I can't go a whole day without offending someone.
December 13, 2005 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I can't go a whole day without offending someone. Should I be true to myself or please you?

I am an honest forthright person. I usually say what's on my mind. My humor tends to be MiFi in nature (that's the way the Tookie crumbles).

Everyday I seem to say something that bothers someone. I seem to spend each day with the brakes on so as not to hurt or offend. As I told a friend I offended "my movie has been formatted to fit on your screen, but you'll never know what your missing". I find myself pulling away from relationships because I can't be myself. Am I being too sensitive to others sensitivities?
posted by Xurando to Human Relations (89 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Everyday I seem to say something that bothers someone.
Am I being too sensitive to others sensitivities?

are you serious?
posted by sergeant sandwich at 1:24 PM on December 13, 2005


WTF?

Stop being an asshole. Whats wrong with you?
posted by smoothie at 1:25 PM on December 13, 2005


It's better to offend people than to be constantly resenting them, but neither is any way to go through life.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:26 PM on December 13, 2005 [1 favorite]


Can you give some examples of the things you're saying that offend people? Real, honest ones, not the most minor thing you can think of that we'll all totally empathize with you on?
posted by twiggy at 1:26 PM on December 13, 2005


just judging by the phrasing of your question, seems like your just being an a-hole. politeness and honesty are not mutually exclusive.
posted by menace303 at 1:29 PM on December 13, 2005


I can't help but think this thread would be better than examples. I'll start. The other day, I told my friend that he was acting like an asshole the night before, and that he had the Bush-jaw going full time these days, and the only thing he could have done to make it worse would be to start speaking French in that redneck Farnham accent of his.

We ended up hugging and laughing, though, so you might need new friends.
posted by jon_kill at 1:30 PM on December 13, 2005


So, basically you're asking for someone to co-sign your narcissism?
posted by gregariousrecluse at 1:31 PM on December 13, 2005


> Should I be true to myself or please you?

Well, what do you want to accomplish?
posted by teleskiving at 1:33 PM on December 13, 2005


Have you tried getting laid once in a while?
posted by ouke at 1:34 PM on December 13, 2005


Politeness. The most acceptable form of hypocrisy. - A. Bierce

But it's also a great social lubricant. You can be more open with some people than with others. Depending on what you're hoping to get out of it.
posted by Marnie at 1:34 PM on December 13, 2005


Hold on, hold on. I wanna find out if Xaranaduuru or whatever is hanging out with nances before we start the pile-on.

Mr. X?
posted by jon_kill at 1:35 PM on December 13, 2005


Careful, ouke, sex isn't an acceptable solution here.
posted by jon_kill at 1:35 PM on December 13, 2005


Obviously the consensus is "please others" or more specifically "stop being a dick". I agree. Plus "tookie crumbles" isn't even funny.
posted by delmoi at 1:38 PM on December 13, 2005


Why isn't sex an acceptable solution? It's not like ouke suggested a good rogering. But really, if you're offending someone (not the same one) every day, you need to work on your social skills.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:42 PM on December 13, 2005


You have to stop and consciously think of how you should phrase what you want to say. There are ways of saying anything so it doesn't offend, although there are times to present the truth without varnish too.

I recommend you read a book called "People Skills" by Bolton. I read it when I found I was having trouble at work with getting my opinion taken seriously. Turned out I wasn't listening.

There is no more important skill you will ever develop in your life than the ability to listen and talk with other people effectively.
posted by xammerboy at 1:44 PM on December 13, 2005


that tookie remark was the best thing in a thread full of pompous priggery.

Do not hang around with "serious people".
posted by dydecker at 1:45 PM on December 13, 2005


Well, I dunno, delmoi, I think "Tookie crumbles" is kinda funny.

But, Xurando, I agree with delmoi and everyone else-- you don't need to vocalize every offensive thought that pops into your head. Doing so is a characterstic of Tourette's syndrome sufferers, not an indication of the capacity to "be true to yourself."

Try privately enjoying your own wit, maybe to relate it later on, to trusted pals or in blog form.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:46 PM on December 13, 2005


If you're comfortable with a passel of constantly-offended friends, or no friends, then go ahead and be completely blunt and be bothersome. However, the fact that you've asked this question seems to indicate that you're trying to *both* have friends and be yourself. So, to be really black and white, if the friends you have don't like you the way you are, there is some room for negotiation, but not a whole lot. You may need new friends. If the friends you haev you would like to keep, then try to moderate your tone or approach somewhat. Implying that someone "doesn't know what they are missing" when you explain to them that you'r reigning yourself in is fairly presumptuous on your part. Maybe they know what they are missing -- your humor which offends them -- and they don't like it.

In short, there is room for negotiation in friendships and both people have to decide to stick with it or not. If you absolutely want to be yourself, you may have to find a place to do that with a different peer group who appreciates you more. Clearly your brand of humor is not particularly appreciated here, for example ["tookie crumbles"? that passes for assholish in this community] perhaps there are other places you'd fit in better.
posted by jessamyn at 1:49 PM on December 13, 2005


another solution is to tone down your offensive jokes around the friends who don't share the same sense of humor, but still be honest in a way that is less offensive. eventually you'll meet people who find your jokes funny rather than offensive and you can share them with like-minded people, while sparing the general public.
posted by booknerd at 1:52 PM on December 13, 2005


Well, this is interesting. I just had this topic come up on my blog.

My solution was to try to keep my rudeness/honesty segmented to zones. My blog is the place I'm free to be 100% open. A place where I do not have to worry about saying things that hurt or offend people. Friends and family who want to come to my blog can expect to be offended and even hurt sometimes. In other environments however I choose my words more carefully and try not to piss people off.

