The right to remain silent

jelly donutIf you’re female, you’ve probably grumbled about your weight at least once in your life. Whether you feel plagued with an extra five pounds or fifty, we all have our number. It’s a girl thing. (I’m sure it occasionally happens with men too, but I’m not a dude, so I’ll keep my assumptions to my own gender.)

You’d think, then, that women would be understanding of each other. Apparently that’s not always the case.

A friend of mine–one who is now 100 pounds lighter and kicking the sh*t out of her goals–recently told me of an incident that happened early in her weight loss journey. She had finally decided to wage war on her sedentary lifestyle and less-than-healthy habits and got herself moving, literally. She started walking on an indoor track, slowly at first because that’s all her body and mind could handle. In fact, she remembers the broom-wielding custodian easily gliding around her has he cleaned the track. Nonetheless, she was moving; that constituted victory all by itself.

Enter one perky soccer mom (PSM), complete with yoga pants and svelte physique, power walking around the track. No biggie, right? There’s room for everyone.

Not so, friends.

As PSM rounded the curve and started to pass my friend, she threw a verbal barb that lodged itself in my friend’s heart.

I’ll bet you wish you hadn’t had that doughnut this morning, huh?

What the heck? WHO SAYS THAT?!

Every time I ponder this story I get angry all over again, for lots of different reasons. I can’t process the unbelievable rudeness of this woman. You can call it fat shaming or whatever the fashionable term of the day happens to be, but I call it rude. It’s just downright mean. Whatever happened to good manners? Decorum? Class? Did degrading someone else make PSM feel superior? Did she think pushing someone down would raise her up? If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

The bigger issue that intrigues me about this incident is the sense of entitlement. I’ve seen it over and over at the gym: fit-looking people with the “right” kind of workout clothes draping the “right” kind of body cast sneers toward the less perfect people huffing and puffing and sweating as they struggle to finish a workout. Their attitude rises from their skin like steam: Look at you! You have no right to be here. You can’t even use this machine right. You’re in my way. I deserve to be here; you don’t.

Excuse me, but isn’t the person who is out of shape exactly the person who should be at the gym? And shouldn’t we applaud those of us–regardless of size, creed, color, or anything else–who take the initiative to do something positive? We should be making way for progress, not impeding it.

Inside or outside the gym, why is it often the people who need something least who feel the most entitled to it?

Think about that.

And the next time you find yourself ready to throw shade on someone doing something good for herself, remember: you have the right to remain silent. Exercise that.

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Self-addressed silliness

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a new practice rearing its ugly head at gift-giving events. As guests arrive and deposit their gifts, they are asked to address an envelope to themselves. The guest of honor takes these envelopes home and eventually deposits thank-you notes into them, needing only to slap a stamp in the upper right corner to make them mailable.

This offends me. Call me old-fashioned, but addressing my own thank-you note just seems crass and, well, lazy. I’ve bought a gift, added a card and pretty packaging, and happily delivered it to whichever event I was summoned. I don’t think it’s wrong to expect the recipient go to the “trouble” of writing my address.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m generally glad to share in the celebration. I don’t begrudge the gift, and I appreciate the acknowledgment. I guess what gets my goat is that this practice transactionalizes the whole affair–as if the gift and the thank-you fill a square instead of carrying specific meaning. Maybe self-addressing makes the acknowledgment process more efficient, but it certainly feels less sincere.

The next time I attend one of these events, I intend to skip the self-addressed silliness. If I receive a thank-you note, I’ll know it’s because the person cared enough to send it–not because I made it easy.

What’s next, a stamp?

Caller ID

Sometimes I hate caller ID. It causes people jump into the familiar without thinking, assuming they know what is coming when they pick up the phone. They bypass any ritual of politeness and start, to what feels to the person on the other end, in the middle of the conversation.

It often goes something like this:

Phone rings.

Person called glances at the display, recognizes the number, and picks up the phone.

“Yeah?” (Or worse yet, “What?”)

Caller misses a beat trying to process this unanticipated starting point, having expected the customary “Hello” or “Good afternoon” or at least “What can I do for you?”

Caller regroups and proceeds, but something is lost, however slight, because the comfortable social norm has been removed.

The fact that I feel this behavior is akin to rudeness notwithstanding, it can also backfire quickly when the person calling isn’t actually the person identified on screen. For example, if I’m standing at someone else’s desk having a conversation that generates a question, I often pick up the phone and place a call to the person who has the answer. Or I may have other people in my office and choose to use the speaker phone so everyone can participate, but I haven’t had time to let the person on the other end know that. (For the record, I usually start these calls on the handset and then switch to speaker to avoid this scenario.) Or someone else may borrow my cell phone to make a call when hers is dead. The reason isn’t really the point; what matters is the possibility of the unexpected.

But back to my point about rudeness. Caller ID breeds a degree of familiarity, giving the person on the other end a hint about what (whom) to expect. Familiarity, however, is no excuse for abandoning one’s manners. I can be familiar without being rude. Instead of answering my phone with my standard professional greeting, I can tailor it to the person I think may be on the other end. “Yeah?” for example, can easily become “Good morning!” It still insinuates familiarity, but now it exudes politeness, as well.

Think about it.

P.S. J–I gave you fair warning.