Monday, September 11, 2006

Politesse

I think I thought blogging was going to be a way to get me actually to write, since I’m continually avoiding writing the novel that I’m supposedly working on. Now I find that it’s just another thing to avoid writing. I have some rather convoluted thoughts in my head right now (more convoluted than the ones I’ve been writing about so far) which I am, apparently, afraid to put down on paper. I mean, on blog. I’m afraid of what actually starting to write about them will unleash in my head, and also I’m afraid that the ensuing posts will be so long no one will read them. I’m not sure how to break them up into bite-sized chunks, which, apart from any other reasons, is sort of necessary due to time constraints. For example, I need to leave for work in half an hour.

As a way of appeasing my readers (who, while not very verbose, are apparently avid) and my conscience, I will therefore describe a strange little thought that skipped into my head before I fell asleep last night.

Last evening, my roommate and I had a little discussion, the hub of which was a miscommunication. What I realized about myself in the course of said discussion was that I am not always as honest as I think I am, and that usually the reason is manners. Or at least what I grew up understanding manners to be. In our family, you don’t just tell someone what you’re going to do, or what you want them to do. You phrase it as a question, or as a hint. For example, my grandfather used to say things like, “Would anyone like the salt?” Meaning, “Hand over the salt.” Or, “Well, we love you,” meaning, “We’ve talked on the phone plenty long enough; now let’s just hang up and talk again some other time.” When I’m at work supervising a shift, I say things like, “Would you mind making some more iced coffee?” when what I mean is, “Make some more iced coffee.” In my immediate family, if we want to let people know our plans, we often say, “I’m going to do blah blah—is that okay with you?” The correct, polite answer is always, “Sure,” even if it isn’t okay with that person.

This method of communication works okay if you understand the intent behind it, but I’m not sure how many people do. In college, a friend of mine once said, “Jenn, you’re so polite, if you weren’t my friend, I would hate you.” I understood this to have been said in the most affectionate way possible, so I wasn’t offended. Now I also maybe understand its meaning, as well. This kind of manners that is my first language is, as my roommate hesitantly pointed out last night, “kind of lying.” After this observation (with which I agreed), I started thinking about manners in general, and I probably most of them are “kind of lying.”

I mean, if you want something, you don’t have to beat around the bush about it and you can still be polite. As in, “Please pass the salt.” It is understood that the salt is desired, but “please” makes the expression of said desire less abrasive. On the other hand, when I’m at work and a customer is getting on my nerves, I still have to say, “Thanks very much—have a nice day!” (preferably sounding like I mean it), even if what I want to say is, “I’m not actually your slave, jerk,” or if I want to kick him or her in the head or something. This is not very honest. But it is polite.

I find this to be quite a conundrum, because I believe that the Bible does not condone deceit. On the other hand, I doubt it condones kicking people in the head just because they forgot to tell you they wanted their drink iced and acted as if it was your fault and you should have been able to read their minds.

I think I still vote for manners, if for no other reason than the fact that most of the time I feel like being rude to customers, it’s because they have ordered their drink while talking on their cell phone or because they have been otherwise rude to me. Manners act like a buffer, and they remind me (sometimes) that other human beings are other human beings, and should be treated with respect even if I, at that moment, don’t actually respect them. Also, although I think this is supposed to happen more than it does, theoretically there’s always the off chance that by treating people as if I care about them, I might actually start to care about them. Then the deceit becomes the truth and so I’m not lying and what’s more, I haven’t kicked anyone.

I’m still not sure what the answer is for telling someone what I intend to do. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes; at the same time, I might get mad if I phrase my plans as a question and the person answering the question objects. This is something I still need to consider. But later. For now I'm just going to go to work, if it's okay with you.

4 comments:

Dave Grosser said...

Hey, Jenn--

I'm guessing it will take time/trial and error to figure it out, but I think you'll figure out how to make this blogging thing work to support your writing. You're creative and stuff, and you know what works/doesn't work as far as setting hard/soft deadlines for yourself/managing writer's block/etc. I'm glad you use this blog to push out stuff thoughts that skipped into your head and aren't fully developed--because this post was good; it would have been tempting to develop it more, but it might not have gotten out there if you didn't just put it out there. And you're writing. But I'm guessing there are topics that you want to spend more time thinking about than just forcing out some "convoluted" thoughts you have just to appease your many avid readers. Speaking for this reader, I like what you write, and I *really* like what you spend time writing. So if I have to wait a week for that, I'll wait a week. If I get daily stuff, hey, bonus.

Dave Grosser said...

Oh, and the other thing (more to the point of this post)-- Time spent on "it will take me a week to write this post" posts will probably help this blog strike a balance between "What do you think?" and "Here's what I think." Both are good. Your polite tendencies perhaps veer more towards saying "what do you think?" but we'll all probably benefit from some more "here's what I think" if it comes from you. Or maybe I'm full of crap. Fellow readers, what do you think?

:)

Annelise said...

Yeah, I think it's great to hear what you think--it's always interesting!

Jenn said...

Here's what I think:

I don't really want to work on this quite so hard that it takes me a week to put stuff out there. Honestly, I just want to put stuff out there. If I start REALLY thinking, I might feel like I'm going to get graded or something. Too much pressure. Not a fan. I did all that type-A overachiever stuff when I was at school.

As for "what do you think," it has something to do with being so polite if I weren't people's friend, they'd hate me. It also, however, has something to do with attempting to elicit comments from people. You know--asking people what they think, so maybe they'll tell me. Only it isn't working. Except for you. And Mom. And Luis. And Mariam. Thank you, dear readers.

But also, I think I'm over it.

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