I'm in a soapbox mood today, so indulge me.
I am a big lover of so many things, as you probably know by now. There isn't a day that I wake up to weather I don't love, there isn't a time of day that is less beautiful than any other to me. I try to take everyone at face value, to appreciate the wholeness of a person, even the rougher spots that we all have, and sometimes show.
What really gets under my skin is people trying to "get under my skin." I have, at certain times of my life, been a magnet for critics, would-be Henry Higgins, evangelists of all denominations. Maybe I wear my heart on my sleeve so obviously that I look malleable, dewy-eyed and innocent, just waiting for the "right" idea to make me real.
Once, about a year ago, I was in the local mall with the girls when I was approached by a very aggressive salesman. He waltzed over to me from his kiosk, gave me a sympathetic cluck and a tilt of the head, and said something to the effect of "poor mama, you look so old and tired." Somehow, by putting me in this sad little category, he got me to slow down enough where he could step in front of me, and block my way. The moment he got me to stop, he gave me the hard sell on hand cream. $40 dollars later, I walked away with some lotion, a green vinyl bag, and a bruised ego. The cream, by the way, was crap. Which matched the way I felt. I took a small comfort in knowing that at least he failed with his attempt to sell me eyecream "all those wrinkles, ma'am!"
In each day, each of us is bound to cross paths with people going through trials, sometimes acting out aggressions or envy or need or disappointment. It is taking me years to see it, but these actions don't really have much to do with me, other than the fact that when do I encounter them, I often take them too much to heart. Could you guess that for days after that fleecing at the mall, I would stand in front of the bathroom mirror, trying to gauge the extent of my wrinkling? Ugh.
As I said, I have worked for years to accept the wholeness of people, the good and the bad, to look past faults and transgressions, sometimes to the detriment of myself. I think I've done this in part because I long for that universal acceptance myself. It's an unrealistic thing to expect from everyone you meet, but still. It's a fantasy I'm working to let go of. I remind myself that there will be no unicorn appearing in my backyard this afternoon, either.
The world is full of the need to project the mean, the critic, the unaccepting. The worst is when these are couched in the guise of "friendship" or "help" (like the lotion salesman).
Rhetorically, these attacks seek to throw the equilibrium of the listener. Kindly delivered, they are like poisoned apples. Seemingly harmless, but meant for injury. Sometimes these friendly attacks come as "No offense, but...," which of course is just a warning of impending offense. That "but" seeks to absolve the messenger of responsibility. It's a gentle delivery, as the messenger hopes to injure but still remain in the "friend" category. Nowadays we call those kinds of friends "frenemies."
The latest type of rhetorical poisoned apple is "I'm just sayin.." Instead of prefacing an attack, it comes at the end, as a way of softening the blow. Again, this sort of expression seeks to remove the messenger from responsibility for his or her own hurtful words. In person, it might be accompanied with a sheepish shrug, or a little kick at the ground and an "aw shucks." It's an I-just-can't-help-what-I-feel sort of expression.
To these expressions I say this: Bullshit. I think we should be responsible for our words, for the nastiness we throw out into the world.
If a person has the chutzpah to let the words out of her mouth, then she needs to own them, good or bad. If you want to sell me some hand cream, don't make me feel ugly to do it. Own it. Sell the product, not a poor image of me to myself. If you want to attack me, just do it. Don't preface it with a request that I forget you said it. Don't end it with the lie that you can't help your feelings. That you're "just" saying. Because, friend, if you're "just sayin," your words are poisoned. And you put the poison there.
I'm asking too much to remove these time-honored means of attack and persuasion from language. I'm probably asking too much of myself to disregard them entirely. But I am promising that I won't ever use them. And I'm promising that when I am sent these poison apples, I won't bite. You shouldn't either.
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