In other words - Your friends like you and they'll understand. The rest of the world is filled with whiny-ass, politically correct coddlers who need their reality filtered of all raw humor and wit.

At MetaFilter I do both. Or at least I did back in the day when I actually posted. Now I just use the filtered version for comments. Mefites seem to have a rather particular form of snobbishness when it come to honesty and humor. Best to just not bother trying.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:53 PM on December 13, 2005


Also wanted to echo the "honesty" comment.

People who use the catch-all "I'm just being honest" as an excuse to be complete assholes or otherwise hurt other people have no concept of being truthful/honest/etc. -- they just know how to be an asshole (or a sociopath).
posted by jca at 1:54 PM on December 13, 2005


I used to have a big problem with being sarcastic, and I decided that I wanted to change, which realisitically involves thinking before you speak. I worked on it for months and years and still can't seem to control everything that comes out of mouth, but I'm much better, much happier and have more friends now.

Sometimes it pays to stop and think... "Is there a nicer way to say that?", or "Does that really need to be said?" Don't give in to the knee-jerk reactions. Think about what you're going to say, and if it's valid, say it. If not... write it down to giggle about at home.

Whether you think it's benifical or not, there is something to be said for the ability to control your own personality in genuine ways, and to be able to think, evaluate the situation, and reconsider your words before speaking.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:57 PM on December 13, 2005 [1 favorite]


I self-censor brutally when I'm among people whose sense of humor I do not know well. In fact I hardly say anything at all among strangers. In high school I discovered I was a terrible judge of teh funny (lost a might-have-been girlfriend over it in fact, which I did not realize for a decade -- for years I just thought she'd stopped talking to me for no reason at all) and just decided it was easier not to say anything. I'm better at making such judgments now, but the habit remains. Which is okay. It makes me seem smart.
posted by kindall at 2:00 PM on December 13, 2005


I was young and (more) irritating once too, so I say this having been where you are: you think it's just a matter of being honest and True To Yourself, but you are wrong. If you're irritating people that often you have some combination of the wrong friends, wrong life and nowhere near enough self-restraint.

If you read that and thought the percentages were anything other than 5%, 5% and 90%, you're wrong. You also don't shut up and say nothing often enough. It's very hard to do and one of the most important things you're going to (hopefully) learn.
posted by phearlez at 2:02 PM on December 13, 2005


Whoa, whoa, whoa, I think some of the other people reading here are missing an important point.

Are you really offending people or are you hypersensitive?

I have often thought the same way, and after some analysis it turns out I'm really hypersensitive to other people's body language and what they say. I have a thick skin, but I constantly 'feel' like I'm offending everyone. It turns out it's not true though, and that it's a form of social anxiety.

Are you sure you're being offensive or, perhaps, do you suffer social anxiety instead?
posted by wackybrit at 2:07 PM on December 13, 2005


OK, I googled and wikipedia'd - what's "MiFi"?
posted by tristeza at 2:12 PM on December 13, 2005


"I'm just a very honest/blunt person" is, in my experience, usually code for "I'm tactless and rude." The most honest, honorable, forthright people in my life are also polite, compassionate, and quite capable of making constructive criticism. They also refrain from making a big deal about how honest they are -- they just are.

The people I know who make a big freakin' deal about how honest they are (and how their honesty just happens to upset the rest of us) are, almost without exception*, blowhards who routinely mistake their personal opinions and judgments for fact.

Which camp would you rather be in?

*the few exceptions being people I've come to realize actually have some sort of social anxiety disorder or, in a couple of cases, might actually be mildly autistic.
posted by scody at 2:30 PM on December 13, 2005


"tookie crumbles"-- i laughed. outloud and got looks. stay with the humor/honesty.
posted by chefscotticus at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2005


I have to take a huge dump. Think I'll do it right here in your thread, 'cause, you know, I'm just being true to myself.

/for example
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:35 PM on December 13, 2005


i think you doth protest way too much.

i have the same problem you have.

there is a simple solution. develop that part of the brain - the filter - between what you want to say and your mouth. step outside of yourself, and consider how it might sound to others.

then edit, then speak.

seems to work well. i still offend a bit, but i try very hard not to. others do appreciate it.
posted by luriete at 2:41 PM on December 13, 2005


Should I be true to myself or please you.

The alternative is not right. Pleasing me is not necessary, just kindly refrain from offending me.

Word to the wise, old bean: if your true self is an arsehole, it may be advantageous to you to conceal this.

You sound like someone who has spent the last few years hanging out with competitive, nerdy teenage boys. Observe what other grownups do and learn.

I find myself pulling away from relationships because I can't be myself.

This really needs some examples. Maybe your friends are a bunch of precious wimps and you need some new friends. Or not.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:48 PM on December 13, 2005


Best answer: "'Be yourself' is the worst advice you can give some people."

- Mark Twain

"Be yourself - unless you're an asshole, in which case, be someone else."

- my cousin
posted by jasper411 at 3:01 PM on December 13, 2005


You need to stop offending people if you ever want to have and enjoy a good career.*

With friends you have some flexibility, but your life will be a lot easier if the people around you are comfortable and reasonably happy.

*minor exceptions noted, for the few who are allowed or encouraged to be offensive.
posted by I Love Tacos at 3:06 PM on December 13, 2005


Response by poster: example: My friend "Joe "said his wife has a habit of being impatient. While we were waiting to get served in a cafe she started to get antsy. I said to her " is this the impatient behavior that Joe told me about?"

The remark didn't bother her. He was deeply offended though he didn't tell me till later.

