Category Archives: Social Rules

The Bathrobe Rule

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The Bathrobe Rule:
Some things need only to be seen once.

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Only after writing this to encompass a variety of situations did the overwhelming interpretation occur to me. A given movie: once. A particular place: once. A neighbor taking the garbage out in the assumed cover of darkness while wearing a deficient bathrobe: once

 

The Etiquette Practicality Exception

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I still see many posts about manners and etiquette. One of them that invariably makes the lists: “Always use a person’s last name until you know them well enough or they say it is okay to use another.”

Pure manure.

One big problem with etiquette is that it’s based on past customs and behavior. Additionally, across cultures, countries, and societies, etiquette demands vary wildly.

It’s hard for some people to imagine, but there are quite a few people whose entire legal name consists of one name. Also, it is no social faux pas to have trouble attempting to remember or pronounce many of the world’s names. We should stop beating up on one another when no malice was intended, even as we botch names in our daily lives. Some names are akin to a mouthful of consonants and live crickets.

The ongoing attempt to insist that there is a single method of etiquette and politeness is absurd and almost bigoted. If you live inside a regimented or closed society, perhaps it is possible to assume that there might be one infallible way to ensure you’re behaving according to a particular imaginary list of societal demands. Otherwise, it’s a rodeo out there in the world.

Using a person’s last name requires you to know whether they’re married, male or female, and a couple of other variables. (Unless you’re a barbarian and saunter around calling people strictly by their last names, such as “Johnson!” or “Gonzalez.”) Ms., Mrs. ma’am, and Mr. are not the simple labels they once were.

Whether the older generation agrees or not, we’re changing the way we use titles and pronouns – and in ways they never imagined. It’s presumptuous to assume we know the other person’s pronoun or marital status. As I rapidly approach dinosaur status myself, I find myself needing to learn new manners and ways to extract my foot from my mouth. I strive to stop thinking that I ‘know’ the rules that are emerging in life. I don’t, precisely because the rules are a moving target.

We’re all equal. Using a person’s first name does not reveal a lack of respect or an overdeveloped sense of familiarity with the other person. It does, however, demonstrate that we are capable of unilaterally agreeing that a person’s name is, in fact, the label with which they identify. If the person in question wishes to be called an alternate name, they should politely say so. It would also help if people stopped using names as vanity devices or as ammunition in conversations. It’s worth noting that it’s bad form to call someone by a different name or label after they’ve asked you to use another one in their regard.

If we are introduced to someone as ‘Mark Hemmington,’ the only other argument to be made is that we should address them by their full name. That’s a bit unwieldy. Why not insist on using their entire legal name, even if it an absurd array of three, four, or five names? I’m one of the smart ones. I have two names, both spelled phonetically, and only have a surname from necessity. My name is the same in public, on my birth certificate, and on my identification. I don’t use nicknames, titles, or further naming devices to confound those around me. Some people indeed use some rather base nicknames in my regard; that’s another issue.

I don’t mean disrespect if I fail to use an expected title. It’s more comfortable as a society to accept a default of no harm or ill will intended.

I don’t kneel to royalty and don’t consider a senator or president to be anything other than an elected employee we collectively chose to do a job as our representative. Judges are legal experts, not demi-gods of virtue. Police aren’t officers; they are public servants whose dangerous and complicated jobs give them the authority and responsibility to keep us safe. Anyone in those professions who angrily demand conformity or obedience in regards to their title needs to remember humility as a virtue.

I have learned to distrust anyone with a reverence for titles.

I don’t call my personal physician “Doctor.” Financial transactions don’t require an element of inequality. I’m thankful that doctors are well-trained and able to help me. I’m paying for that service – and it is their job. Until the day we call all occupations by their respective vocational title, I think it’s objectionable to anyone to demand the title before their name. Carpenter Joe. Plumber Jim. Teacher Jill. All trained professionals. We need doctors desperately, but we also need people to pick up our trash, fix our vehicles, and keep us from drowning in sink water.

As always, I don’t expect my arguments to be perfect. I don’t defend these ideas with a fiery passion. I do, however, know there’s a strong element of truth running through the points I’ve made in this post.

As a person with a peculiar name and an aversion to bending a knee to titles, I watch in keen observation as society struggles with our out-dated naming conventions.

