Sunday, January 13, 2013

Paying dues (with dues)

Hello Reader,

I am remiss...  I didn't post Friday.  I can make a lot of excuses, but instead I'll just give the due reasons.  I have not been pleased with the content of my posts.  I have not made writing a priority.  That's it!  And, as said in The Last Unicorn, "I'm here now".

I recently read a story (tall tale, urban legend) about a man in a mall food court who tried to pay for his meal with a two dollar bill.  I've seen several versions of this story--  Basically, the story goes that the kid behind the counter thought the bill was fake.  The manager of the store (also, presumably, a kid) confirms that two dollar bills are surely fake, and calls mall security.  The security guy shows up, is told the customer is trying to pass counterfeit money.  The guard confronts the customer, who shows the security guard the two dollar bill.  The guard and the customer share a laugh at the "idiots" who think two dollar bills are fake.  The commentary at the end of the story adds some incredulous bitching about "can you believe these people can vote!?" or "and these people are running our country after we die" or "and they're going to have babies!".

Every time I read a version of this story, I get upset.  You see, I've often asked questions of people and been greeted with "you mean you don't know that!?" or some such sardonic statement.  We tell eachother there's no such thing as a stupid question, and yet when people ask something, we treat them with derision.  Knowledge is power.  Knowing is half the battle.

Apparently the other half of the battle is being an asshole.

It's all about paying our dues.  Many of us live in a culture where we have to prove ourselves before we can be respected.  We have to earn our credibility.  And as part of this ritual of paying our dues, we either learn how to be tremendous bullshitters while we carefully observe and study behind the scenes, or we utter the very painful words "I don't know".  Admitting you don't know something takes a lot of bravery, but is rarely ever rewarded as a courageous act.

In and of itself, this situation isn't terribly upsetting.  What is upsetting (at least to me) is that we expect that everyone we encounter has the same cookie cutter set of knowledge, skills, and abilities that we have.  So, when we see teenagers that have never seen a two dollar bill, we don't take into consideration that it's a not-oft-used denomination.  Instead, we just assume that everyone knows about two dollar bills, and therefore, these teenagers are idiots.  Our logic is unassailable.  We have both halves of the battle.

The take-aways from this post:

If someone asks you a question you know the answer to and you think it's something everybody knows, take a deep breath.  Then answer.  And if you're really that bothered that they didn't know, share with them how you came to know the tidbit you've just shared.  Maybe their history is different from yours.  (And by maybe I mean it definitely is.  And quit being an asshole.)

If someone asks you a question and you don't know the answer, don't bullshit them!  Instead, be very candid that you don't know, and offer to learn together.  Look it up!

If you ask a question and someone starts bullshitting you, call them on it.  But do it nice.  You're trying to get one half of the battle, no need to display the other.

If you ask a question and the person answers with one of the two methods I described above, ask if they've read this blog!  Chances are, they haven't.  Direct them to read this blog...  I kid, I kid.  Instead, just thank them for being very helpful.

If you ask a question and you're greeted with derision, you have a couple of choices...  You can just ask someone else.  You can smile and say something that'll make them feel guilty.  You can laugh with them.  There's no cookie cutter answer to this situation!  Just like we don't have cookie cutter knowledge and experience.

We're all on different journeys.  Don't go out of your way to make it harder for someone else.  And feel free to comment on your advice and experiences in these situations   Or on what you think the second half of the battle really is!

Until next!

PS: the wordplay in this title is a little abstract.  Paying dues.. with dues..  as in, an Americanized plural of the Italian "due" which means "two".  As in two dollar bills.  aaaaand....  when I said "I'll give my due reasons", I gave two.  Reasons, not bills.

I love words!


Veronica said...

"...we expect that everyone we encounter has the same cookie cutter set of knowledge, skills, and abilities that we have."

Very true of our culture. And sad.

I've been spending the last or so years of my life really focusing on the fact that everyone has their own unique story. Each story is a journey leading us all to very different conclusions about life in general--what we know and think, how we act; even our physical attributes to a certain extent. It really helps remove the hard callous of judgment when you look at people with that in mind...

Veronica said...

There was an "eight" in there, I don't know what happened to it. Should have read, "the last eight or so years..." Haha!