Archive for the 'complaints' Category

11
Nov
11

your job as your “ministry”

Reader T. M. writes:

My boss is anti-intellectual, racist, sexist, and homophobic. He calls people or things “gay” when he means “stupid”; he claims women are always overly emotional; and he uses words like “spic” or “illegal” to talk about immigrants or people who speak Spanish. Most of my coworkers are pretty much exactly the same way he is. As an educated, self-defined liberal, I’m really fed up. How do you suggest I go about finding a new job with people I can actually work with?

Dear T.M.:

You’ve definitely got it rough, and I’m sorry you have to put up with that kind of talk. I’m sure if you called your boss out on his language he’d say that talking like that doesn’t mean he’s racist, sexist, or homophobic — some of his best friends are gay Mexican women! And if your coworkers are the same way, you’re unlikely to get much sympathy from them.

But I think you should stay at your job exactly for this reason.

Getting out boxing gloves is a bad idea.

I wouldn't recommend the boxing gloves. Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My evangelical Christian friends have a huge debate going on Facebook right now about whether or not your paying job is more important than your “ministry”. One of the answers I rather agree with is that your paying job should be your ministry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe proselytizing at the office (or anywhere else) is okay. But I was always taught growing up that the way you live your life is your greatest “ministry”.

What I mean is, people believe things strongly and live their lives accordingly. You firmly believe that racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong, and you could probably back up your reasoning with some great arguments. Your boss, however, clearly doesn’t believe that. And you may be the only exposure he has in a given day to someone who does believe those things are wrong. If you leave, he’s just going to be surrounded by a bunch of people who agree with him, and never have to question why he thinks the way he does.

It would be easy to go through life surrounded entirely by people who agree with you and believe the same things you do. That’s what the Internet has done to us — we’re surrounded by opinions exactly like ours, because that’s what we search out and find. Most of your friends on Facebook probably post things you agree with, and if you don’t, I’m guessing you’ve figured out the “unsubscribe” option by now. Your Google search will even tailor its results to match things you already read, so you’re not going to find anything that disagrees with your opinion without trying really, really hard.

But if you don’t ever challenge your beliefs, how can you grow as a person?

By this point you may have guessed that I mean the learning has to go in both directions. First of all, you offer a differing view of the world to your boss (and coworkers) than what he’s used to seeing. You may have to speak up about it once in a while and let him know, and he may not appreciate that, but you can consider it your “ministry”. You can even point out that he’s setting himself up for a lawsuit from someone who is perhaps a bit more litigious than you. It is extremely unlikely he’ll change his ways. But the fact that he’s been challenged about them at all is a pretty big deal.

And on the flip side, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can’t learn something from him. He’s got ideas different from your own, which means you should sit up and listen to what he has to say. Not because he’s right, but because he’s different. Why does he believe the things he believes? And how can you reject his beliefs outright without first understanding why he believes them?

The discourse between you may just serve to strengthen your own beliefs, or you may learn something new. I’m not saying you should strive to be racist, sexist, or homophobic, of course. But there are probably other points you disagree on that he can teach you something about.

Do you know why racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong? Can you explain it in a rational way? If not, learning why he apparently thinks it’s not wrong to say those things could help you with your own argument.

Of course, there does come a point when hanging out around hate speech is just abuse. It’s hard to sue for a “hostile work environment” if the speech isn’t directed against you specifically, but if you’re uncomfortable, you should speak up. Check out your employee handbook on your company’s policies, and if he’s violating them, call him out on it, or have HR call him out on it. If you’re capable of having a rational, unemotional discussion about it with him, do so. Again, it may be the only time in his life he’s ever asked to consider what his words really mean in the sphere around him.

Just don’t go running to idealist.org to look for your perfect, not-for-profit liberal social justice job quite yet. The world may need you where you are.

27
Apr
11

political familial emails

Reader B.C. writes:

You wrote about what to do if a coworker sends you a political email you’re not interested in, but what about if it’s a family member? My uncle keeps sending out these awful, spammy fowards about ridiculous conspiracies (usually political ones) that have been disproven on Snopes.com so many times it’s not even funny. But he’s still my uncle, and I don’t want to be disrespectful. What should I do?

Dear B.C.:

Just as I said for political emails from coworkers, my advice continues in this case to be: delete delete delete. If you don’t read it, it can’t bother you. If he sends exclusively spam, you can even create a rule (in most email services) to send his stuff directly to your spam folder or even to delete it immediately so you never even have to know it arrived in your inbox.

pillow fight

If only all political familial debates were solved this way. Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This will work as long as he doesn’t ask you about it. Most people who send out spammy emails don’t have time to ask you about it, though; they’re too busy looking for the next political conspiracy to be able to discuss what they actually sent out.

