Showing posts with label Cultivating Humility. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cultivating Humility. Show all posts

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Piece of Advice #103: Don't expect others to make everything all nice for you.

I know that months have passed since the incident with Adria Richards at PyCon happened.  But it's kind of stuck with me, and it's a good excuse to give my fingers some exercise on the keyboard again.  When someone on Twitter mentioned the other day that the guy who lost his job due to Richards's public and photographic outing of him as an egregious harasser [cough, cough] had found another one, I went and looked to see whether Adria Richards had also found another position - and came up empty. 

Now since she's been lying low for the past several months and has shunned all attention, it's possible she has and it's not public knowledge.  And, for her sake, I hope she's found a way to keep the Devil from the door.  But somehow it's not surprising to me that someone who can do something tangible and valuable found a job and someone who revealed herself to be difficult and controlling seemingly has not. 

I mean, would you hire Richards?  She had a good job and lots of opportunities, but apparently things were not enough to her liking because she had to eavesdrop on people talking privately among themselves and tweet a photograph of them to the world so that she could drive home the point that women are slaves to - what? - the male libido in the form of a dongle joke

I looked up what a dongle was.  Let's just say it didn't give me the vapours.  I didn't break my pearls clutching them.  Compared to the cascade of obscenity I spend significant energy trying to keep out of my life by cordoning off TV, radio, most of the internet and the news, a "dongle" just hasn't got what it takes to shock me into outrage.

Now, the backlash against Richards wasn't pretty: the DDOS attack, the online harassment, the photo of a decapitated woman sent to Richards - that's ugly.  She unfortunately got the backlogged rage of men who are sick and tired of being controlled by legislation, by speech codes, by training seminars and Human Resources, by every petty control freak who doesn't mind chipping a nail to make someone else subject to her whims.  The sluices filled and Richards was washed away.  And this is where we have our teachable moment.

Life just isn't about making things all pleasant for everybody.  Mostly it's hard and unfair.  We used to know that.  We used to say things like, "If you can't stand the heat..." without it ending in "...have the remodelers rework the kitchen to your exact specifications."   Maybe tech isn't a friendly place for women.  Maybe it is full of sexists and jerk guys who leer lone females all day long.  If that is so, it's too bad.  I'm sorry to hear it.  But why is the solution to reprogram every guy in tech against his wishes or inclinations?  And how can anyone believe that's even possible?  Why don't women in tech create their own companies and their own amazing tech contributions and use the profits and power to mentor other women in tech?  Did Bill Gates expect his employers to roll out the red carpet for him when he was still wet behind the ears?  Did Steve Jobs?  It's probably easier for a woman now to get a small business loan or grant for a tech start-up these days.  Or they could do it the old fashioned way and code like the wind in the comfort of their parents' basements, harassment free.

Maybe, just maybe, if you aren't the head honcho, if you aren't the goose that's laying the golden eggs, if you are not the pivotal player upon with the success of your employer's business balances, you should learn your place and stay in it.  Be nice to people, blow off the slights and offenses, give people the benefit of the doubt, and don't assume that you have the authority to correct everyone around you.  Does no one think they have to put in their time anymore and make a little coffee? 

Honestly, if you can't handle a little blue language, maybe a nearly all male workplace isn't for you.  Or, heck, any workplace now.  The world has become a crass place.  But this incident wasn't about fighting crassness or inappropriateness; it was about control and demonstrating who has it and who doesn't and who is supposed to bend his neck.  There's a risk in playing that game, though, if you haven't quite got those numbers crunched correctly.  Adria Richards learned that the hard way. 


*This post was made possible with support from AEC and readers like you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Piece of Advice #80: Don't use your Christmas card/letter to beat people over the head with the wonderfulness of your family

It's that time of year again - the Christmas season.  I got my first card yesterday and am now bracing myself to endure the bragfest clothed, not so discreetly, in seasonal cheer that the Christmas letter has become.

I actually like to get and read Christmas cards.  I get them from people I haven't seen in years, and I love looking through the pictures they send and hearing what they and their kids are up to.  But I can't stand the ones that include tidbits like "Little Lowgun is teaching himself to read.  We didn't expect this so early, before he is two even, but he takes after his father - so smart!!!"  Or "Madysynn was spotted in a mall by a modeling agency earlier this year.  We thought she was beautiful, but I guess it's unanimous!!!"

