Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

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This is a generic, only half-rhetorical question. I have been involved in several disputes of late, some as a nominally disinterested third party, so this is neither specific to any one of them, nor am I taking sides. It's just been bothering me, so I will give voice to my opinion here. If you recognize your own POV in one of these critiques, please note that the other side's is also represented and reflect a moment before you reply - that's all I ask.

Why do people sometimes get completely entrenched in their own opinions in a debate that they:

  • 1. Become completely unable to grasp why it is, or is not, a substantial issue to the other party? There's an appropriate Chinese aphorism: ni3 bu1 wuo3 xing1li3 de4 hui2chong2, literally "you are not my heartworm", i.e., you are not me and do not know the innermost workings of my heart, so do not presume to judge my intent. If X says to Y that issue I is of substance to X and other interested parties for whom X feels qualified to speak, then for goodness' sake, accomodate X and let him or her have the bully pulpit inasmuch as reason permits, and try not be too persistent in saying "I don't get why is this important to you". Let them tell you and you'll have your answer more quickly and with less perception of defensiveness. If Y tells X that Y could not care less abut I and that he or she does not see why I should be a big deal, then live and let live; consider taking the issue offline, be diplomatic and responsible, and above all be receptive to the substance of answers and not to perceived abrasions.

    At the risk of a resounding cliche: compromise is a two way street. That said, I am personally a big advocate of glasnost: more than just free speech, I think that quelling any discussion is tantamount to declarative disenfranchisement and runs the risk of breaking negotiations (even friendly and collegial ones) down by fiat. I understate myself: those of you who know me well know that I cannot be silenced by fiat and am, in fact, completely irrepressible. In a totalitarian regime, I would have long since been "disappeared" as some of my blood kin in fact were during the Chinese Communist takeover... because you know what? That's the only way to shut my type up, and take my word for it, we go down fighting hard.

  • 2. Get hell-bent on escalation, particularly in delivering a commensurate insult? This is the sort of thing that really wears me out.
    Before I elaborate, here's a brief but relevant story. If you really know me, you've probably discovered that I am somewhat conflict-averse.1 The time was in my youth when I would do just about anything to stay out of a fight (morally speaking, not physically). Now, the thing about Asian families is that we are, for lack of a better term, the Borg. My cousin Melody calls it yi1 gu4 bi2 qong3 chu1 qi4, i.e., breathing through one nostril. I often joke that Chinese-American kids have up to three brains, sometimes more: the child's own brain, his or her parents', and sometimes those of elder ancestors and other relatives. Anyhow, I grew up somewhat torn on confrontations: I was never any sort of craven, but I hated the ugliness of facing a determined opponent who was out to provoke me. Now, people who saw me getting kicked around would shove me back in the ring: "You're not going to take that, are you?" Well, once upon a time, I would have; in fact, it took some twenty-five years before I wised up and my backbone really hardened, but eventually I realized that there was a deterrent value to backing overaggressive people down.

    Fast-forward to the present day. Having seen both the offensive and defensive applications of escalation, I can tell you that it does not look pretty from the sidelines, and pang2 guan1 zhe3 qing1 (things look clearer from the side). "Don't take this the wrong way, but..." This is one of my pet peeves about American culture. We say "I'm not trying to {tick you off | put you down | criticize | etc.}, but..." You know what? We really frelling are. A word to the wise: internationally, we Americans have some of the worst stereotypes vis-a-vis hypocrisy, largely because of this one.

    And we really don't know when to quit. I mean humans in general, now. This is not a Northwest European, or Asian, or Semitic, or Latino, or African, or American Indian, or [your ethnicity here] thing. "Be reasonable." "What? Who are you calling unreasonable?!" "Nobody, I'm just saying be reasonable; don't have a cow." Oh, now I'm having a cow? Kettle much? "What's that supposed to mean?!" et cetera, ad infinitum et ad nauseam.

    Folks, ill will breeds. Seriously; I've learned that the hard way, as much as I've learned not to be blindly trusting. fang2 ren2 zhi1 xing1 bu1 ke3 wu4; hai4 ren2 zhi1 xing1 bu1 ke3 you3 ("One must not have the heart to harm others, but one must not lack the heart to be wary of others"). Impute ill will, behave accordingly, and you're more likely to get some. Sad, but true.

  • 3. Feel the need to impute idiocy, incompetence, or especially immaturity, to the other party? This is a personal pet peeve for me. My favorite teacher in high school was Elizabeth MacCallum, nee Frances, who taught Calc AB. Beth had a hard and fast rule about respect: do not call people stupid. If you did, you were in serious trouble, and she meant business. She was really dogmatic about this, and I heard more than a few disgruntled smarmy teenage whispers.

    You know what? Beth was right. Full stop. Speaking as a person of at least decent intelligence, even if my knowledge is limited, I swear to you on my ancestors' tombs that nothing will lose you my respect faster than putting down other people's intelligence or competence, particuarly out of hubris. I have been called a soft heart for this. To the depths of the nine hells with that attitude. I'll put it simply: just as the genuinely strong people have no need to hold down the weak, the genuinely smart have no need to tear down others and call them dumb. Self-aggrandizement at others' expense is also way uncool in my book, though I'm sure nearly all of us are all guilty of some shameless self-promotion (I know I am). I can't stress this enough.

    As for making fun of perceived intellectual deficiencies (and here I don't mean mental retardation or handicaps): I'm all for a good satire or impression, but poking fun can be mean-spirited sometimes. Laugh with your friends and not at them. As for one's enemies: I can't preach the Christian ideal of loving them without practicing it, but I can tell you truthfully that I've always respected what few enemies I've ever had. To wit, I've underestimated neither their intelligence, abilities, nor knowedge. These are not just words on paper, they are at the least an application of the Golden Rule.

    The last bit was one of my Big Red Buttons growing up. My emotional development was a bit dichotomous; a run-of-the-mill guidance counselor would have called me "intellectually gifted but socially no further advanced that his typical age group". It was actually a bit more complicated than that, but taking it at face value: the quickest way to provoke me as a teen was to imply that I was immature. I would keep cool on the surface but just seethe inside. You know why? Because the people who pretended most often to have detected immaturity on my part were really the people who knew much, much better. They were doing it on purpose. Get me?

All right, that's quite enough pontificating on my part for one night. Thanks for reading, if you did; I wrote this mainly to get it off my chest.

1 This caused me problems galore during my first 2-3 years as a tenure-track faculty member: I simply could not say no to people. Not being able to say no, coupled with a record of procrastination and spotty timeliness, can be disastrous. I finally decided to go clean and promise nothing when I wasn't sure I could deliver, but those of you who are more familiar than I with principles of leadership will have spotted the pitfall here. "Going legit" by promising less (even if the reliability or delivery percentage goes up) tends to trigger some disgruntlement among the first to encounter the meaner, tougher you. Consistency is key, and even perceived self-reform can have a perceived adverse effect on consistency. ("So-and-so got to do this"; "you let so-and-so get away with not turning in that"; etc. That's if they're feeling nice; if they are in an aggressive mood, you'll be tarred with more brushes than jereeza herself has.) I tell you this both as an administrator and an individual teacher. OTOH, as a country song by Aaron Tippin goes: "you have to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything".


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