Rudeness is in the Mind of the Beholder

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While in principle, I agree with this meme, I also think it’s too general to be accepted without a huge caveat. And I mean HUGE. Like on the scale of the Grand Canyon. Rudeness is so subjective that in many respects it defies description. For example, what constitutes rude to someone in Atlanta may be business-as-usual for someone in Brooklyn. Certain ethnic groups likewise have vastly different standards of behavior. What’s offensive to someone from England will be entirely different than a native of Italy.

Okay, before I go any further, please note that I’m talking about the subjective interpretation of rudeness. I’m not talking about when a person is confrontational. That’s an entirely different situation, which fits the above meme much better, but the words don’t flow quite as nicely. Maybe part of the problem is so many people don’t know the difference.

There have been numerous references to individuals referred to as “snowflakes” lately, a term I didn’t fully understand until I happened upon its definition: Someone who is easily hurt or offended. Aha! Makes perfect sense–someone whose ego is so fragile that they figuratively “melt” when they encounter something contrary to their personal paradigm.

I was raised that it was foolish to take offense when none was intended. In other words, sometimes you won’t like something a person says, perhaps because they’re a bit too outspoken or raised with a different standard of what equates to “rude” behavior.  Remember Dorothy on “The Golden Girls?” Her behavior could certainly be considered “rude”.

However, if it was not intended as a slam, insult, or challenge, then it seems foolish to get your panties in a wad. Some people are programmed that way, aren’t even aware of it, and seldom mean it as perceived. Or maybe they meant it at the time, but overreaction on your part can result in a rift that never closes. By the next day the offending party may have already forgotten about it while you’re just getting started nursing a grudge. It takes two, remember?

While rudeness is indeed in the mind of the beholder, it’s important to consider whether that judgment is correct. A person’s reaction is also in their court. There are those who are so easily hurt or offended that you cannot relax around them, but tiptoe on eggshells so as not to ruffle their precious feathers. Such people go off in a huff if you offend them, yet you may not even know why. So who’s at fault? Whose responsibility is it? Who’s the bigger person, or in the case of the meme, the stronger person? The one who was “rude” or the one who didn’t react?

The world has enough whiners and martyrs out there who apparently never learned in elementary school that “Sticks and bones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. Even if a person IS being overtly rude, how you react is your responsibility. In that case, why give them the satisfaction of reacting? Who’s the stronger person then?

To be fair, just as some are programmed to be outspoken or lack a tact filter, some are programmed to be more sensitive. To those individuals author Karen Ingalls presents an excellent suggestion in her book “Outshine”, which chronicles her bout with ovarian cancer. She writes, “What we say may not always come out the way we intended. It creates an opportunity for the receiver to bring comfort to an awkward or embarrassing time with smiling and laughing rather than with defensiveness or anger. Sometimes what seems like an insult is actually a compliment that just came out the wrong way.”

Furthermore, many instances of being offended and/or suffering from hurt feelings can be avoided by giving the alleged offender the benefit of the doubt. Jumping to conclusions will often create problems that could have been avoided.

Rather than judging everyone out there and expecting them to conform to your rules, it  pays to assess your own response. Take responsibility for the one and only individual in the known universe whom you can control–yourself. If you need some additional help, I suggest listening to this 1994 classic from the Eagles. Several years ago when I was a manager at NASA, my group had a sing-a-long with these lyrics at one of our staff meetings. Try memorizing the melody, then hum it the next time someone gets your goat.

It’s the classic answer to being too easily offended: Get over it.

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Today’s Writing Tip

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Perfect people are boring, the same with those that are too predictable and have their lives entirely together. You don’t want your readers to get bored reading about your character, so they need to have some issues. Even if they’re a very strong person, then they need to have a challenge before him or her that tests that strength.

However, don’t make your characters such a piece of work that they’re off-putting to readers. I have read books where the character, or at least one of them, was so dysfunctional that I was rolling my eyes and wanted to slap this person upside the head. I came very close to not reading any further, except I usually give a book about three chapters before I ditch it.

Interesting characters and plots are essential and character growth through the story is essential, but remember, if your reader doesn’t like or can’t relate to him or her at all, they may quit reading.

Today’s Writing Tip

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How many award winning books have you read? These are great reference points for what constitutes not only a good read, but excellent writing. Don’t just read them for enjoyment, study them for what makes them special.