I do have firends who are like Blogs, I can say anything.
here are two problems, one: there aren't enough Blog-friends, and two: I make the assumption that someone is a Blog-friend and then they turn out to have a limit I was unaware of.

Helpful discussion so far.
posted by Xurando at 3:07 PM on December 13, 2005


Do either of your parents have this same "problem" you are describing?
posted by jca at 3:09 PM on December 13, 2005


Measure twice, cut once, Xurando. Self-editing is a beautiful thing. If you are truly managing to offend someone-or-other every day, and it's effecting your relationships, then I'd say that just the fact that you're concerned you might have some social skills to relearn suggests that you do. Trust that impulse.

I, for example tend to
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:13 PM on December 13, 2005


It's simple. Say less. Do not add comentary. Keep your sentences short.

See how the above is nice and neutral, while as this sentence goes on there's a much higher chance that someone will find it arrogant or condecending even though there's nothing particularly offensive in here.
posted by krisjohn at 3:16 PM on December 13, 2005


"I'm just keepin' it real!!!"
I'm one of the jerkiest, most offensive people I know, but I don't find it hard to keep my assholery in check. The secret is to work on your ego - and by 'work', I mean demolish it.
Kudos on not diagnosing yourself with the Asperger's, though.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:22 PM on December 13, 2005


"Tookie crumbles" Isn't funny because Tookie didn't crumble he was injected. Tookie is nothing like a cookie beyond his name and has no logical connection to disapointment the way a crumbling cookie would.

It basically amounts to saying "ha ha tookies dead", which is fine, but it's totally nonsensical in that sentence.
posted by delmoi at 3:25 PM on December 13, 2005


The people I know who are best at communicating with others don't have to worry about filtering themselves or whether or not they're being honest. They start from a position of understanding what's going on with the other person and work from there. They also understand that you always have a choice of more than path from any point in a conversation. What I saying is that setting this up as a dichotomy is not very useful. It might be more effective but harder to try to develop the ability to be part of a conversation while being aware of it's meaning to the other people involved.
posted by rdr at 3:27 PM on December 13, 2005


What an interesting example.

- did you realise that you were dropping Joe in the shit?
- did you think he would find this funny?
- did you think you were just teasing?

Also, you are using the word "offended" in a rather odd way. You didn't offend Joe. You made him look bad to his wife (or run the risk of looking bad to his wife) and he is annoyed with you for ratting him out.

It sounds as though you are unaware of the niceties of social intercourse, or that you get pleasure from defying them. If the former, then you need more help and advice than AskMe can provide. If the latter, you need to come to your own conclusions about how much that pleasure is worth to you and whom you will indulge it with.

I hope you don't go out drinking much, because you appear to be a good candidate for a smack in the teeth. Seriously, one of my best and oldest friends, M, sounds just like you, and he gets into fights about once a year, often followed by wails of "what did I do to deserve that?" To which I reply "Be a loud offensive prick, M." To which he replies "I suppose you're right" and then carries on as usual.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:33 PM on December 13, 2005


Best answer: I make the assumption that someone is a Blog-friend and then they turn out to have a limit I was unaware of.

Invert that assumption, and you'll be golden.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:35 PM on December 13, 2005


"Invert that assumption, and you'll be golden."

Best comment.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:37 PM on December 13, 2005


What i_am_joe's_spleen said.

Early research on computer-mediated communication indicated that people were a lot more "out there" than if they were face to face. "Out there" in this case meaning language filled with expletives, impulsive shouting, smartass remarks, etc. So, if you're modeling your in-person communication according to blog-type norms, you're applying the wrong rule set.

The norms are totally different. My theory is that ASCII doesn't modutate emotion well, so people have to shout and be outrageous to put some emotional content in. F2F communication is *LOTS* more sensitive - there are all these open channels carrying all kinds of information that don't get into computer communication. Body language, vocal tone, dynamics, facial expressions, etc.

Learn the in-person rule set by watching and listening, and model your behavior according to those rules.
posted by jasper411 at 3:45 PM on December 13, 2005


Keep being yourself, "keep it real."

Then when you get your ass kicked by someone you offended with your "honesty", you'll understand an important life lesson:

"Actions have consequences."
posted by Marky at 4:02 PM on December 13, 2005


example: My friend "Joe "said his wife has a habit of being impatient. While we were waiting to get served in a cafe she started to get antsy. I said to her " is this the impatient behavior that Joe told me about?"

I would classify this as a dick move. You simultaneously betrayed your friend's trust, insulted his wife, and got your friend in trouble.

I agree with i_am_joe's_spleen that you should get used to getting punched in the face if you plan to continue.
posted by I Love Tacos at 4:02 PM on December 13, 2005


You revealed something Joe told you in confidence and you think this makes you an "honest forthright" person?

I think the example you gave could be very instructive if you will ponder it some more. You might find it helpful to tell us whether you think it was a bad idea to say this in the presence of Joe's wife, and if so, why?
posted by grouse at 4:03 PM on December 13, 2005


I said to her " is this the impatient behavior that Joe told me about?"

Two points:

# Do you understand why this upset Joe? (see upthread)
# How would you or the world be different if you hadn't said this? Did saying it improve anything?
posted by sohcahtoa at 4:05 PM on December 13, 2005


There's a difference between honesty because you were asked your opinion, and offering your opinion for no other reason than to be a dick.

"is this the impatient behavior joe was talking about?" falls into the category of the latter.

You weren't "being honest" here, you were asking a question there was no reason to ask and pointing out that someone said she was impatient.

There was no reason whatsoever to offer up this information aside from the fact that it offered you the opportunity to feel big by putting someone down (while simultaneously making Joe look like a dick).

