STUMP » Articles » How Not To Look Like a Total Ass » 14 October 2014, 06:02

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

How Not To Look Like a Total Ass  


14 October 2014, 06:02

I have had some thoughts bubbling of late, which frothed over when I saw Wendy Davis’s execrable ad, pointing out her opponent’s disability, court cases involving people with disabilities (where he was representing the “other side”), and therefore: hypocrite. If you would like to more info about the cases being referenced, Patterico has you covered.

Thing is, the ad looked, at best, tacky and was oozing unseemly amounts of desperation (what are seemly amounts of desperation? The amounts students show when taking make-or-break exams.)

My first thought was: does she know how bad this looks?

I want to note, that dumbass moves by politicians is not a partisan issue, per se. Yes, the legacy media hype up dumbass moves more often from conservatives or Republicans, but they don’t control the signal any more. And sometimes the incident is so hideous nobody can look away.

It made me think of one of the biggest dumbass moves by George W. Bush: trying to nominate Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

I like George W. Bush, and I liked many decisions he made and things he did, but this was total idiocy. I do recall a few half-hearted attempts by people to justify this nomination, but this was such a glaringly bad idea, I wondered that nobody inside Bush’s circle could head him off.

I thought that Miers, especially, should have known better and told Bush “No” early on in the process. But given she was the person being honored, I can understand why she might not have thought through what would happen. Bush obviously didn’t think it through. But for crying out loud, was Cheney not around? Wasn’t there anybody who could tell him ‘Stop. Don’t. Come back.’?

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

While we often call this self-awareness, in being able to see one’s self clearly, but what I’m really getting at is the ability to understand how other people see us.

This is a kind of empathy — you have to understand what other people can and cannot see about yourself. They can see how you look, they can hear what you say, and they may see some of what you actually do. But they can’t actually crack open your head and see what you’re thinking, what you meant.

Some of the worst blunders I’ve seen of late are people who I think really do mean well (I am not including Davis in that bunch), but get tied up because they think meaning well is enough.

No, it’s not.

While my examples above are political, I have some bad examples from recent times, some very public, and some where I am not going to name the offenders.

Even a fool, if he will hold his peace shall be counted wise:
and if he close his lips, a man of understanding.

Now, I’m not saying that people should shut up all the time. But that they need to actually think through things before they step in it. At least a few seconds.

They need to think before they say something awful like “It’s worse losing a child than a spouse” (said to my paternal grandmother while my mother was in earshot, at my father’s funeral. Also, my paternal grandfather had died the previous year. The person who made this remark knew all of these facts.)

What’s bad is that there is a system that helps people making complete fools of themselves in public, and that’s called etiquette. It does actually still exist, but it is not about which fork to use or whether the wedding invitations should be engraved or printed. Miss Manners can set you straight (at least for the U.S.), and has some good, basic principles (and particulars) for one to follow.

I recommend the following for complete beginners:

I am not joking that one who finds themselves unwittingly in hot water over dumbass things they say or write to read those books. Given my nerdy background (and current reality), I run into people all the time who are stepping in it, not understanding how they’re offending people. I have to tell them that: 1. no, nobody wants to hear your “original thought” at a wedding or a funeral and 2. no, you do not have to convey every dumbass thought that crosses your mind.

Seriously, keep some of that stuff to yourself.

Or your blog.

For the more advanced students of etiquette, I recommend the following books:

A thrown-off remark that causes offense – okay, that can be gotten over with profuse apologies and lots of bottles of wine.

But something that requires the deliberation of an election ad or a Supreme Court nomination…. that’s harder to get over.

But let’s go back to some recent tossed-off remarks that had to be backtracked. These aren’t exactly political, though some have tried making them so.

First, there is the CDC director who said an Ebola-infected nurse broke protocol, based on no information:

But the biggest news of Frieden’s press conference came while he was addressing what he had earlier called a “breach of protocol” by the attending health care worker who contacted the disease from Duncan. Frieden said that all care providers who come into contact with an Ebola carrier need to be acutely aware of the threat of this disease, but he also apologized for offending anyone when he characterized this incident as the result of a failure to observer standard procedure.

“‘It is possible that workers will contaminate themselves’ in taking off protective clothing, said Dr. Frieden,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “He said he didn’t mean to be critical of anyone at the Dallas hospital when he spoke Sunday about a ‘breach in protocol.’”

I have been arguing this point with someone else, and it’s not exactly about hurt feelings. They simply do not know what the nurse did or did not do that resulted in her contracting Ebola.

If she really did screw up something, there is no issue with saying that she did, in my opinion. That would be factual. And no, it wouldn’t necessarily be saying that she deserved to contract Ebola for the screw-up no more than a person who leaves their iPad sitting in their unlocked car deserves to get their stuff stolen. But it would be information for other people trying to avoid the situation.

The problem is that there are a bunch of healthcare workers who are worried that the protocol itself may be deficient, or that there are aspects of the protocol than are too easy to screw up.

Here are a few followup stories that cover the very real concerns of healthcare workers. The point is that one doesn’t have to pretend knowledge when one doesn’t have knowledge. In a position like that, saying “protocol was breached” when you don’t know is unwise. It’s not just a matter of offending nurses who think a fellow nurse is being blamed, it’s also a matter of credibility as well as actually getting to the bottom of the issue. If one has prematurely settled on an explanation, that means one may miss the real explanation.

So here’s a less deadly, but still serious, screw-up:

During his Q&A with Microsoft director Maria Klawe, some of Nadella’s fears seemed to be realized when he spoke about managing one’s career. He shared that he’d once been told — by a female boss, he noted — that he should stop bucking for a promotion. “Settle down. Believe in the system and the right things will happen,” he recalled her saying. When asked what women should do when they feel uncomfortable about asking for a raise, he repeated that advice, suggesting that those who take the long view will be rewarded in the long run.

That didn’t go over so well. Klawe, a superstar of the movement for her success at getting women to study computer science at Harvey Mudd College, begged to differ. She urged women to press for their due, pointing out that she had left $50,000 in salary on the table by not negotiating harder when taking jobs at Princeton and then at Harvey Mudd. That brought a burst of applause from the crowd.

Thing is, Nadella was told about advice he, as a man, was given.

It was still terrible advice.

You would think that he, in his position, would know not to say anything like that to a group of women who were specifically asking about how to promote themselves (in salary or position).

You would also think that grown men would know better than to rate the attractiveness of female friends to said female friends’ faces. You would be wrong, by the way. (You would also be wrong to think that said men would understand what they did wrong. Or that these people are arguing with the offended woman about why she shouldn’t be offended. I SWEAR PEOPLE)

There are different levels of complexity of not looking like a total ass in public, but let me lay some ground rules:


2. If someone points out that you’ve made yourself look like an ass in public, really, think about it before tripling down on the original assery.

3. No, really, people really don’t want to know everything you’re thinking. It’s not honesty. It’s an imposition.

4. If you can’t understand how you look or sound to other people, there are organizations that can help. Like Toastmasters. or Etiquette School

5. Other people don’t have a problem when you look like an ass. You do.

6. If you’re going to break the rules and look like an ass, make sure you know you’re doing it deliberately.

7. Your best friends are those who will tell you that you’re being a fool, when you are unaware of it. LISTEN TO THEM.

I’ve played the ass on purpose before, and it can be useful. But most of the cases of assery I’ve seen were people who did not want to convey that impression. I generally tell only those people I like to cut it out.

If it’s someone I don’t like making an ass of themselves…. well, Christian charity goes only so far. If they’re an adult, they should know better.

Go, and be asses no more.

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