Monday, August 13, 2007

Going to people where they are....

Okay. It's time to get back to normal around here and get back to our roundtables.

During the weekend, I had quite a discussion with someone, trying to get a point across that she was not willing to hear.

We have to go to people where they are, not where we want them to be.

Use of language is a critical issue. The purpose of talking is not to say something. It is to be understood.

The person involved in the discussion was from a Yahoo group we participate on. The focus of the group is Buddhism.

You'd think there would be some compassion floating around there, right?

Well, there is ~ typically.

But since it would seem Mercury has been retrograde or there is some other weird configuration of the planets over the past two weeks or so, the group erupted into flames.

And it was unfortunately caused by another Thaiphile. (I am reluctant to include myself in that category. I am culturally Thai. Period.. but for these purposes, I'll run with it.)

She began a full-frontal attack on western culture, including rather silly misspellings of American terms to appear disdainful. Kulture. Amerikkka. You know.

The drill. Some people never grew out of the 60s.

Finally, late night on Saturday, I asked her to stop. I said, "You are not serving Thai culture, which you claim to value, well and you are not serving yourself. You are alienating people. Do you want to be heard or not?"

She wrote back, telling me that she had a right to say whatever she pleased and that if that's how she feels, it's good enough. (This in and of itself shows her limited understanding of Thai culture in which one is not permitted to say whatever she chooses, simply because she feels it.)

My response was that she may be right in some of the issues she raised but probably won't be heard. Even I felt assaulted by her wording. And, yes, she has the right to say anything she chooses. She also has an obligation to accept the consequences with grace and dignity. That is what Thai culture demands. My opinion is that if you claim it, live it.

The consequences in this case are that she was put on moderation by the group owner.

And truthfully, even I was put off and hurt by her use of language, her demeanor and her presentation ~ and I'm more tolerant than the average person. I can usually see beyond use of language to the pain or anger someone is expressing and address it from that level. But hers was vitriolic and left me feeling like I had ugly, icky green-pea slime all over me. I wanted to take a shower!

By Sunday night, every member of the group had a backchannel message from her, stating her case again, complaining about her moderated status and appealing for alliances.

None of us bought into it.

This is an extreme example. It's obvious this woman has more problems than not liking western culture.

Most people are willing to hear our thoughts and ideas, as long as it is presented in respectful terms. Naturally, there are some ideas that are so abhorrent than no one wants to hear them, no matter how beautifully they are presented. In this case, her ideas were not abhorrent.

Granted, we all fail to be mindful of our speech sometimes. Tempers flare. Things get said. I am the biggest sinner I know in that area. Prior to my conversion, I always had a sharp tongue and I've had to make a conscious effort to overcome and control it. But I didn't see any justification for this weekend's discussion to be sharp or contentious at all.

I know it may seem like stating the obvious here. We all know that mean or mindless speech is destructive. (I can hear the whispers... "yeah.. so shyaddup, Chana!')

What I wonder is this though: What ways do you have to let someone know their speech is simply assaultive and hurtful? How do you go to them where they are so that they'll learn, internalize and, as a result, have a better discussion? Or is it even my responsibility to try?

I didn't succeed with my correspondent this weekend. She's sticking to her position.



Anvilcloud said...

That picture may be appropriate. Perhaps this lady was being swept up in a current of emotions.

Snoskred said...

I was on a mailing list with a small group of people once. Some of them knew each other fairly well, they'd met up in the US. I was in Australia so a meetup was not on the cards for me.

There was one lady in the group who was a one line barb thrower. She would throw something so bitchy and snarky out there, hoping that the other person would bite - and then some of her better friends on the group would rally around her with emails like there there, i can't believe that nasty person said unpleasant things to you, you're such a great person and why must people be mean to you yada yada.

Seeing it from where I was sitting, you could see SHE was being the mean one. Because I hadn't met her in person like the others had, my views were not clouded. But so many people on that list were busy enabling her to be a bitch!

There were endless arguments, endless unpleasantness, to the point that I actually put in a mail filter in my email program. Any mails from the nasty one would go straight to trash. Unfortunately any mails other people replied to her, I got those. And one day, she really had a go at me, expecting that I would never see it, calling me all kinds of horrible names. Someone replied to her. I saw it.

I'd put up with her nastiness for such a long time, I was almost willing to say nothing and pretend I didn't see it. But then she brought it up in a more public forum, a sly reference to what she'd said on the mailing list. I decided enough was enough.

