We read this interesting piece at the NYMag.com (one of my go-to sites when I want to procrastinate), “Could you go 40 days without being Mean?” Basically, the author was invited and challenged by her friend to be nice for 40 days and write the instances where she managed to goof off. The piece described how, from the author’s experience, being nice meant she spoke less and listened more; encouraged positive interaction; basically tried to eliminate sarcasm from her life; and staying away from mindless gossip.
Here’s an excerpt:
“But we both found, naturally, that by talking less, and by thinking more about what we said instead of saying whatever sprang to mind, we “goofed” less. One night, a woman approached me and, unsolicited, began to say awful things about a friend of mine. I was just about to rip this woman a new one when I remembered my medium-soft project. So I simply said, “That has not been my experience with her,” and changed the subject. Disappointment came off her like mist off of a lake, and I realized that even if you take a perverse joy in conflict, it can be even more pleasurable to avoid it. In other words: Who needs recourse when moral superiority is so readily available?
The next challenge on my path to medium-softness was eliminating sarcasm. Trying not be nasty or aggressive or to complain felt hard. Trying not to be sarcastic felt impossible. I got in touch with John Haiman, a professor at Macalester College and the author of the 1998 book Talk Is Cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation, and the Evolution of Language. In the most earnest tone of voice I had ever heard in my life, he assured me that it would indeed be extremely difficult to stop being sarcastic. “Sarcasm is the default mode of communication in our culture,” he said. He said his students do an exercise where, for 24 hours, they attempt to say only things that are true. “They report feeling very uncomfortable,” he said. “Because unless you’re alone in front of the bathroom mirror, you are performing.” Yes, that was exactly it! Want to feel deathly boring? Talk to people without using any sarcasm. Really. Try it. It’s like trying to walk with your feet tied together…” SOURCE
Very interesting — considering we are part of the generation which seemed to have a sarcasm button wired into our system.
Here’s a unabashed confession: I am a Mean Girl and I must admit that I enjoy the reputation. I like being sarcastic, of being unapologetic and blunt. While I am not necessarily evil, I am really not a big fan of human interaction, especially if it concerns annoying colleagues or people I barely know. I try to stay invisible during office soirees and I am known to be always one of the first to slip away once the party is in full swing and I already managed to hang out with friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and family to pieces and will not hesitate to take a bullet for them. However, its the company of strangers that usually gets into my nerves. For a PR practitioner, I shudder at the thought of small talk. Maybe because deep down (in spite the steel-wool strength exterior), I am really a shy person. I easily get self-conscious whenever I am forced to spend some time with people I barely know. Quite ironic, considering I have turned to cannibalizing my life story as material for this blog. Somehow, knowing people read your stuff, things about yourself is less scary than being with people, telling them in person about yourself and your many hang-ups in life.
I express my frustrations loudly and often times, liberally swore for instances where I panic or on a tight deadline. Too scared to make mistakes, I often hide behind the tough exterior and sarcasm.
Here’s another great quote from the article:
“Sarcasm makes conversations less predictable. That’s why you can get so bored talking to earnest people — you know exactly what’s going to happen next. But sarcasm is also disruptive, and a real barrier to conversational intimacy.”
When I think about this, the more I think that this true. The author says that sarcasm is usually used when a person feels a moment of insecurity or discomfort. More often than not, sarcasm becomes a go-to armor, something to use as shield against the scary world of mixers and strangers.
The author was challenged to be less mean for 40 days. Personally, I think that’s really difficult. I can’t imagine my loud self shutting up and not giving someone a piece of my mind (whenever they call for it!). Unfortunately, the world I live in is a world where being too nice is more of a curse than a blessing. People who are too nice gets taken advantage of.
But maybe once in a while, it’s nice to be able to set down our guards and just be — without any agenda, prejudice or fear. Be able to interact well with people without fear of being judged, and likewise laying judge.
So, you think you could go 40 days without being mean? Shall we try it?