Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Are We Each Our Own Dictionary?


In the past few weeks, I've had heated debates about words that many deem offensive ranging from the N Word to female (versus woman). One argument that continues to rear it's illogical head is, "Words only have the power that you give them." For example, in Decoded, when speaking about "nigger", Jay-Z says,
To me, it's just a word, a word whose power is owned by the user and his or her intention.


The problem is, that's not how language and words work. Despite E-40's relentless efforts, words don't have the meanings and/or power that we personally assign them. Words come with way more baggage than Badu could have ever predicted. The "I give words power" argument gives people license to use words to mean whatever they would like, in whatever fashion they'd like with no consideration to their actual meaning, alleged power, and propensity to offend and harm others. Furthermore, it renders dictionaries, history, societal trends, socialization, denotations, connotations, and other contributing factors invalid.

A variant of this argument that also comes from "This Sounds Good But Doesn't Make Any Sense Land", is "Words can only offend you if you allow them to."

Last I checked, the majority of folks don't enjoy or seek out opportunities to be offended; it just happens.You can tell someone that you mean "nigga" as a term of endearment akin to brother, but it won't matter to my grandparents, because their history of the word is as a term of castigation. So this adult version of "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" is nonsense. Everyone's received a text message, an email, or piece of mail from Sallie Mae that has personally hurt their feelings. You probably weren't choosing to be offended, it just happened because of the nature of the words and/or the message.

Sometimes, I WISH that these arguments were true. I wish I could decide that, and I'm quoting a friend, "fornication really means eating mayonnaise sandwiches on Tuesdays at 11:35 AM." The words only have power argument has potential to be the greatest loophole of all time!

So why do people default to this "Words... Power... Blah Blah" Argument?
1. We're creatures of habit. And if you've grown up saying something your whole life, who feels like changing?

2. No one likes being told that what they say (or do) could possibly be offensive; it comes off as a personal attack. They'd rather default to, "How dare you be offended! Stop feeling offended!"

3. You meant the term in an offensive way and now you're backpedaling.

4. You heard someone else use the Words/Power line, so you think it's legit. But nah. Saying something over and over (Like "Here Here! The Rapture is May 21st!") doesn't make it true.

Rule of Thumb
My friend Katie, who of course is a doctoral student in psychology said it best,
If someone tells you the use of a word offends them, why argue with them? Either continue to use it and offend them or consider the variety and diversity of people's experiences and listen, learn and adjust.
If your words are offensive to others, unless they're a paranoid anti-ism-ist on every topic, it's probably a legitimate concern. Ask questions and try to act accordingly. I explained to a few friends why I preferred slim to skinny and my pal, David, said, "That's a great point. I get that." That's all it takes. Talking. Not this bee ess argument surrounding words and adjusting power levels and what not.

Thoughts? Submit them via Facebook or IntenseDebate below. The carpet is yours.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dining Out Etiquette That You May Not Already Know


The average person would probably tell you that they know proper protocol for dining out. Tip 18%, no elbows on the table, napkin in your lap, and you're all set right? That's a great start. However, as a former host and server, I can tell you... you think you know, but you have no idea. (Well maybe you do, in which case, just nod along as you continue to read.) The following are a few tips that make the dining experience more pleasurable for you, and for the staff (which in turn... again, makes it more pleasurable for you.)


1. Make a reservation. An inside scoop: Hosts, managers, servers, and even the kitchen staff place restaurant guests into one of three categories:
a. Walk-ins - These are the folks that usually make up the majority of the business and their numbers/disposition are wildly unpredictable.
b. Regulars - They come in all the time and get treated like family (not exactly like a guest because there's no need to impress, but with love because the staff knows them well.)
c. Reservations - These are potentially important folks who plan ahead. Guests who make a reservation typically want and deserve a premier dining experience, and the staff expects their arrival and is prepared for it. The best seats are saved for them, the chef and/or manager may visit your table, and special accommodations are more likely to be honored. So even if it's a Monday night, and the forecast calls for rain, if the restaurants accepts them, make a reservation!