Hyperbole, yes, but you get the picture.  I see this on Facebook too, proclamations on how wonderful your husband is or picspam x100 of Jr. posed on pumpkins, in the kiddie pool, with Santa, with the Easter bunny.  Here's the deal: people like to see pictures.  People like to hear stories about kids.  People do not like to be told about how fantastically gorgeous your kids are, or brilliant, or gifted and talented, etc.  Slow though we are, many of us can ascertain talent for ourselves.  If your kid's an Einstein, we'll know it.  And if he's a nice kid as well, we'll celebrate it with you.  You don't have to tell us.  If you insist on telling us repeatedly we will 1) begin to examine critically how gifted little Lowgun really is, 2) realize you have insecurity issues you are attempting work out via your kids, and 3) begin to dislike the both of you.  Lose-lose for everyone.  No one feels good about resenting a toddler, and that toddler will need the goodwill of the people around him as he grows up and faces the world.

So: send the pictures, write the letter, just don't bang us over the head with how great your family is.  We want to think well of you during this season of Peace.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Piece of Advice #74: Do not confuse being difficult with being strong

It's been a ubiquitous fiction lo these last few decades that loud, obnoxious, know-it-all women are the strong ones, the brave ones, the ones who blaze the path, the ones who "tell it like it is."  Their brittle, oft off-putting personalities are evidence of their inner strength.  We don't expect men to play nice, the saying goes, why should we expect women to?

Except we do expect our men to play nice.  Oh, maybe not the Donald Trumps of the world, the capitalists-cum-entertainers or the big power players in sports, journalism, or politics.  We give a few artistic types some lenience.  But the rest of them?  Yeah, we pretty much expect them to play nice.  We expect them to be polite or at least not overly aggressive in social interaction.  We want them to hold doors and pick their underwear off the floor and say, "Please," and "Thank you."  We certainly don't want them to make rude gestures, or exhibit road rage, or get in our faces and scream their frustrations or call us names.

But when women do those same things, they're being tough.  They're confronting an unjust system in "the only way that works."  The popular saying is, "Well behaved women seldom make history."

A more accurate, less excuse loaded saying would be, "Women seldom make history."  Hardly anyone makes history, in fact.  Most of us live and die our lives in obscurity, important only to the other obscures we know and love.  People who make history are generally: kings and rulers, criminals, genocidal marauders, and that teeny, tiny bunch of outliers who are gifted in some way, either mentally, physically, spiritually, or artistically.  Everyone else - dust to dust.  Yes, it is true that many of the above, the kings and criminals, are difficult people.  Powerful people are because power corrupts, and there seems to be some sort of correlation between extreme intelligence and artistry and mental illness.  The people who cure cancer or invent computers we give a little leeway.  But all the other people who are naturally aggressive and demanding, the ones who shout everyone else down, the ones who insist their ways are the only ways, that they deserve better service, more respect, that booth in the corner - they are just spoiled and unschooled, unoriginally antisocial.  They failed to learn a lesson we expect most children to master in kindergarten: play well with others.

It is not particularly brave to push yourself, your wants and needs and opinions in the faces of other people.  It is selfish.  It may be true that "the squeaky wheel gets the oil," but why should one wheel get all the oil?  And why should the wheel feel empowered when demanding it?

Don't fool yourself that obnoxious behavior is strength.  Consistent kindness, responsibility, consideration, and hard work are traits of strength.  Treat others as you yourself would like to be treated.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Piece of Advice #68: Keep your wedding in perspective

This one is for the brides-to-be, as requested by PuffsPlus.

A wedding shouldn't be an excuse for a woman to get her narcissism on.  Weddings are ceremonies by which a community witnesses the formation of another stable family unit and, having witnessed it, ideally will exert some help or pressure to keep it in functioning order.  A wedding was not for the bride or for the groom, it was for the community and an exercise in reaffirming community customs and beliefs.

At least that's what they once were.

Now they are expensive parties, hugely overpriced blowouts organized and choreographed around the main event, the bride.  Everyone else fades into the background - it's Bridezilla's day.  It's been a winding road to this point, of course.  The day was always important for brides because marriage holds more protections and perks for women than it does for men.  That's why historically women have wanted - have dreamed - about getting married and men generally have had to be pressured - gently or with the pressure of a metal barrel - into it.  It's normal for a young woman to look forward to her wedding day and anticipate saying her vows and celebrating with her loved ones, surrounded by the beauty of the occasion.  I had a wedding.  It was a lovely wedding in the gorgeous Polish Catholic church I attended, and other than being hot, tired, and somewhat nervous, I had a great time.  It's a bit of a blur, actually.  What I remember most is wishing that I had more time to spend with all of the people who had traveled so far to see me get married.