If you feel compelled to say these sorts of things often, you might consider (and I mean this in an honest, constructive way) seeing a therapist and looking into ego and superiority (or conversely, inferiority which you are compensating for) issues you might have.

This is not about "you must be nicer to people because society says so" -- this is about "something is different about you that makes you feel compelled to offer up insulting information with no real prompting for it whatsoever". I think you need to identify what that is.
posted by twiggy at 4:20 PM on December 13, 2005


Response by poster: I was not told the remark was in confidence. Maybe I should have assumed that, but my experience is that when people don't want you to share something they say "this is confidential' or "keep this to yourself".

The other part of this (and the heart of my post) is my desire that I have an "anything goes" relationship with someone in which we both park our sensitivities and say whatever is in our conciousness. This works up fine until the time that Joe decides without telling me that he's changed the rules and there are some areas that are not open for discussion.

I do have discretion but I'm talking about having relationships where you don't need it.
posted by Xurando at 4:21 PM on December 13, 2005


I was not told the remark was in confidence.

This is where I think people may see you as being a little clueless. Sure it may not be a secret that Joe was ragging on his wife a little bit to you, but he clearly expected not to have that particular discussion be made public in that particular way.

You can have an "anything goes" relationship with lots of different people, but you just may not be able to have one with Joe. Also, many people have one set of social etiquette norms for friends and co-workers and an entirely different one for spouses and family. It's like the difference between talking to someone at work about getting wasted over the weekend, and talking to their boss about how wasted they were. It might be okay, but it might not and you'd need to pick up on other social cues whether it was okay or not. Or you can take a "fuck it" attitude and find yourself some new friends.

I had an exchange not entirely dissimilar to this with a new 'net pal a few years ago. He was flirty, I wasn't interested and had told him so. We were workin gon a project together. He kept pushing the envelope over email, at one point relating some sex dream he had had to me in detail. I told him to knock it off, and started a tirade of "don't tell me how to behave, I'll do whatever I want..." emails. Now, that guy hadn't offended me, but I just thought he was being sort of a jerk and my message to him was basically "keep that up and you'll end up in my killfile" It's not that he was a bad person for acting that way, rather that he wasn't someone whose friendship was imporant enough to me to make dealing with him worth it.

So, my advice based on this is, if you can't stop being so blunt, maybe you should try to make some other part of you much more awesome so that people mind the blunt part much less. Start being generous with your money and drugs, learn to be a kick-ass bartender, develop legendary oral sex skills, learn to mountain climb. People are often willing to make trade-offs for having to deal with the poor social skills of others. The more you have to offer that is a good balance to whatever tact or courtesy you lack will help you get to keep what you already have, and maybe gain something else in the process.
posted by jessamyn at 4:34 PM on December 13, 2005


I was not told the remark was in confidence. Maybe I should have assumed that, but my experience is that when people don't want you to share something they say "this is confidential' or "keep this to yourself".

Your experience is wrong, wrong, wrong.

There are only two situations where I explicitly say that something is confidential—either (a) when talking about things that I am a bit more sensitive about than many people; or (b) when I feel the person I am talking to is socially retarded, and is incapable of figuring out on their own what should be kept private.

This works up fine until the time that Joe decides without telling me that he's changed the rules and there are some areas that are not open for discussion.

Have you discussed these "rules" with Joe? Perhaps he has a different understanding of the rules underlying your relationship.

I do have discretion but I'm talking about having relationships where you don't need it.

You want a relationship where you can say incredibly damaging things about the other person in front of other people without any consequences. Good luck.
posted by grouse at 4:37 PM on December 13, 2005


I'm talking about having relationships where you don't need it.

You're lucky if you get two of those in a lifetime. All the others require a little restraint now and then.
posted by sennoma at 4:38 PM on December 13, 2005


I was not told the remark was in confidence.

You're still missing the point. Saying "is this the impatient behavior Joe was talking about" was assholish rather than "honest" because it was both inappropriate and unnecessary. It calls out Joe's wife for exhibiting "negative" behavior and calls out Joe for having complained about that behavior with you (whether strictly in confidence or not -- and as Jess, grouse, and others have pointed out, you're really splitting hairs in a self-serving way on that question anyway). Meanwhile, you don't even have a dog in that race -- the situation doesn't involve you (beyond standing in line with them), and you have nothing at stake in it.

So if you're so honest, what did you "honestly" think the result of your little quip would be? Warm laughter all around, and a strengthened bond of marriage between your friend and his wife? Or stirring up a bit of a hornet's nest?

Go on. Be honest.
posted by scody at 4:41 PM on December 13, 2005


What people are trying to tell you is that you're not speaking to people in a social manner.

It's likely you're making one of two mistakes (or both).

1) The mistake of "being honest" which you take as the right to be an asshole - there is a difference between saying "do you want a mint?" and "Hey, shit for mouth, I think you need to gargle with a bucket of listerine." When you share your opinions with people, ake sure they want to hear it. When you share your opinion in your 'honesty', you're being a dick.

2) The mistake of thinking your sense of humor translates to everyone else.
Not everyone thinks that death, sick or twisted humor is appropriate. In the professional context, if you wouldn't feel comfortable telling a given joke to your sensitive, innocent niece, save it for your friends who share your sense of humor. How will you know? They'll tell a dicey joke, and you'll put a check in the 'sick' column.

You offended joe, because he spoke about his wife in confidence. If he was comfortable with confronting his wife, he would have spoken to the women he sleeps with directly. It wasn't your business to communicate this information. You had a question, and you couldn't make the conscious decision to sit on your hands and share it later. If someone says something along these lines, assume it's in confidence, unless they speak about it first. In fact, assume any sort of 'revelation' is in confidence, when told one on one, and you'll have an easier time.