2. Order what the restaurant knows how to make. This may sound odd (they should know how to make everything on the menu right?), but listen carefully. Legal Sea Foods is a successful chain of 30 restaurants, not because of their steak or grilled chicken... but because of their seafood! I recommend visiting Yelp or Open Table for reviews and looking for repeated mentions of a food item. Choose wisely!





3. A restaurant is not a lounge. (Unless it's The Park.) Why do I mention this? Because I've seen parties of 15 hang out for over 3 hours in a restaurant as they debate Starbucks vs Caribou Coffee while a line of guests waits in the lobby. I understand that folks are having a good time and I'm all about having a word or three with friends, however, you need to understand... that every minute you sit there, the servers are losing money and other guests are hungry. You may say, "That's not my problem", but I guarantee that you've been out and being extremely disheartened as the host tells you the wait is over an hour. Help prevent long waits! Eat, chat briefly, then roll. Plus, if you've just eaten a hearty meal, you can burn some of the calories by walking and talking.

4. Speaking of large parties, large groups get a special set of rules:
a. Either bring cash (a generous amount to cover your food, tax, and gratuity) or prepare to evenly split the check. (Your best bet is to have one credit card cover the check and everyone give that individual cash, but that takes faith.)
b. If you are a party of 12, then arrive as a party of 12, (not 6, then 1, then 3, 2.) Carpool, coordinate watches, put it on your Outlook calendar... whatever it takes to make it so that everyone is seated simultaneously and eats together. Not only will the restaurant appreciate it, your fellow guests will.

5. Let the hosts and hostesses do their job. They have a reason for placing you in the seat they designated. They know the layout of the restaurant, they are aware that your favorite booth is opening up soon, and they know what seats will fit you and your guests. They know if they sit you in that cozy spot you love, you'll get horrible service because that server already has 7 tables, while another one is bored to tears. In short, they see the big picture, and you don't. One of my biggest pet peeves when hosting was when people would come in, look around, point at a table and tell me where they were going to sit. Unless the host places you in the center of the kitchen, or you have some type of legitimate concern (hearing problems, poor circulation, claustrophobia, et al), then sit there and enjoy your food. If you're at a decent restaurant, they won't really have "bad seats." (Also, another way to get to sit where you want is to follow rule #1 and make a special request!)

6. Please don't snap, prod, touch, or yell at your server. Server and servant are not synonymous. It's rude and isn't the smartest way to treat people who handle your food.

7. Minimize your impact. There's a time and place for your Dougie (Wolf Blitzer House Party), your child's screams (Space Mountain, Disney Land), and your lax cleaning standards (Survivor Season 24). But it's not a restaurant. The restaurant is there to make an impression on you; you are not there to make an impression on them. Behave accordingly.

Bon appetit!
***
That was easy enough right? Do you have any words of advice or suggestions for restaurant attendees? Share the knowledge.



Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why I Probably Won't Spank My Kids

Last Sunday, the pastor at my church delivered a great Mother's Day sermon. He opened with a familiar theme: mothers whooping their kids. Both of my parents spanked/whooped me growing up, so like the majority of the congregation, I laughed in agreement with mixed feelings of nostalgia and relief (no more whoopings!)

But then I started thinking about it, "Am I going to spank my kids?" Probably not. Before I go any further, I'd like to issue the following disclaimer: as a childless woman, I'm no expert in rearing children. I'm armed only with my experiences, a bachelor's degree in psychology (like 93.2% of the women on the planet), and my musings on discipline.

I'll probably do some slaps on the bottom, particularly when my kids are really young and a diplomatic conversation isn't an option, but generally speaking, I don't see spankings and whoopings into the teenage years as a good idea, and here's why:

1. It's not creative. It's the easy way out, not the best way. How much thought does it take to wallop a kid around who's half your size for a few minutes? None, really. Disciplining children and inflicting violence... two things that you really should think about before you engage. Usually when a kid acts out in the grocery store and the parent reaches from deep within her spirit to smack him into common sense, it doesn't seem that a lot of thought went into it. Which leads me to the next one...