The problems I have with weddings as they currently are celebrated are:

  1. They rarely longer serve any cultural purpose in that they aren't there to transmit culture or values forward.  How can they when all the participants know going in that there is a 50% chance this will end in divorce?  With the meaning behind the wedding gone, what we're left with is a fancy party that requires an extensive consultation of etiquette no one knows anymore. And
  2. They are so overpriced.  On average an American couple spends $19,581 to celebrate that magical day.  Let me write that out: nineteen thousand, five hundred and eighty-one dollars.  Just shy of $20K for a one-day party.  Wow.  Again, there's a one in two shot this won't even last.  
If you went to to the courthouse and threw a barbeque for all your nearest and dearest, you'd have, say $19,000 left to put down as a down payment on a house or pay off 19K worth of student loans or other debt.  Or you could put it into savings or investments.

I don't want to be a hypocrite; after all, I've admitted I had a nice wedding.  But for me it was a celebration of my religious beliefs, and I did not bear the expense.  It was important for my parents and my husband's parents to be there and for it to be an occasion of note and in a church.  These are things that have to be factored in.  If I'd have had to pay for it, it would have been much humbler and with fewer stressful details.  I certainly would not have gone into debt or more debt to pull off a big production.  My grandparents married in their minister's front room and they were married over 50 years.  I think that is a valid way to celebrate.

We have a secular, highly consumer-oriented society.  Keep that in mind when you plan your wedding and ask yourself who benefits from the decisions you are making about how to celebrate it.  And if you do get married, count yourself lucky.  Not so many women will because it's a very risky venture for men these days with even fewer benefits than there were traditionally, so if you accomplish it keep the vows you are planning to take.  Be grateful.  Oh, and treat him right.  With any luck, if you picked a good one, he will do the same.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Piece of Advice #67: Admit when you're wrong

To err is human.  Humans are experts at getting things wrong, doing wrong things, and/or otherwise messing things up.  We estimate, extrapolate, or interpret things on a regular basis in order to get things done.  We observe and dissect our friends, family and coworkers in an effort to get along with them more effectively (or better manipulate them).  We react continuously to our neighbors and surroundings based on varying amounts of information, and we constantly misread the data.  Sometimes it isn't a big deal.  If you guess wrong on how much paint you need to touch up your bathroom walls, you run to the hardware store and buy some more.  If you guess that rush hour traffic will ramp up at 5 PM and it actually begins earlier, you sit in traffic for a bit.  But if you misinterpret someone's emotions, intentions or situation and react based on those wrongly interpreted cues, you will very probably anger them, hurt them, or degrade your relationship.  The best thing to do is just admit that you were wrong.  And then apologize.

This sounds really simple.  It's amazing then that more people don't do it and will instead make myriad excuses for why they were really right or why even if they were wrong, the situation merited an explosion of temper.  Pride.  It's all pride - which is a built-in to the human condition, but as our culture becomes simultaneously more individualistic and narcissistic, it's actually cool now to be wrong and refuse to admit it.

(A side note: I have to wonder if the punctuation omission on this t-shirt is intentional and ironic.)

Whatever your reason, refusing to admit it when you're wrong and, worse, when you have hurt someone by being so, is immature and selfish.

The easiest and fastest way to diffuse an angry situation in which you are at least partially at fault is to say, "I'm sorry.  I was wrong.  I shouldn't have _____.  Will you forgive me?"  These words will calm down nearly any reasonable person and some unreasonable ones as well.  Often they will be open to discussing how they might have also contributed to the situation, if you take the first step in admitting responsibility or culpability.  Insisting that you are right and that the other person has offended does the opposite - it ramps up the anger and the defensiveness and keeps all involved parties from addressing any underlying problems and solving them.

Part 1 of admitting when you are wrong is, of course, continuously scrutinizing your own behavior and not giving yourself a pass because, well, it's you.  Also you have to refuse to use excuses such as, "I was tired" or "I was hormonal" or "I had a hard day."  Everyone has hard days, and all women are sometimes hormonal.  Neither of these are a reason to abuse other people.  If you do, you should apologize.  Scrap your pride and say, "I had no call to treat you that way.  I'm sorry."