Now, these two are amplified by not knowing when it's appropriate to share confidences.

There are three types of people in your life:
People you have to be friendly with, like your boss, your coworkers
People who are acquaintances
People who are your true friends.

It's a mistake to speak to group #2 as if they're in group #3.
And some people are going to be acquaintances only in some ways - and at times your true friends.

Joe's changing the rules? Well, realistically, Joe doesn't feel comfortable with the closeness you're trying to have. Especially when you 'out' his bitching about his wife. And for most people some areas are never open for discussion.

Last, slow down. These are relationships - you're also likely going too fast in what you ask/tell/say. Test the waters before you bring out the cock jokes.
posted by filmgeek at 4:43 PM on December 13, 2005


You sound a lot like me, ages 16-19. Read a lot of Ayn Rand. Was a right dick to nearly everyone around me. It took losing friends I still miss to straighten me up.

About your specific example, and your specific objection to people's reaction to it, consider that you and Joe may have had the kind of relationship you say you want -- you and Joe's wife certainly did not. Having other people around always changes things. If I were telling you a story about my grandfather (who, let's assume, is an ass), I probably wouldn't see a need to say "this is confidential" before I told you he was an ass. I mean, what are the odds of your ever meeting him, and even if you did, surely you'd have the common sense not to mention to him that I think he's an ass.
posted by gleuschk at 4:45 PM on December 13, 2005 [1 favorite]


I was not told the remark was in confidence. Maybe I should have assumed that, but my experience is that when people don't want you to share something they say "this is confidential' or "keep this to yourself".

Most people expect you to be able to deduce that it is confidential based on content and context.

Even if Joe was open about his wife's impatience, your comment still wouldn't be funny, interesting or in any other positive quality. It would be, for lack of a better term, a dickish non-sequitor.

It seems clear from this thread that your friends aren't being thin-skinned. You're acting in a distinctly anti-social fashion, and you need to figure out why.
posted by I Love Tacos at 4:45 PM on December 13, 2005


Test the waters before you bring out the cock jokes.

Possibly the finest piece of advice I've ever read on AskMe.
posted by scody at 4:45 PM on December 13, 2005


To go along with what most people are saying here, a general rule of thumb that saw me through my areshole teenage years:

No matter what you talk about with your mates, treat spouses (and family) like they were a respected teacher. Sir/Madam optional.
posted by coriolisdave at 4:57 PM on December 13, 2005


Best answer: As Mr. Heinlein wrote :

Formal courtesy between husband and wife is even more important than it is between strangers.

And, more apropos :

A skunk is better company than a person who prides himself on being "frank."
posted by ny_scotsman at 5:11 PM on December 13, 2005


Xurando, are you dogging on the wife because you resent her in some fashion? Or do you cut everyone similarly with your "honest" and "forthright" comments? And I fail to see the "humor" you allude to in your example, I almost see you saying it with a sneer on your face, like it's an experiment to see what shit you can stir up. The world's a tough place, people don't need their friends to heap more crap on them.
posted by user92371 at 5:14 PM on December 13, 2005


First off, I know a lot of people who have your same problem. I agree with the "filtering" suggestions--you need to try to alter what you say based on who you're saying it to, what his/her personality is like, and how they might react.

Boy, that sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? It is, but that's the price you pay for being someone people like and want to remain friends with. You're not being any less true to yourself than when you stopped using diapers. That was a change you made because you learned to do otherwise. Operating in default mode is easy for you, but hard on the social life.

I was not told the remark was in confidence

If you thought that pointing out Joe's wife's faults would somehow help the situation, you're off-base. Letting her know that Joe mentioned her impatience is not going to do anything but piss her off. What if a friend of your SO said, 'hey, ______ is right, you really do smell funny?"

A tactful way to handle the situation would be something funny and disarming, like "whoa nellie, slow down there, Speedracer." And this, of course, only if you honestly think that pointing it out is going to help the situation at all.
posted by SassHat at 5:27 PM on December 13, 2005


Response by poster: I hear the general gist of what people are saying that I was in the wrong in making the remark. I can buy that.

What I'm still having trouble with was my remarks were acceptable within our general level of levity until they weren't. Joes wife didn't have any problem with them and I wouldn't ever have said them with the intent to be hurtful, just funny, ironic, and probing.

Question refined for the third time: Is there a way to know peoples sensitivities without having a direct conversation on the subject or must we always assume politeness and the lowest common denominator of demeanor with everyone we haven't had the sensitivity discussion with?
posted by Xurando at 5:29 PM on December 13, 2005


That kind of line would be appropriate in a sitcom or a standup routine, where being a dick and saying things that you could never get away with saying in real life can be funny.

But no, you can't in fact say things like that in real life, that's why they're funny in sitcoms.

If you sit there thinking "oh, what's a funny thing to say" and coming up with lines like that one, you are not having a conversation with your friends, you are performing, and people don't appreciate that.
posted by kindall at 5:31 PM on December 13, 2005


It's not "people's sensitivities" that got you in trouble with Joe. It's not "politeness." It wasn't "funny, ironic, and probing." It was you waving a flag, "Joe told me something bad about you! Now let's throw it on the table like a dead fish!" Why does it surprise you that Joe didn't enjoy this?

You're coming at this from the wrong angle, you're trying to pin it on everyone else when you are actually the pinnee.

If you still think, after reading all of those comments, that it was a "funny" remark, you're really not getting it, no matter how many times you rephrase the question.
posted by user92371 at 5:52 PM on December 13, 2005


unacceptably brutal and heavy: "is this the impatient behavior that Joe told me about?"

okay in my book: "Joe was right. You're about as patient as Donald Duck."