When a book wins an award or is a finalist, the author is given a seal or medallion that recognizes their status, which they place on their book cover. Thus, you can tell by looking at the cover if it’s been given an award. Another way to find them is to go to the websites for the organizations that provide awards. If you don’t know where to find them, here are a few, though there are numerous others: ReadersFavorite.com; BookExcellenceAwards.com; NewAppleAwards.com.

If you think your book is top notch, enter one of these and get a professional opinion. However, bear in mind that as with all reviews, there’s a level of subjectivity. I know one author who got blasted by one of these and awarded the top award for the same book by another. Nonetheless, it does provide a baseline.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Mercury retrograde is a great time for editing and bad time for starting a new project.  While this prognostication is astrological in origin, it’s often a time when skeptics start to recognize there may be something to it. Astronomically, it means that the planet Mercury is moving backwards in the sky. Of course this isn’t true, only by appearance, similar to when you’re passing another car on the freeway and it appears that the other car is moving backwards when you are actually moving away from it.

Astrologically, since Mercury rules communications of all kinds as well as anything that moves, this is not when your brain, electronics, or anything mechanical is functioning properly. Computer, automobile, and appliance problems are common at this time as well as communication problems at the people level. This is a time to go back and review, revise, reconsider, and reassess while starting something new is likely to not go anywhere ever or, at best, be delayed.

This usually happens three times each year. The next one will be from November 17 – December 6, 2018, but to be safe, avoid new projects from October 29 – December 25. Put this time to good use by editing and revising as opposed to new copy.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Many authors will tell you, including myself, that book blurbs are harder to write than the book itself! After creating numerous characters, devising a complex plot, and describing the time and place over hundreds of pages, distilling this down into a few sentences is no easy task.

Some great advice from author Nicholas Rossis that he passed along in a recent writers conference stated that the main elements to include are your main character, what s/he wants, what’s in the way, and the consequences of failure. Whatever you do, don’t include any spoilers or too many extraneous details. You want the reader’s curiosity to be aroused enough for them to want to read the story.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Do you fully understand what it means to show versus tell? Your reader should experience the story through the eyes of your characters, up close and personal, not as an observer from afar.

When you tell a story, there is little to no reader engagement at the emotional level. They may be able to sympathize with the character or relate story action to their own experience, but they do not feel as if they’re part of the story or that they really know the characters.

Showing involves rendering the same feeling in your reader as your character is experiencing, whether it’s love, joy, fear, sadness, grief, anger, etc. You are not going to be able to do this with a single word or sentence. If you ever find yourself using the word “feel” in any of its conjugations, stop right there. For example, saying, “He felt angry” simply doesn’t do it. However, if you describe how he really felt, such as his heart rate increasing, hands shaking, mind racing, tension in his muscles, or thinking that he might explode, then you’re showing.

Today’s Writing Tip

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The Greeks had six words for love and would be horrified at our lumping them all together. For example, eros is love of a sexual or passionate nature; philia is deep friendship; ludus is playful love, such as flirting; agape is love for everyone; pragma is long-standing love, such as seen in couples who have been married for many decades; and philautia is self-love.

This is an example of how a language or even your vocabulary contributes to (or conversely, limits) the precision that defines strong writing, i.e. using exactly the correct word. Besides showing expertise in expression, it also helps avoid unnecessary use of adjectives and other modifiers. If the “right” word is available, use it!  This is why reading the dictionary comes in handy because often the word you need is not in common usage or on the tip of your tongue.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Do you ever read the dictionary? Words are an author’s tools. Your vocabulary will determine the quality of your writing. Using the word that precisely expresses your meaning strengthens your writing.

By reading the dictionary from time to time, you’d be surprised what you might discover that will come in useful. Along those lines, when you’re reading and encounter an unfamiliar word, look it up. While you may be able to discern its meaning from the context, it is likely to have a certain slant that adds to the sentence’s meaning.

This is the kind of precision that makes your writing stronger.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Does your story have a deeper, philosophical or thematic meaning than meets the eye? Symbolism is an important element if you really want to make a point in a subtle way. This can make the difference between fiction and literature.

When I was in school studying literature I often wondered if the author deliberately included the symbolism or if it just “happened.” This is something to think about as an author. Incorporating a strong theme and symbolism into your story can give it substantially more depth. While it may escape the more casual reader, anyone who knows something about literature, particularly some reviewers, will catch the meaning and give you more respect as a writer.