We all fail.  We all say things that are uncalled for or unkind, and this isn't going to change.  But accepting that as fact and accepting it as a satisfactory excuse are two different things.  We owe the people around us at least the attempt to be our best selves.  If you fail at this, apologize.  It will go a long way to diffusing anger and bitterness and keeping your relationships strong and healthy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Piece of Advice #52: Drop the princess act

A reader asked me to comment on the following:

"A 'friend' of mine wanted her boyfriend to take her on a romantic date to a zoo. The zoo had some special date night thing for Valentine's Day.  She would hint at how cool zoos are and how he never does anything nice, and how they should do something special for Valentine's because they never do anything exciting. She would whine to me about how he wasn't getting the hint. I told her just to tell him that is what she wanted she said, 'It has to be his idea or as close to as he can have.'  When it turned out that the food at the event wasn't that good and it was a little crowded and not what she expected, she blamed him.  He 'had a stupid idea for Valentine's - I mean who thinks animals are romantic?  He could have just been normal and gone to Olive Garden.' Since she never said, 'I want to go to the zoo,' when he tried to point out it was her idea, she said it wasn't. She never said she wanted to and where would he have gotten that idea? Just because she likes tigers doesn't mean she wants to spend Valentine's Day with smelly animals." 

Well.  There's a lot to work with here, isn't there?  This reader sent in a number of examples of this sort of thing - women expecting men to read their minds and put on a huge romantic production to satisfy their need to pedestal balance.

First of all, gifts are gifts.  They are to be distributed according to the discretion of the giver, not on a fixed calendar schedule.  No one should be obligated to organize an extravaganza for a minor holiday (or a major one, for that matter).  If you keep your expectations at a lower level, you will be happy when people do nice things for you, no matter how small.

If you are not a goddess, do not expect a ritual sacrifice at periodic intervals.  Really, if he changes your oil, you should make a big fat deal over it.  If he shows up with flowers - picked flowers - appreciate the gesture. And return it.  It's the little things that make life worth living.  Cliché, but true.

Secondly, humans have cultivated language over the millenia so as to communicate their needs.  Isn't it great how we can put words together in sentences and let other people know what we are thinking?  That ability could have been utilized here.  None of us are mind readers, and we shouldn't have to be.  Also, men are not women.  I've yet to meet a man who has mined romantic literature for ideas on how to better impress their lovers, and if they did that and women found out, well, unless he was George Clooney the sneering would be intense.  We women want our men just to know inherently what smooth moves to make.  But, you know, Mr. Darcy is fictional.  And kind of an elitist jerk for a good portion of the novel.  What happened to just appreciating a man who is kind and giving, even when things flop?  It's the effort that counts, or should be.

Thirdly, Olive Garden?  Seriously?  The wait on Valentine's Day has to be like an hour and a half.  I'd rather eat a picnic dinner next to the monkey house than stand crammed next to all of humanity for 90 minutes holding a vibrating disc.  

Bottom line: don't ask men to do things or be able to do things that you yourself can't or won't do in return, and don't expect to be catered to just for being female.  Work to appreciate the things you are given, not the things you think you might like.

*If you have a topic you would like to see covered here, I can be reached at grerp at yahoo dot com.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Piece of Advice #13: Defer/Engage

Much of the content here could be boiled down to a handful of very simple directives: be kind, be respectful, think long-term, have self-discipline, don't be self-absorbed.  Most people don't really find generalizations that helpful, though, so here are a few scenarios to absorb and practice.

Scenario 1
You are in the grocery store and the brand of yogurt you like best/is on sale happens to be the yogurt that the shelver is unpacking and shelving right now.  You stand there for a minute, but he doesn't look at you.  Rude!  Finally, irritated, you say, "Excuse me, but could I get to that yogurt?  It's the one that's on sale."  He looks up at you for a second and then moves away, still not saying anything.  You grab your stuff and think, "The people they get to work at these stores!  Zombies, and rude ones at that!  Don't they know who's funding their paychecks?"

Scenario 2
You are looking for a CD holder as a gift for your boyfriend for his birthday.  The first store you went to didn't carry them.  You are in a hurry because you left this to the last minute and you're supposed to meet him in an hour and a half.  In the second store you go to there are two guys manning the entertainment section.  They are talking and don't look up right away.  Impatient, you say, "Excuse me, but can you show me where those things, you know, those folders that you put your music in?"  They look at your blankly.  "You know, that you put your CD's in?"  One of them nods, walks over to the appropriate section, and says, "Right here." You nod stiffly and look over the selection.  He slopes off, clearly bored to death with his job.  Again, the service leaves something to be desired.  You'd think they'd be grateful to have a job.

Did you notice that at the end of these two little interactions both you and the customer service people are unhappy or - to be more accurate - pissed off?  Do you realize that with just a little more effort on your part you could rework this so that this might not be the case?