The Confetti Corruption

 

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“…life can be a handful of confetti. Or dirt…”
 
I see a version of this frequently on the internet. Until I see you put dirt on your cake, you need a better comparison. Not everything is a matter of perspective and comparing lives or circumstances is folly. You can clean your glasses fifteen times, change your attitude, or renew – but it won’t change the reality of your obstacles and challenges. Through is often the only route, one bitter clod of dirt at a time.
-The Confetti Corruption

Gas Station Life Lesson

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As we learned in Princess Bride, “…Ha ha, you fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia,’ but only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!’ ”

I’ve learned some lessons in my life, most of which require a refresher from time to time. It’s not my fault. I was educated here in Arkansas, suffered more than one head trauma, and accidentally watched an episode of “Survivor,” so stupidity comes naturally to me. If someone approaches you at the pumps of a gas station, scream “Help!” immediately and without regard to the person’s intentions. No matter what. No matter what they’re wearing or how they look. Nothing good will ever come from a gas pump walk-up.

While returning from New Orleans a few weeks ago, the gas pump rule once again came up. A fortyish gentleman approached. He wore clean coveralls and claimed he was a preacher raising money for blah-blah-blah. In his right hand, he had a wad of cash, which was confusing. I politely declined. He responded with a follow-up. Since I could tell he wasn’t going to listen to reason, I told him to please move along. He called me an asshole. For a second, I was convinced he was going to tear my arm off and beat me with it. The doubtful light in his eyes had turned dark as soon as the initial “No” came out of my mouth. Luckily for me, I had finished with the pump and got inside the car in one fluid motion and started driving forward without warning, even as my wife confusedly questioned what in blazes I was doing. In my defense, at least she was inside the car, unlike that time I left her in Mississippi. Crazy Coveralls Preacher lost interest in me; his shouts in my direction dwindled.

The only time I can move with such skill and concentration is if a bag of pork rinds is nearby or someone just announced ‘free pizza’ on the intercom.

So convinced was I of this gentleman’s internal violence that if I had a gun, I would have fired a warning round into the air. It’s better to be arrested in Louisiana for shooting clouds than it is to be beaten to death with one’s own arm. That should be on a t-shirt.

As I looped around to exit, I noted that Crazy Coveralls Preacher was walking fast toward an older white male standing next to his white cargo van. The door was open and the faux preacher invaded his personal space and essentially trapped the man from escape, or even the ability to throw a punch in his own defense. I almost stopped and intervened. The only thing that stopped me was that my wife had noted that I was genuinely alarmed, a condition I’m not prone to.

I’ve had issues with nutjobs in public places. As my friends know, I’ve had trouble BEING a nutjob in public places. This was the first time in a long time that it occurred to me that violence might result from the encounter. Keep in mind that I had just vacationed in New Orleans, so exposure to con-men and charlatans wasn’t an unknown experience – and that was at the front desk of the hotel.

Talking to other people and reading stories of violent surprises in public reminded me that nasty things do happen to people and I’m not referring to the 2016 election, either. We’re in open places, assuming that daylight, other people, and cameras will dissuade the demented folks from bothering us.

If you see me at the gas station screaming like the old man in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” I want you to drive your car into my vicinity as if you are re-creating scenes from the “Dukes of Hazzard.” I don’t care if you run me over in the process as long as you also run over whoever is trying to talk to me at the pumps.

You’ll get bonus points if the gas pumps explode and possibly a cut of the YouTube profits. I want to be cremated and I can think of no greater honor than by public explosion.

P.S. This also goes if you see someone is trying to sign me up for an MLM or a religion with an asterisk next to it on Wikipedia.
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X’s Humor Relativity Perspective

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This post is going to hit you over the head. It’s personal and genuine. Weirdly enough, it’s about humor. If you read it to the end, the turn it takes will probably bother you, much like a Twilight Zone episode using electric shocks as language.

More than ever, I find myself in awe with people who appoint themselves as gatekeepers for humor and appropriateness. Personally, I can’t get my foot out of my mouth long enough to start gatekeeping other people’s humor.

Eventually, everyone’s sense of humor will land them in hot water with friends, in-laws, pastors, politicians, the Girl Scouts, and strangers. You can’t control another person’s reaction. My sense of humor is darker than average. It’s a claim I make from truth rather than an idle part of my story. If someone is not addressing me or a person specifically, I interpret it differently than I do other humor.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a new rule named “Hanlon’s Disposable Razor.” It preaches that we all stop assuming we know the intent of humor, especially if from someone who generally isn’t guilty of malicious behavior – and no actual harm results from it. The term ‘actual harm’ is subject to context, as is every single human experience, so don’t start quibbling over semantics or issues unaddressed by this post.

