Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why You Say That?

A while back, somebody I interact with regularly because of my job was complaining about his inability to qualify for a certain type of government assistance.

Typically, this cat wouldn't need assistance because he and his wife have very good jobs, but this was an emergency situation. Anyway, this guy was talking to me about how he thinks he should get assistance in an emergency because his tax dollars pay for the assistance other folks receive everyday. While I agreed in principle, in this particular case I thought it made sense for him to get denied the money.

While we're talking, this guy says something like "Look at you, you make "XX" dollars a year. Why shouldn't you, a hard working young man, get assistance while these folks who never hold a job get it? Don't you deserve it, don't you need it."

The thing is, the figure the guy threw out for my salary, was far lower than what I actually make. When I say far lower, I mean it was in a totally different tax bracket. That said, I didn't even consider correcting him about his mistake.

Not for a second.

A long time ago, I learned that folks can reveal the most interesting things when you learn the assumptions they've made about your life. The easiest way to get a clear picture of how folks see the world is to let them start talking to you about what they assume you think, have acquired or have done.

In this case, I got a glimpse at how this guy viewed our relationship and it confirmed for me that he would never, EVER, know how much money I make. Why? Because his ability to congenial to me was likely tied to the fact that he believed I was a scrabbling young man trying to make my way in the world. If he learned that I made more money than him, which I suspect I do, well it would change the whole dynamic of our relationship.

Some folks have a bad habit of volunteering information that other folks don't need to know. Whether it be stuff about your sexual history, your pay grade, or just how crazy your family is, that's stuff you need to keep to yourself.

I was thinking about this recently when a friend told me about a young man on a law school message board who revealed to the community that he'd only scored a 155 on the LSAT but had managed to be accepted into several top tier law schools. The response to this revelation was the typical drivel about Affirmative Action and the benefits of being a minority in America. There were also some crass insults about the man's overall intelligence.

My friend was appalled at the behavior, but all I could say was "Serves him right." I learned long ago that privacy is your friend in competitive environments. And pretty much every environment in the world is competitive. And if you're competing with white folks, well a closed mouth actually DOES get fed.

That means I don't share truly personal information at work, I share very little at church. I have mastered the art of answering questions with as little information as possible and forcing people to pry if they want more. And I'm not above pretending like I don't hear questions I don't like.

I don't get angry and I don't lecture folks. I just use a special brand of coldness I've developed in my nearly three decades on this planet to let them know they've crossed a line and need to reign themselves in. If they refuse to conduct themselves accordingly then I have to take more abrasive maneuvers.

It's worked for me, I'm curious to hear what's worked for y'all.



Deacon Blue said...

Zealously protect my blog identities and occasionally let loose with stuff on my mind on my blogs and other people's blogs when I need to share something I don't want the people around me every day to know.

And for the stuff I REALLY don't want people to know (even most of the people I regularly interact with online alone, much less in real world), have completely other identities to hang out at the forums and blogs and other such places where discussing such things is normal.

In normal life, though, I try not to share too much. Mrs. Blue would probably argue that I'm too open even there, but I believe I manage to keep most of the personal stuff to myself.

I think the beauty of the Internet is that if we need to share our private stuff, there are ways to do it online that keep our real IDs secret. And that's the way it should be. A perfect forum for allowing us to safely share things that we once could hardly share with anyone, while still being able to hold our heads up and not be ridiculed or judged in the real world.

That's what works for me, anyway.

Big Man said...

I think the anonymity of the internet actually encourages the worst in human beings.

Lisa J said...

This is a toughie. Sometimes I feel I give out too much info and then I beat myself up as a result. I'm trying to get better with that. Sometimes you want to get things off your chest but you have to be VERY careful who you share with. There are some mean folks in this world who will pretend to be a friend and then use your confidences against you, which really, really hurts.

I sort of agree with you about the internet bringing out the worst in some people, but generally I assume that the people who are nasty on the web are nasty in real life, they may fake it at work and let it out at home or vice versa but I think it lets people give reign to more easily vent their inner nastiness. There is a lot of anger out there that isn't channelled correctly and turns into nastiness and it leaks into the web. Then too it is easy for things to be misinterpreted when you don't hear someone's tone of voice, body language etc.

Deacon Blue said...

I agree with you somewhat, Big Man, in terms of the dark side of anonymity. On the other hand, what I also see are discussion boards where people can gather and discuss things they wouldn't be able to otherwise, and most everybody is well behaved. I think a lot depends on who's running the place. Discussion boards or even blogs where there is no moderation of the comments at all and no rules at all tend to invite some serious whack-jobs, but I guess that's sort of the pro/con thing with the Internet.

It can encourage community and connection and it can also undermine it.

Raving Black Lunatic