It's a question of tone.
posted by dydecker at 5:53 PM on December 13, 2005 [1 favorite]


Question refined for the third time: Is there a way to know peoples sensitivities without having a direct conversation on the subject or must we always assume politeness and the lowest common denominator of demeanor with everyone we haven't had the sensitivity discussion with?

The answer to that first part is ("Is there a way to know peoples sensitivities without having a direct conversation on the subject?") is sometimes yes, sometimes no. The "sometimes yes" part comes from developing a sensitivity to other people's speech, tone, body language, etc. -- so in some cases you can deduce what's likely (though not guaranteed) to sit well with someone based on these signals.

It's not always foolproof, though (hence the "sometimes no" part), and there are always dangerous topics where you'd better be damn sure you're not walking into an explosive situation (e.g., politics, religion, other people's personal relationships, and/or the merits of reality TV).

Based on what you've said, however, it seems obvious to me that you either don't pay attention or simply don't understand these types of unspoken communication. My advice to you -- assuming that you're sincere here, and not really just trying to wave the flag about how "you're so honest and everyone else is an uptight douchebag, man" -- is to make the effort to talk less, and listen/observe more. See if you can guage some of these unspoken clues/messages.

And when in doubt whether you're treading into bad territory, ASK FOR CLARIFICATION. As a lot of us have pointed out here, what you are describing reads to reads like anything ranging from simple cluelessness to outright belligerence and nastiness (and NOT simple "honesty," "humor," "irony," or any of the other terms you've used to try to make it about other people's failings instead of your own).

It's up to you to take the lead in overcoming that type of behavior, if that's what you want -- not expect everyone else to intuitively understand that you apparently can't tell when something's said in confidence and when it's not, for example.

(If you aren't sincere in all this, however, then honestly? Maybe you're just a jerk.)
posted by scody at 5:59 PM on December 13, 2005 [1 favorite]


I'll note in passing that you've already demonstrated you're not good at picking up this shit, so it's well possible that Joe's wife IS offended and gave him what-for when they got home.

just funny, ironic, and probing. Yeah, I bet your mates just love being probed by you.

Have a think about this. In a tight circle of equals, mockery is part of being in the group. Receiving it gracefully gives you points, giving it out skillfully gives you points.

But out in wider society, it does not give you points, except in fiction and entertainment, as noted by kindall.

Rather, mockery and put-down humour are tools for putting others in their place. The victims of your mockery and put-down humour are unlikely to have an improved opinion of you.

So: first up, clearly Joe's wife is not in the same circle as you and Joe. You are not all equals. Second, most social interactions are not between equals either. Third, again building on what kindall said, you're performing. Not only do people not like that, but they hate being singled out as a straight man or prop.

Personally, I share your urges to be a wit, but as I get older I'm curbing them because the benefitts of getting along well with others outweigh any possible kudos from being Mr Sardonic.

Perhaps you have noticed that popular and high-status people often make jokes about others to applause and laughter. You may be making the mistake of thinking that this is how those people became popular and high-status. This is wrong. Such people may enforce or demonstrate their status by put-downs (I believe the younger Bush is a good example) and others out of fear or bum-licking may go along. You are not in this sort of relationship with Joe and Mrs Joe, and you will accrue neither popularity nor status by being funny at Joe's expense.

Is there a way to know peoples sensitivities without having a direct conversation on the subject. Yes. Over a long time, you all gradually, incrementally raise the bar of permissable offence given and taken, and infer its level from each other's behaviour. This is how the other primates do it, and we call it "getting to know each other."
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:02 PM on December 13, 2005


Xurando: you don't necessarily have to go one way or the other on "assume highest degree of sensitivity" vs. "have a discussion about sensitiviites." There's a combination of other options including a three-stepper:

1) Assume a slightly-higher-than-average sensitivity unless you're told or you gather otherwise
2) slow one-upmanship of pushing those boundaries until you are no longer one-upped - and there you know where the limit is, for now.
3) peoples' boundaries change as you get to know them better anyway, so occasionally repeat step 2.

Also, best to assume any info given to you by someone about a spouse that might possibly be considered negative is... while not necessarily confidential... best left unrepeated. There's that "assume sensitivity" again. In that case, you should ask or wait for someone else to bring it up in the presence of Joe and his wife, for example - then it's (more of) a safe topic.

Example of the steps above: Let's say you're...I don't know...a rabid athiest and just think people who worship god are stupid or misguided. You're not out to preach to them to stop, but you've got your opinions. Before joking about it, assume the other person is religious. You can ask if they are, or you can make a reference to something going on in the religious world, or whatever. The way they respond will tell you something about their thoughts on religion. Keep probing. Once you find out where their boundaries lie in this area, then you know that joking about stupid religious people is OK... at least with this person, and assuming that's your view.

(please Mefi masses, don't attribute that viewpoint to me - I was trying to avoid even more controversial subjects, while mantaining a sense of "god no it would be SO offensive to just up and joke about that!")
posted by lorrer at 6:06 PM on December 13, 2005


Well, as described, your remark was neither funny nor ironic. If that's an example of your humor, I can see why it appeals to a select few.

As for probing -- I'm forced to deal with a certain number of demanding, confrontational people in my workaday life. I'd run a mile in stilettos a size too small to get away from yet another one blighting my free time. Why would it ever occur to you that your friends want to be probed, or needled, or jabbed?
posted by vetiver at 6:20 PM on December 13, 2005


What I'm still having trouble with was my remarks were acceptable within our general level of levity until they weren't. Joes wife didn't have any problem with them and I wouldn't ever have said them with the intent to be hurtful, just funny, ironic, and probing.