Since then, my social media filled with examples of people failing to realize that they can’t read the minds or hearts of others. “Well, that’s not funny!” seems to be taken as a blanket justification for anger in response to something that someone finds a bit uncomfortable. Adam Sandler’s last ten movies weren’t funny, either, but plenty of people disagree. “You can’t joke about some things,” is another typical gatekeeping statement. It’s rare that the person making such a statement has a smile on his or her face when they say it. Or matching socks, now that I think about it.

I’m not advocating that we run willy-nilly over people’s feelings under the guise of humor. Quite the opposite. Likewise, 7-8 billion people surround you, all with differing takes on life. It’s impossible to avoid all possible topics of contention. Elevating all humor to the level of spiteful is a fool’s errand. As you know, nincompoops are always employed.

Mother’s Day, April Fools’ Day pranks, Avengers spoilers (as if the movie wasn’t terrible enough), euthanasia, illness, falling and breaking one’s arm: all of these can be funny in the right context. They are not amusing to the people currently embroiled in any pain associated with the topics, however. Humor is universally told from the point of view of an imaginary third person. We don’t laugh or joke with the intent of hurting anyone. Not if we’re reasonable, I mean. If we accidentally say or do something without realizing that it’s causing specific pain, it’s not a reason to lash out in righteous anger. Mistakes are going to happen. Compounding the innocent error with anger serves no one.

On two occasions since I posted my new rule, people attacked me for not showing the required gravitas to an issue or for the sin of laughing at a horrible post even as I cringed that someone had posted it. I did what any reasonable person would do: I printed a picture of that person’s face, laminated it, and taped it to a urinal at the bus station. (That last comment was humorous. FYI.)

Now, I’m going to get personal and provide an example that will erase any doubt that all of us sometimes pull back from humor that we find to be misplaced. The difference is that I avoid objections to ‘third person’ humor, generalized humor, or humor that references shared experiences. I have to be personal because it’s not only the only way I know how to write but because it strikes directly to the point I’m making.

The humor we allow ourselves and in others is a direct measure of our depth and appreciation for our error-prone lives.

It is not the content per se that brings problems; instead, it is the motivation of the person creating the humor. Most people don’t require much study. We’re stupid more than we are malignant.

There’s a popular meme of a white cat near a woman lying dead on the floor. It’s comprised of three panels, each with the cat approaching the deceased woman, meowing for attention at her side, and finally, sitting on her hip. “Your cat’s reaction to finding you dead on the floor,” or something similar usually serves as title or footnote to the pictures.

There’s a problem with the meme if you look at it from the vantage point of unintended humor. What many people don’t know is that cats tend to stay near the body of their deceased owner, exactly as pictured in the meme. Many people have their own stories relating to this tendency.

As thick-skinned as I am, if you don’t know this about me, I was in the exact situation pictured. My wife died late one Sunday night, the night before Labor Day, years ago. She lay in another room for hours before I woke up for work. Our white cat, Quito, stayed with her for most of the night. I found him with her the next morning when I went into the kitchen.

Now, imagine the pain that came from that situation.

It’s such a specific scenario that it seems unlikely that it would ever be the subject of one particular meme.

However, it is.

It’s not a general observation or bit of humor: it describes precisely one of the most significant traumas I’ve experienced in my entire life.

The meme or ones similar to it come up on my social media and the internet with a higher frequency than you’d imagine. It’s not ever going to be likely that anyone posts such content with the intent of trying to barb me.

I could, of course, lash out at people, as if they are responsible for my biography. I could casually mention my past, which would needlessly traumatize the person sharing the meme as a joke.

Alternatively, I could get a sharp jab and then move along.

In general, take the short jab and then move along. Not always, of course, because sometimes people do misbehave and troll their fellow human beings with ill intent.

But not most of the time. Move along.

If I can overlook a cat meme accidentally mocking this substantial trauma in my life, you can overlook jokes about pregnancy on April Fools’ Day, funny anecdotes about cancer, or insensitive humor scattered throughout your social media.

It is not an invalidation of your perspective or feelings for others to joke at the heart or fringes of subjects which overlap with your life’s discomforts, losses, or challenges unless it’s done with malice aforethought or callousness. I hope you don’t have many people in your life that would subject you to such behavior.

I’d rather live in a world in which I sometimes cringe at humor than to reside in one devoid of the richness of human creativity and whimsy.

I ask that you strive to assume that my humor isn’t personalized or weaponized to offend, which is a favor I’ll reciprocate. If there’s doubt, we owe it to one another to further give the benefit of goodwill unless the preponderance of evidence tells us that someone is speaking or acting out of spite.

When someone lashes out at me for a badly-timed or placed joke, I’ll repay their impatience and impoliteness with a reminder that I probably have the upper hand in this argument.

