Friday, February 24, 2006

Disclaimers and "Just Being Honest"

Have you ever noticed that whenever someone utters the words "No offense, but..." or "Nothing against you, but..." the most rude, tactless, arrogant, offensive, hurtful things follow? Why do people think that the weak, and often insincere, statement that their words aren't intended to hurt makes this behavior acceptable? And why, oh why, is it always followed with the excuse "I'm just trying to be honest"?

I have a student in one of my classes who does this repeatedly. Makes me nuts, because I have an immediate, emotional reaction to her words, even though I know they are intended to be manipulative - giving her the illusion of power and control. I've severed ties with (former) friends because of this kind of behavior. Hate it. Hate it.

And yet... I've been guilty of the same behavior. Of course, that was in HIGH SCHOOL, when I was fantastically unhappy and pretty much oozing that misery wherever I went. So, I've been thinking about why people act this way - why they shield their abusive talk behind the words "just being honest". For me, I think it was a reaction to all the things that were never talked about in my house growing up (like my father's alcoholism and denial about it), and my reaction to the way my mother handled it (very passive-agressive). Being brutally honest was a way to distance myself from that mess - I wasn't going to pretend things weren't what they were. I wasn't going to say one thing when I meant another.

And so, knowing this about myself, I wonder what's going on with people who couch their harsh comments with pillows of "No offense, but" and "Nothing against, you personally". What pain are they in to stab other people with tactless barbs? What relief do they get from seeing their listener flush with embarrassment and/or defensiveness? I don't know. With friends or acquaintances, I can either probe for details, or run for the hills. With students... I'm stuck. The ones who say stuff like this are usually the ones who aren't interested in conversing outside of class oriented information. I can't get rid of them - often they're among the brighter students in the class - so I don't necessarily want to get rid of them. But.


Heading out tomorrow morning for a long weekend in New York state at Jay's dad's "cabin". "Cabin" because the so-called cabin is at least twice as big as our apartment. Next week is winter break, so I won't be in the office late next week. Yay!

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