Question refined for the third time: Is there a way to know peoples sensitivities without having a direct conversation on the subject or must we always assume politeness and the lowest common denominator of demeanor with everyone we haven't had the sensitivity discussion with?


One of the fundamental rules of humor is to know your audience. You can't make the same kinds of jokes with everyone—not because people are too sensitive—but rather because what one person finds funny differs from the next because of their worldview.

I don't make the same kinds of jokes (and by "jokes" here, I mean "humorous responses to things that I've perceived to be set-ups just asking for an unexpected response") to my parents that I do to my girlfriend or my best friend. Sure, in the Venn Diagram of my responses, there is plenty of overlap. This is because my parents, my girlfriend, and my best friend all know me.

Were I to use even the mildest of these "jokes" to my New Age lesbian co-worker, I'd get fired. This is because my New Age lesbian co-worker simply would not understand what I was saying, and she would take it as offensive. Because she does not really know me.

There are very few things that are funny without context. If you and another person do not share context on a given subject, you are likely to confuse them, or insult them.

Alternately, I've gotten in trouble at work before for saying things that were just perceived as "negative". These were things that got a big laugh, but were later complained about, because I was just pointing out the ridiculousness of something, and this made someone's brain hurt.

In these cases, all I did was poke a hole in something, by pointing out the Catch-22 nature of it, or openly wondering why my team was being rewarded for good work with yet another punishment.

Humor is all about context. In my last example, I got a big laugh out of a group that resulted in me getting "in trouble" because while it was true, it was painful to really think about, because it was unjust.

I make my lesbian New Age co-worker laugh a couple of times a day, because I understand what makes her laugh. You aren't a paid comedian at your job; if you're concerned about making people laugh, tailor what you say to them. You don't really have to dilute yourself to do this; all you have to do is think: "how can I respond in a way that will make this person laugh?" You'll find that you get a lot more laughs if you actually try by knowing what will make them laugh. It'll improve your sense of humor overall, and make you much more subversive, too.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have diarrhea.
posted by interrobang at 6:42 PM on December 13, 2005


People have hinted at this above, but I think you need to think very hard about what the purpose of saying things can be. Every time you are tempted to make some offhand comment, think, "why would I say this, and what would it accomplish?"

Here are some possible beneficial reasons to say something: to provide social lubrication (humor, small talk, etc.), and to convey useful/interesting/pertinent information (your hat is on fire, I like cats, etc.). In the example w/Joe, your comment really falls into neither category. It isn't social lubrication - it could have been an attempt at humor, but it isn't the kind that's funny to anyone but you, as people above have thoroughly said. It conveyed some information, but what was the point of conveying that information? It conveyed that you didn't like the wife, that Joe complained about her to you, and that you betrayed that confidence. None of this is information that serves any real function. At best, it might attempt to convey that you are superior to Joe and his wife in some way, and this isn't something you want to convey to your friends.

It's very conventional, but would it really not be true to yourself to have instead said, e.g. "what are you two up to this weekend?"
posted by advil at 7:06 PM on December 13, 2005


I really like interrobang's suggestion. It will turn your vice into a virtue. Channeling your urges always works better than frustrating them.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:17 PM on December 13, 2005


Many great, well-thought-out responses. But, honestly, it seems to me that the only practical solution is the one offered by jessamyn above:

So, my advice based on this is, if you can't stop being so blunt, maybe you should try to make some other part of you much more awesome so that people mind the blunt part much less. Start being generous with your money and drugs, learn to be a kick-ass bartender, develop legendary oral sex skills, learn to mountain climb. People are often willing to make trade-offs for having to deal with the poor social skills of others. The more you have to offer that is a good balance to whatever tact or courtesy you lack will help you get to keep what you already have, and maybe gain something else in the process.


So, go ahead and shame Joe in front of his wife. But then do something good for him to let him know you still love him. It sounds like a fucked-up power dynamic, I admit, but I've seen it work.
posted by vacapinta at 7:29 PM on December 13, 2005


Best answer: Please me.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:30 PM on December 13, 2005


I am a writer. I work in writer's rooms. It is generally known that the "take no prisoners" joking that takes place in the room is completely inappropriate outside. Yes, we have to moderate our language and types of humor in the real world. If you are good, it's no big deal. You can be funny in any situation at the appropriate level. That's called "social skills".

The comment to your friend's wife falls in the territory of "inappropriate outside of the inner circle." Also, being able to point out other people's flaws can be funny, if you have the same level of self-deprecating humor. It seems to me that you think you are a comedy genius, so I would guess that all of your humor is aimed at others.

Tookie crumbles is not funny. If someone pitched that in the writer's room it would be met with pained groans. It's a pun. Puns are not funny.
posted by generic230 at 7:43 PM on December 13, 2005


Tookie crumbles is not funny. If someone pitched that in the writer's room it would be met with pained groans. It's a pun. Puns are not funny.

Not only is it not funny, it's not even a pun. It's a half a chiasmus. "Crookie tumbles" is closer, and it's not funny, either.
posted by interrobang at 8:00 PM on December 13, 2005


Puns can be funny, but the funny is very situational, very in-jokey. There was a writing newsgroup I used to hang out in in which sheep were an unofficial mascot and the right sheep pun tossed in at the right time... comedy gold, especially when you manage to get people to try to one-up (or one-down, depending on your opinion of puns) each other.
posted by kindall at 8:30 PM on December 13, 2005


If you sit there thinking "oh, what's a funny thing to say" and coming up with lines like that one, you are not having a conversation with your friends, you are performing, and people don't appreciate that.