2. Discipline isn't a one size fits all practice. That kid in the grocery store will probably (but not definitely) act right for the remainder of the trip up and down the aisles of Harris Teeter, but once the sting of the pain fades, are you sure that smack is going to prevent him from throwing a Skittles inspired temper tantrum again? I doubt it. For every kid, (and every person) there are different incentives/tactics that work best. Some kids respond to:
a. taking away privileges (no more Internet/Gameboy/dessert)
b. adding new unwanted responsibilities (guess who's taking out the trash for the rest of May?! you Johnny!)
c. straightforward diplomacy (seriously, Johnny, running in the street will get you squashed like a ladybug. Don't do that.)
d. the guilt trip (my Mom was a beast at this! "Crystal, tell me what I'm doing wrong... do I not love you enough? Am I not giving you enough attention? How can I be a better mom so you can stop doing xyz")

3. It eliminates an opportunity to teach important critical thinking skills and/or life lessons.
When my dad used to spank me, he'd give me these long speeches beforehand explaining, "I really wish I didn't have to do this. You know what you did was wrong right? You know why? I just want what's best for you and blah blah blah." You know why I remember it as blah blah blah? Because I was too busy shaking in my Light Up LA gears to really hear or consider anything he said. I nodded and shook my head at the appropriate moments, not because what I got what was he saying, but I thought maybe it could be a last ditch effort to escape my ultimate fate. I learned NOTHING in those speeches... except how to empathize with folks being walked to the gallows.

Sometimes, you'd be surprised by how smart children are. Teach them how to be adults and how to think keenly and logically by giving them opportunities to really see the cost and benefits of their behavior. If you're punishing them for legitimate reasons and hope to encourage good behavior, it should be easy to explain said costs and benefits.

One of my friends told me that his father once taught him why chewing tobacco was a bad idea by giving him some to chew. I can assure you that lesson stuck with him better than a spanking would have. To this day, that friend has one of the brightest, tobacco-free smiles I've ever seen.

So You're Still Not Convinced?
People that support spanking their kids usually say the following when defending why they do it:
1. My parents spanked me and look how awesome I am! Research shows that it works just as often as it doesn't. There are lawyers, felons, teachers, murderers, entertainers, and scam artists that have all been spanked. You can't say it works 100% of the time. (See here and here) for more data.
2. The Bible says "spare the rod and spoil the child." This oft quoted Proverb is used to explain why people discipline their kids. Proverbs are there to provide good practice or advice about what we should do, and were written according to the current cultural trend. For example, in Proverbs 31, the Bible says this about a good wife:
"She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard; She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes."
Anybody know any women buying fields and selling linen garments? What the proverb means is a good wife makes smart fiscal decisions and provides for her household. (This could mean she cooks the meals, pays the bills, etc) Similarly, the spare the rod, spoil the child adage means if you fail to discipline your child (and in their setting, the rod was the appropriate way to do so), then you will spoil your child. I wholeheartedly agree! I'm not sure the rod itself is necessary though.

****
Louis CK, a favorite comedian of mine says, "Kids are the only people in the world that you're allowed to hit...They're the most vulnerable, and the most destroyed by being hit; but it's totally ok to hit them. If you hit a dog, [you'll} go to jail; you can't hit an [adult] unless you can prove they were trying to kill you! But a little tiny person... who trusts you implicitly, %$# em. Let's all hit them."

Like I said, a few well placed swats to a toddler are probably appropriate when you don't have a cattle prod. But alternative forms of punishment versus spanking/whooping your kids should be given some serious thought.

Do you plan to (or do you currently) spank your kids? Why or why not?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Country First: A Myth of Epic Proportions


So last night (Editor's Note: May 1st, 2011) as we all know, Obama announced that "by his direction", the Navy Seals captured and killed Osama Bin Laden. I watched the news unfold via Twitter and CNN. From my home, a few miles from the White House, I watched coverage of the world's reaction. Most of the comments made were jocular and celebratory, but they all seemed to give credit to our President and his administration. (Remember when Bush did the whole Mission Accomplished joint?) And that's how things go... when bad things happen in the country, we blame the President. When good things happen... we blame the President.