I wrote a calm, rational post to the mailing list that explained why I felt that people enabled her to be bitchy - and why I even felt that me writing this post would not change it. I didn't just send it - I checked it with three people - one who was on the list, two completely unrelated to it. Just to make sure I hadn't been in any way bitchy.

I sent the mail. Imagine my surprise later that day to find they had kicked ME out of the email group!

I am actually really grateful for it now, because it is difficult to walk away from something like that once you've been a part of it. I could have had that poisonous person coming to my inbox for several more years because I would never have quit, there were several people on the list I adored - most of whom did not enable her but they never challenged her either.

Sometimes people just won't see what you can see, Chani. This is something I am daily made aware of. Generally by my parents, who keep getting their fingers burnt because they forget that people aren't all nice like we are.

Two weeks ago my Dad wanted to fire someone, I said if you want to do it, you should just do it. He's had issues with this staff member for a long time, and now he had this person on video camera giving goods to customers that customers had not paid for, on *three* occasions. He also got a massive increase (we're talking several thousand dollars) in the phone bill and it turns out this staff member has been making long distance calls to family members using the WORK telephones! He took the play nice route, giving the staff member an option of cutting back their days at work instead of firing them. The worker has now put in a workers compensation claim for stress. He now has no chance of firing her. If only he'd done what we all saw he should do, what we all said he should do and what he knew he wanted to do but niceness stopped him.

You could write her a mail and tell her what you think and how you feel, and she's probably never going to see it the way you do.

Does that mean it's not worth a try? No. I think it is always worth a try. You have to sometimes let people know how you feel, if you feel strongly.

Balance that with - what might you lose by giving it a try? She's moderated and not likely to be joining the list in the same way she was on it before, especially with the emailing everyone thing.

I don't know. There's some people you just can't reach, no matter how much you try. But if only one sentence makes a difference to her.. that might be worth it.


flutter said...

Sometimes, people don't quite realize that speech has consequences. Yes, you have a right to speak your mind, but with the right to speak your mind comes the responsibility of your words.

There is a responsibility.

jen said...

i suppose i honor my own finiteness in these moments...when people are set on something and my words fail to have an impact i generally let it go. i choose not to allow that sort of energy to permeate my life because it's a dangerous line for me - assuming responsibility for another's reactions or response is a path i don't often like to wander around. if the "tools" that were available to her weren't something to her liking then i would probably stop there knowing i had represented what i believe by how i act day in and day out. because once conflict is actively engaged in it often becomes about the conflict and not about the issue itself. what i said, what he/she said, and so on. if my opinion is sought i offer it, but i won't break down your door. it might not change the world but it keeps me heading in my own right direction.

meno said...

If someone says something to me in such a way that i can tell that they are not interested in listening, just in talking, my response is "I can see you feel really strongly about this." and let it go without the fight they are looking for.

Unless it's something that i feel strongly about too.

But sometimes people are just wanting permission to be hateful. They don't need my permission, but i will not support them when the consequences start rolling in either.

slouching mom said...

There is someone in my extended family who believes that it is only through fighting (and then resolving the fight) that two people can get closer.

I believe that's hogwash.

Julie Pippert said...

Only through fighting, SM? Wow, I agree with you!

Chani, for me it is not easy. Conflict does not scare me by nature although it can by nurture, if that makes any sense. As flutter says, there is responsibility. But sometimes, the consequences/outcomes aren't always fair.

If I believe it can be turned around, halted or made better, I will speak up. I will say how I feel. I can't tell someone else, though, how they feel, make them feel any differently, or be different.

It's like a relay...I offer the stick, extend chance to continue on as team, and beyond that, it is past my control.

I suppose if I have no investment, I have no motive to try.

I learned (am learning---can't possibly have it down perfectly LOL) to see where I end and others begin in these things. Had to.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

When I sense that someone else and I are at an impasse, I usually bow out unless the person or issue are very important to me.

For whatever reason, sometimes our words, no matter how articulate and sincere, are not heard by those who need to hear them.

In any social interaction, it takes two, whether it be a tango, a heart connection or a disagreement. Since I can only be one of those people, it is not completely up to me to make the communication successful.

There simply comes a point at which the struggle is not worth the anguish.

River said...

If you value her as a friend, then simply keep quietly trying, while at the same time telling yourself that her comments etc. are not directed at you on a personal level. It may be that she simply needs time to grow into where she wants to be.If she doesn't want to change, or doesn't realise that she should change it may be better to leave her be. Some people are just naturally vitriolic and don't see that they are that way.