Do unto others – and I certainly do. I welcome all humor, from tripping down the stairs to jokes that would cause many to burst out in tears.

P.S. If you heard 1/50th the nonsense that goes through my head or that I say in private, your head would explode indignantly. The truth is, though, that we both know that you undoubtedly have at least a portion of my dark bent in your own head. That overlap is what gives us hope.

Also, I’m in the picture on this post three different times.

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A Polite Lesson: Losing in 2020

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Donald Trump is likely to be elected again in 2020.

I’m not going to vote for him. Because I live in Arkansas, my vote is irrelevant.

I voted against him twice in 2016: once in the Republican primary and again in the general election. I’m not a Democrat, but I am a liberal. I did more than most liberals to try to stop Trump, as many Democrats took a detour to argue over Bernie and Hillary. I’ll be surprised if they avoid the same mistake this time. The best is indeed the enemy of the good and some voters can’t stop fixating on irrelevant differences.

“Any functioning adult” was already my candidate against Trump.

Most people don’t like Trump but many will vote for him again despite his critical flaws. They believe he’ll advance an economy or agenda that’s favorable to them. Liberals watch in awe as Evangelicals defend and embrace Trump. It’s obvious that most people know that Trump is no man of faith and probably doesn’t care about most of the issues. As a politician, however, he has outmaneuvered almost everyone at every step. Trump’s polling numbers aren’t great, to be sure, but the economy is in his corner. He’s like the crappy job we endure because it pays the bills. We talk about leaving, but everyone knows we’re full of it. The Evangelicals will eventually face the consequences of endorsing a candidate and person like Trump – but it won’t be anytime soon. Movements which start at the extreme implode. (Take note, Democrats.)

A great number of Americans can’t watch the news, can’t talk to their friends and neighbors, and cringe at the idea that Trump has any position of authority. Worse, a trend that I’ve called the Polite Politics Pandemic has infected the minds of most of his detractors. People avoid any mention of politics or life issues on their social media, their conversations, and in general. They mistakenly believe that doing so makes their lives more manageable.

They’re wrong.

Just as it has done in other democracies, silence creates a false impression among your circle that you are either afraid of your opinion and the consequences of expressing it, don’t care, or secretly endorse the things that cause your silence. Over time, we find ourselves watching the boulder tumble faster and faster downhill.

Silence, even politeness with a goal of civility, works in favor of Trump.

Whatever your opinion, it is equally obvious that most Americans will overlook Trump’s onerous flaws and endorse him again. Like the last election, many of those voters will be Democrats.

Trump changed the nature of the Republican party and politics in general. Such a person comes along once a generation. Those who are politely silent are counting on their fellow Americans to push him out. The 2016 election taught us that it’s a fool’s wish to expect others to do the expected thing. If you don’t stand up and stand out now, you’re part of the problem. If you can’t find it in yourself to opine now, during a once-in-a-generation aberration, you never will.

Liberals should note that many of their friends and neighbors who once proudly shouted their enthusiasm for Trump have grown silent. Trump’s continued onslaught of profane and outlandish antics has cooled their support. The moderate in most of us eventually finds us again. Expecting most of them to violate their interests and not vote for him again, however, is lunacy. They’ll turn out in the next election whether you do or not.

I’m guilty of confusing a vote for Trump as an endorsement for some of his cruel policies. I can’t separate his policies and his endorsement. Many voters can, though, and we’re going to need a better way to frame it.

Incumbency and a strong economy invariably favor the candidate for re-election. Arguing about whether he’s qualified or a good person misses the point; it’s irrelevant. Politics has lost its facade. Qualifications will now invariably yield to tribalism and charisma.

Trump does not hold the blame for exploiting the election system or for our system of governance which assumed that rationality and normalcy would be prevailing standards. Some have shouted and barked so often that it’s impossible to alarm the bystanders sufficiently to believe that there is a real problem. I’m not asking anyone to snarl and fight; rather, I’m asking that you start by reminding everyone, even those who only passively see your influence, that the Trump America isn’t one you like.

We can do it without screaming. Screaming won’t work, anyway. If a few people get angry at you for simply enumerating your objections to a Trump America, it’s likely that those people don’t align with you or your life, anyway. Good people don’t banish other good people from their lives for honest expression; they banish them in fear of having to confront their own insecurities.

So many put their hope in the Mueller Repor. The biggest problem was its lack of transparency and immediacy. Simply put, such things must be developed quickly and openly. Whether it’s supposed to work that way sidesteps the fact that our democracy no longer finds value in the laborious process of law. Democrats lost the fight and bystanders mostly think it’s because there wasn’t enough meat on the bone. The average voter dislikes corruption, but most expect politics and politicians to be a little dirty. We’re not going to find a smoking gun in the last election unless someone releases footage of Trump killing someone with his bare hands. Anything less is a distraction.