Except, not really. Almost immediately after CNN's John King announced that Osama Bin Laden was dead, a conservative friend of mine tweeted (and facebooked), "I wish George W. Bush was delivering this speech tonight."

Sigh... if we're really country first, does it really matter which president delivered it?? But since it does matter, why won't you give credit where it's due?!?!? This conservative friend then went on to thank our U.S. troops, quote Bush, and drive to the White House in celebration (which is in direct conflict with Proverbs 24:17: Don't rejoice when your enemies fall; don't be happy when they stumble). She continued to profess her elation about Bin Laden's death and still.... no mention of our President, the Commander in Chief. Really?!?!You.went.to.the.man's.house. She and her fellow celebrators probably woke up Sasha and Malia with their shouts and flag waving (where did those flags come from?!!?), but not a single mention of Obama. It seems that no matter what he does, Obama can do no right, and for some people, the right can do no wrong.

Ironically, just before Obama released the Breaking News, I got into a debate with a different conservative, who alleged that "Obama was 'too harsh' on Trump considering he's a sitting president." I guess he missed Trump's profanity-laced speech in Vegas where he dropped several f bombs and called Obama "a nobody in Washington."

This same conservative made what I believe to be one of the most ridiculous statements of the year: "Obama faces little real scrutiny. Only far right GOP questions him." Give me a break! Are you serious! This dude gets criticized by:
1. the left for being too moderate, (see here!)
2. the moderate for being too left or too right (see here!)
3. the right for being too.. Black left. (see here!) (see here!) (see here!) (see here!) Alright, alright, we don't have all day.. lol.

Even I, tree hugging liberal, criticize Obama regularly. (I still think he could have found a way to get out of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.) But when he does something right (and if you need an example, please visit WhatTheHeckHasObamaDoneSoFar.com), I give the man his props. Even when Bush was president, while I was highly critical of him, I stood behind him post 9/11 and did my best to put partisan concerns aside when appropriate.

Unfortunately.... the "Country First" team doesn't get that. I struggle to get with Republicans and this "Country First" theme of theirs when conservatives spend considerable amounts of time questioning his faith, his intelligence, his experience, and lest we forget.... HIS CITIZENSHIP.
You don't get to say Country First when:
1. you only support the President and the office when the President's from your camp (See outspoken folks from your team -including the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal- saying "I want the President to fail.")
2. you yell out in Congress when the President is addressing the country (and Congress).
3. you make people fight for unemployment benefits in the midst of a recession affecting millions and their families.
4. you force the extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest in the country at a time when our deficit is ballooning and we still lull in a recession.
5. You claim to support the troops but REPEATEDLY vote against bills that provide for veterans' medical care and education.
6. you engage in what my friend calls "unreasonableness, double mindedness, hypocrisy and folly."


Own Your Nonsense
My friend over at Hot Biscuits And Gravy says, "I'm an a-hole, but I own it." In that vein, you know what I love about MSNBC? They have a liberal slant and they own it. Their new slogan is "Lean Forward" as a nod to their progressive and leftist way of thinking. Meanwhile, Fox News (the Republican Party's hype man) continues to put forth the most unbelievable slogan ever: Fair and Balanced. Even conservatives know Fox isn't fair and balanced. Give it up.

Just be real with yourself conservatives. That's all I ask. You don't put country first. Republican party: create a slogan you can honestly say you mean and "own". This Country First nonsense makes about as much sense as Trump running for political office.

Your Turn
What slogan do you think truly represents the Republican Party? Do you believe I'm too harsh on conservatives? Do you consider the right, "country first?" Prove it!

P.S. I'm not the only one blogging about this. Check out the following takes:
1. One Nation Under God Incelebration
2. Osama Gone
3. Bin Laden is Dead; Do We Get to Celebrate?