“EXCUSE ME!”

People aren’t taught how to disagree well or how to effectively raise an objection (with the least collateral damage). Not from the evidence. So everyone just flounders around trying to come up with their own style. Trouble is, most aren’t any good.

“Old School” sorts who prefer directness and are not overly concerned with causing offense, get straight to it:

“You’re a dumbass.”
“Stupid bitch.”
“Fuck you, asshole!”
“Watch where you’re going, Shithead.”

I am not in ANY way condoning this particular mode of communication, but it leaves no doubt where people stand. There is no, “Hmmm, I wonder what he meant by that?”

On the other end is a trend toward vague, indirect, couched-to-the-point-of-incomprensibility speech. “You can disagree without being disagreeable,” which sounds like a politically correct koan, hails from that philosophy. People end up saying things so roundabout and passive-aggressively pissy, the listener has no idea what’s really intended. Sometimes it just makes you think, “What on earth is this person trying to say to me??” And a round of 20 Questions ensues in an attempt at clarification.

I knew a woman who said her way of non-aggressively confronting someone was to say, “Have I done something to offend you or are you just having a bad day?” As things go, the statement was pretty evolved, although someone on the receiving end might take issue with the “or are you just having a bad day” part. Not so sure how I’d like it if someone said this to me; I might wonder if the first half was genuinely a question. Doesn’t matter I guess, because I don’t think anyone has ever asked me if they’ve done “something to offend” me.

Occasionally I object by using the phrase, “I’m not happy about…(X).” I often find myself saying, both to intimates and others, “You’re not listening to me” (because they ain’t!). When somebody is truly trying to railroad or otherwise cow me with unreasonable requests or behavior, I’ll respond with a pointed, “Ohhh, no, no, no.” (Less formally in the right company/context, “Have you lost your mind?!” or less charitably, “Have you taken a blow to the head recently?”)

I’ve heard people say in situations in which they weren’t happy, “This is unacceptable.” I have never used that line as I fear it almost begs the response, “Well, la-di-fucking-DA!” Do people really hop-to when told something is unacceptable? If they do, maybe I should start saying it. Although, “This is not okay,” probably has a less stodgy ring to it – and is a sentence most of us could pull off without inciting smirks and mockery.

I’ve noticed more than a few children have made the words, “EXCUSE ME!” their go-to when doing anything that infringes on other people. They toss it off like a Get out of jail free card. They clearly don’t understand the meaning and use it as a means of getting away with stuff. Such as crashing into your shins with their bicycle. Or when running around, careening into your personal space, dinner plate, or sanity. It reminds me of Steve Martin’s old routine, “Well, EXCUUUSE me!” I’m not sure how well this bodes for the future…

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19 thoughts on ““EXCUSE ME!”

  1. RobinLK

    I’m pretty straight-forward, which saves my sanity, but ticks people off. It often perplexes them, too. You can see it on their faces, like they’re wondering if I’m ‘for-real’ or not.
    Yep. For reals.
    Now, go away.
    Thank you.

    My HS kiddos always say ‘sorry’, which ticks ME off. They think it fixes everything. Really?!?!?!?!?

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  2. John Callaghan

    Interesting perspective. I often find myself struggling to express myself when I’m angry in a productive manner. I have a bit of a temper and I can go overboard sometimes and I always feel really shitty afterward. I also HATE when people are mean or rude and then say “I’m just being honest.” That is unacceptable.

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    1. RobinLK

      John,
      I’m with you: mean or rude people are at the top of my Unacceptable list. I teach my students that we can disagree with each other without degrading one another. I used to go overboard when I was younger, but have mellowed into a calmer, but straightforward middle aged version. I also married someone who lacks anger mgmt skills, which has taught me a lot by watching his behavior.

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    2. writerinsoul Post author

      In the heated moment it’s hard to remember and actually do the wise and productive things we told ourselves we’d do when these situations come up. (One I’ve heard, credited to the late Garry Shandling, is “Don’t get mad get funny” which I believe I remembered and did precisely once.)

      We need a comeback for the I’m-just-being-honest people. Got any? Maybe: “Please don’t be.” “Your honest sounds like my rude.” “Looks like somebody skipped Civility 101.”

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  3. Andrew Davis

    what a fun topic! adults in this world all trying to get their needs met. most acting like they did when they were children. if they pushed other kids off the slide to get ahead of them they are more likely to be the adults to cut lines, cut off people and take things because no one ever showed them consequences for their actions. And the kids who always followed rules and were raised in respectfulness are often shocked at the boorishness of adults and still desire to get along with others and not create confrontation, making straightforwardness a challenge.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Exactly. Thanks for weighing in. The Boors and The People Following the Rules are perpetually at odds. I think many of us try to do differently than what we saw modeled in childhood (and went out and repeated), which results in that floundering about I mentioned. So few do it well, strike that right chord.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      When you’re the say-nothing type (and I fall more in this camp), I think you’ve got to prepare stock phrases in advance since they don’t come naturally. If I speak up for myself I feel better.

      Yes, 3 days is about the proper incubation for the brilliant comeback. One which will never apply to a future scenario.

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