Policy is not going to sway the middle in the 2020 election. Immigration is not an issue that will work for Democrats. Forget decorum, forget the small annoyances of a particular candidate, and stop shouting. Unless a charismatic third-party candidate enters the race late, the only Democrat who could possibly beat Trump will be the one who is standing in the middle with just enough charisma and intellect to know better than to offend voters who are mostly otherwise detached from politics. Stop focusing on how it ought to be and instead focus on the system that we’re left with.

Trump won’t win by much. Thanks to the electoral college and the tribal nature of national races, he won’t have to. If your family and friends don’t know that you dislike Trump and won’t vote for him, let them know. Don’t try to aggressively change their minds. If your life isn’t a shining example, you’re not going to change anyone’s minds. People will only stop to think about you or your opinion if something about your opinion and life speaks to them in a way that Trump’s charisma cannot.

On a personal note, I learned a hard lesson from FiveThirtyEight in 2016. As the interference of the last election became apparent, I learned more lessons from Facebook and the power of social media, watching in wonder as we discovered that they had been used effectively to sway opinion. I worked hard to embrace the lessons. My vote is almost irrelevant compared to the reach of anonymous and effective opinion. I’ve used it, especially in the last year.

Even if we miraculously get a new president in the next election, we now know that chaos and entropy are the wolves which will always be at the door. Trump or his surrogate is inevitably planning his next move.

Stay silent if you will.

Barring a major disruption, Trump will be elected again in 2020.

Silence will cost you more than your reputation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feng Shui, Tableclothcovercloths, and Kondo-Kookiness

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One of the hacks I often see is a fitted sheet over a table to replace a tablecloth.

Note: a ‘hack’ is an ill-advised method to self-delude oneself into believing that you’ve saved yourself time. We’re all going to live to be 117, stuffed inside houses brimming with goofy and astounding assortments of knick-knacks and paddywhacks. First, though, we’ll need to watch 76 shows dedicated to the pursuit of efficient households, followed by 256 hours of Etsy and internet browsing.

Can I point out that a tablecloth itself is a waste? As are placemats – and the herpes of household annoyances, the drink coaster. If we build things to be used ‘as is’ and make them interesting to begin with, we wouldn’t need additional nonsense. I know what you’re thinking; not having them would dramatically reduce our available choices for holiday gifts. Aunt Bernice needs more redundant layers of protection in order to live a normal, mundane existence.

“I wish I had some more tablecloths and coasters” is not something a rational person ever needs to say, along the same lines as, “These wooden slippers are perfect,” or, if you live in Arkansas, “I think I’ll vote for a Democrat.”

I’m still considering inventing the tableclothcovercloth, which of course is a clothcover for the tablecloth, in order to prevent the first tablecloth from being soiled. Look for it soon at Target and Hoarder’s Paradise.

Instead of putting a fitted sheet over a table, use it to capture and bag the ‘lifestyle hacker’ who wants to put it on a perfectly good table. Drive to the nearest peak and toss him/her from the precipice.

Yell, “Use the tablecloth as a parachute!” as they plummet.

It’s important to be helpful.

The Clarion Misconception

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For anyone who never had the pleasure of the holiday buffets at the now-defunct Clarion Inn in Fayetteville, you’ll have to pick another such activity or place to visualize. It’s possible I’m too nostalgic. Something about the holiday buffets evoked a feeling of kinship and holiday in me that few things ever did. I was always surprised by the mix of people who would show up and join in.

The buffet was fabulous, whether you were a light eater, a healthy eater, or someone who could best be described as a “human disposal.”

I didn’t get to return “one last time,” mostly because of factors out of my control.

Over time, I wrote a few rules to keep in mind as I hear/see people forego simple things in life, as if they themselves will not be scattered dust on a day much sooner than most of us expect.

The Clarion Misconception
The error of foregoing even mundane pleasures due to the illogical
presumption that said pleasures will always be at your disposal.

The Clarion Misconception Addendum:
Giving primary consideration to other’s preferences due to perceived proximity to death or variable out of your control.

The Clarion Certainty: Future moments are all promissory notes without guarantee.

The Clarion Kinship Observation: Familial or societal expectations should be evaluated against all variables, with your own voice given equal vote.

The Clarion Selfishness Observation: Compromise in all things will get you far; giving yourself permission to not do so will sometimes make your life happier.