Let's take Scenario 1 and redo.  You are in the grocery store and the brand of yogurt you like best/is on sale happens to be the yogurt that the shelver is unpacking and shelving right now.  You stand there for a minute, but he doesn't look at you.  You say, "Pardon me, sir, but do you think I could get in there and grab a couple of those yogurt containers?"  He nods, but still doesn't say anything.  You smile.  "Could you point out where the peach ones are?  My son loves peach yogurt."  "Oh, right here," he says, pointing.  "I like peach myself.  I think peach is the most consistent amongst all the brands."  "Really?" you say.  "Well, he loves them.  I can't keep them in the house.  Hmmm.  Let's see.  Where's the blueberry? That's my husband's favorite."  He grabs a couple and hands them to you.  "Oh, thanks so much."  He smiles.  You smile.  You put your stuff in the cart and start pushing it down the aisle.*

And let's rework Scenario 2.  You are looking for a CD holder as a gift for your boyfriend for his birthday.  The first store you went to didn't carry them.  You are in a hurry because you left this to the last minute and you're supposed to meet him in an hour.  In the second store you go to there are two guys manning the entertainment section.  They are talking and don't look up right away.  When they do you smile.  "I'm looking for a holder for CD's?  For my boyfriend's birthday.  Could you show me where they are?  I've kind of put it off till the last minute and I've got to get my act together."  One of the guys, looking pretty gray and apathetic, softens a little and takes you over to the appropriate section.  You put on a touch more charm because he looks like he's about to expire from sheer boredom.  "Wow, there's quite a few of them.  My boyfriend has a lot of CD's, but this is for his car, so I think maybe the one that holds 72?  What do you think?"  "That sounds about right," he says.  "They come in fabric or plastic, I see, which would you recommend?"  "Well, I think the plastic is much more likely to fall apart over time in the car if the temperature fluxuates," he says, looking a bit more animated.  "The price is the same. I would recommend the fabric."  "Thanks very much," you say, looking him in the eye and smiling.  "I think I will get the fabric one.  I want it to last."  He gives you a smile and goes back to where his coworker is standing.  You grab your purchase and head for the check out.*

Now, here's the deal: obviously this is not a suicide prevention hotline.  You don't make or break people's days by being friendly or respectful.  Your interaction is just one of hundreds.  But if you tamp down the attitude and try to see people as people and not drones or servants, you don't ruin the moment.  You walk away happy, he walks away feeling respected, and no one gets shot at the post office today.

My experience is that with women, all you need to do to de-drone them is make real eye contact and notice something about them or their experience and comment positively on it.  With men, I always give a little deference, whether that is addressing them as "sir" or asking their opinion on something or for some knowledge they can provide.  It's a little social dance; I let them lead, give some respect, and it's amazing what I can learn and the kind of helpfulness this can bring out.  I've worked customer service and  been on the other end of this dance, so I know that approach is everything.  If someone makes me feel valued, I will go the extra mile to help them out.

You have the power to reframe many of your interactions so that they are pleasant for other people and for you.  Why not use this power?  It will benefit you, and it will repair the social fabric at the same time.  That social fabric is kind of in tatters.  We should all do our part to repair it.

* Based on a True Story

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Piece of Advice #3: Show some humility

It's easier to bend your neck than climb a ladder.

What I mean by that is that most people will be kind and respectful to you if you are kind and respectful first.  And humble.  The fact is, despite all the school curricula devoted to persuading each and every one of us how special we are, we really aren't that special.  There are billions of other women on the planet and many of them share your ideas, concerns, feelings, wants, needs, skills, gifts, talents, whatever.  Which is not to say you can't be good company, but, let's face it, we are all replaceable.

So don't act like you're God's gift.  If you are kind, friendly, respectful and giving, people won't want to order you around or abuse you.  Some of them will go out of their way to do nice things for you unasked.  Kindness is contagious, and no one wants to hurt someone they like.  Feminism stresses that the only way to control your destiny is to be the boss, but 1) not everyone can be the boss, obviously, 2) it's a lot of effort to get to be the boss and work to maintain it, and 3) none of us are truly in charge of our own destinies.  Even the boss's will is only one factor of many in the way things turn out.

So laugh at yourself.  Admit when you are wrong.  Ask forgiveness if you offend.  Do something kind for someone else unasked, not expecting anything in return.  Earn some social cred - you may find it's a good investment of your time and effort for both society and your own self-interest.