Great advice from kindall. If only someone had told me that when I was in my teens and first found out I could make people laugh -- sometimes. Man, it was a painful process figuring that out for myself.
posted by maudlin at 10:29 PM on December 13, 2005


Who give's a rat's ass what other people think? Oh, wait, the majority of people, mindless-sheep-clones with no individualality or sense of self definition.

The only person you have to put up with your whole life is you. F@c& em' if they can't take a joke.

If you want people to like you, kiss their a$$. If you want to like yourself, then be prepared for general intolerance.
posted by ewkpates at 5:22 AM on December 14, 2005


If you want people to like you, kiss their a$$. If you want to like yourself, then be prepared for general intolerance.

False dichotomies if I have ever seen any. There's a difference between not being an asshole, and kissing other people's asses. And many people manage to like themselves while still being someone that it is capable for others to like.
posted by grouse at 5:45 AM on December 14, 2005


From your comments, I think this is the problem: you're not thinking of other people--Joe, his wife, whomever--as real people. You want them to behave according to "rules" that you guys set, as though you were playing a game together; you want a safe space in which everyone behave in an agreed-upon manner. Well, that's not how real people work. Look at your own behavior--is that really how you work?

Real people have emotions that are beyond their control, that surprise them; they get offended--and in its very nature, offense resides in unanticipated situations and remarks. Real people (like Joe) have real lives that are much larger than the conversation you are having at that moment ("my movie, your screen"). They have, for example, a marriage--a huge, complex part of their lives with which you don't joke around. You have to take other people seriously.

Right now, it seems to me that you think of other people as sparring partners, partners in crime, or players in a game that you call "being honest." Well, when Joe was offended, he was being honest with you.

You have to take others' feelings seriously, too. When people are "offended," it usually means that they're hurt. You've hurt someone by offending them. It's like you kicked them in the shin, it's like you punched them in the stomach. Offending someone, like hitting someone, is something you better have a really good, purposive reason for doing. When you offend someone, you haven't crossed some arbitrary, discussable limit; you've crossed a real, substantive boundary.

The way you write, it's as though the world in which people get offended isn't a 'real' world, but one of arbitrary and discussable social boundaries, while the world in which anything goes is more real. But in fact, the opposite is true.
posted by josh at 5:53 AM on December 14, 2005


I don't know, I think 'crookie tumbles' is a vast improvement, myself... ; )
posted by widdershins at 6:01 AM on December 14, 2005


Xurando, if I'm understanding you correctly, it sounds as though you feel that modifying your behavior to meet society's definition of "tact" would be somehow shameful or dishonest. You're willing to do it if is your only option, but at best you view tact as the lesser of two evils. I'd like to make the argument that it isn't an evil at all.

Look at it this way. If you meet somebody who only speaks French, and you want to communicate the idea of "Hello," you would say "Bonjour." Are you lying, because the word that comes out of your mouth is different from the word in your head? Not at all; you have decided that your intention is more important than the words that represent that intention inside your head.

In the case of Joe's wife (and you're probably sick of us discussing this by now, but it's the one concrete example I have, so bear with me)--I imagine that you wanted to communicate something like, "I have so much respect and affection for Joe that I am completely relaxed around him, and I apply that respect and affection to you, too. Also, I want to make you laugh." It seems, though, that the message she received instead, "Joe thinks I'm too impatient, and Xurando agrees." And when she repeated your words to Joe, the message he received from them was, "Xurando is trying to get my wife pissed off at me by violating my confidences."

(And while we're on that subject--when Joe told you about his wife, he apparently meant to send the message, "I trust you enough to tell you things I would never tell my wife, and I know you won't repeat them." However, you thought Joe was trying to say, "I'm a completely upfront guy who says what he thinks, and so anything I tell you is OK to repeat to my wife.")

In short, your trouble is that most people around you speak a different language than you do. True, their language happens to use exactly the same words as yours, and the literal definition of all of them is exactly the same--but the subtext of them is entirely different. Learning to speak their language doesn't make you dishonest or untrue to yourself; it just makes you more efficient at communicating yourself in a way they will understand.
posted by yankeefog at 6:45 AM on December 14, 2005


Since it'd be boring not to be in on this:

Humor is also highly overrated. It's actually really boring after a while, in a dismal, trying-way-too-hard kind of way. Try not telling jokes for about a week, and see what happens. Interacting without making puns or jokes of any kind-- which is to say, taking interaction seriously-- is not only enjoyable, it's an utterly necessary skill when building trust. If everything you say is a pun, it's no wonder people don't trust you or feel comfortable around you; they don't know if you think they're a joke.
posted by koeselitz at 7:36 AM on December 14, 2005


Response by poster: Time to wrap this up.
Thanks for all the input profound, profane, on and off target.

Josh: You got closest to the heart of the matter

generic230: I coulda swore that Joe his wife and I were in the writers room. Turns out Joe wasn't there but his wife was.

Ikkyu2: I'll please you anytime. What's your pleasure?

So this all happened because Joe decided to tell me six months later that he was pissed. As soon as I heard he was angry I sent him an apology, but not before I sent him this Sheep joke.
posted by Xurando at 1:06 PM on December 14, 2005


Xurando: I like beer.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:30 PM on December 14, 2005


So, your friend's pissed off at you because of a crack about his wife, but before you apologize, you send him a joke about a guy's wife being a pig? That's the immediate reaction that you can't possibly sit on?

Good luck there, mate.
posted by tristeza at 2:55 PM on December 14, 2005


This thread was already one of the best in history.

That joke just made it better.
posted by koeselitz at 3:40 PM on December 14, 2005


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