

I read the letter and I was really, really confused.  It was written in English.  Everything except my last name was spelled correctly.  Proper grammar and punctuation were observed.  The letter used Times New Roman font, size 12.  What about this letter was supposed to be difficult for me to read?

A business decision had been made that was not favorable to me.  Oh well.  Next steps, please!

It has taken me 30 years to develop some form of verbal filter.  And anyone who knows me as an acquaintance will tell you I have no verbal filter.  Those who know me well will tell you how much effort is put into recognizing situations where a verbal filter is necessary; they will also tell you how much thought and effort go into using this poorly established verbal filter.

On multiple occasions, Sheldon will ask, "Am I supposed to care about this?" "Oh, you weren't finished?" "This concerns me how?" "Oh, you expected me to listen?" and I think of all the times I have had to, and continue to have to, walk myself intellectually through the nature of empathy.

I love my books.  I like most people.  Loving people is an intellectual task that requires effort and energy.  And in very few cases do I ever develop the emotional attachment to others that most people describe as feelings of "love."  If I do, it generally takes awhile (read years).

Watching Sheldon is painful.  Because it's a bit too much like watching myself under a microscope.  And I wonder if people find me as comical as they do him, and if that might be less than favorable.