You can, if you want to, think of it this way: He believes so fervently in these conspiracies, and is so excited by them, that he wants to send them out to everyone he loves, so they can share in the warmth he feels. Clearly his trust in your beliefs is misplaced, but at least you know he loves you.

On the other hand, he could be sending them out because he believes they are so true that they will convert anyone. In which case, his belief in the power of conspiracy emails is misplaced, and there’s nothing you can do. As we all know, the pendulum of belief swings both ways — as much as he can’t convince you to believe his tripe, you can’t convince him not to believe it.

This is because belief in conspiracy has nothing to do with fact. Most beliefs have very little to do with fact, actually; they’re based in opinion and interpretation, but not fact. When you admit that this is the case, you become a lot less likely to insist that everyone share your beliefs. And you may even be willing to shift your beliefs when new facts are presented, if you ever get around to listening to them. But this is generally not true of beliefs you hold most dear and are most willing to fight for. In fact, I would argue that the more fervently you believe something, the less likely you are to allow facts to interfere, even if they directly refute your belief. And I would argue that this is true of everyone, not just your wackadoo uncle, and you’re probably guilty of it, too.

I’ll bet he talks about this stuff at the dinner table, or at family reunions. In which case you and your family probably exercise the age-old trick of changing the subject. Or you all chime in and have wonderful fights, including throwing mashed potatoes at each other. This is what makes families fun. But I doubt the latter scenario. Generally, in order to keep things civil, most people opt just to change the subject, and I have absolutely no problem with this.

If you really want to start a fight with him, you can send him the Snopes articles that disprove his chain emails. I’m going to guess he hasn’t discovered the BCC function, and therefore you can even reply to all of his friends and family members who have been subjected to his spam. This will not accomplish anything beyond probably embarrassing him and/or making your ego feel better, though. He’s not going to be convinced, I assure you, and he’s going to be mad you’re arguing with his “truth”. If you’re not the kind of family that throws mashed potatoes at each other “all in good fun” during an argument, then this is not the route I would suggest.

You could also ask him to quit sending them to you, which, once again, could make things awkward. I’d say you should be nice about it, and tell him you don’t read them, rather than telling him that you hate his political views and think he’s crazy. No matter what you say, though, he will believe that the truth of these emails is what’s bothering you, and he is not very likely to recognize that his “truth” is really annoying to everyone else, which means he may send them to you even more fervently. (Backfire!)

But I think you’re probably better off just realizing your uncle’s nutjob opinions aren’t going away with your wonderful reason and logic, and you’re better off just ignoring his spam. Delete. Delete. Delete.

21
Apr
11

ex’s wedding

Reader G. M. writes:

Last fall I got dumped by a guy who said he “wasn’t ready for commitment”. He got a new GF a few weeks after we broke up (he was probably dating her while he was with me, in fact). And I found out via Facebook today that they’re engaged now. Apparently the wedding’s next month. And I am going crazy. What should I do?

Dear G.M.:

First of all, get on Facebook this instant, head over to your ex’s page, and block him. Then, go over to his new GF’s page, and block her, too. Are any of your friends part of the wedding or talking about it? Block their status updates from your wall. Cut the entire scene out of your line of view. Most importantly: quit stalking your ex on Facebook. Do it now. Got it?

Next, you need to put this wedding in perspective.

Let’s start by having a hate fest on the ex. I don’t know you, and I don’t know the guy, but if he’s capable of telling you he wasn’t ready for commitment and then getting all up in a committed relationship pretty much right after he said that, then he’s a liar anyway and you don’t want him. There must be other things about him that are awful. Everyone has a bad side, and you just weren’t aware of his when you were dating. He’s a creep. He’s a jerk. He treated you poorly. He doesn’t deserve you.

weddin

Maybe there's a train a-comin'! Image: Rosen Georgiev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now let’s talk about reality a little bit. Maybe he broke up with you because he actually didn’t like you. Maybe he broke up with you because he honestly thought he couldn’t get committed. Maybe the new girl refuses to let him jerk her around like that. Or maybe she’s pregnant. Maybe she’s blackmailing him. Maybe their marriage will last three weeks.

But it doesn’t matter. He’s your ex. He’s outta’ the picture. You need to have enough self-respect to move on.

I know, it’s hard. You want to think about how great things would be between the two of you, and how he totally missed out on how great you are, or how he totally spurned you.

These are not healthy or productive lines of thinking. You feel bad. Okay, understandably. Feel bad. Own it. Admit it. Now quit feeding it.

The best thing you can do for yourself in this situation is distract yourself, rather than force yourself to rehash it over and over again. Bad feelings exist, yes, and they’re terrible, but they go away after time has passed. All you have to do is spend that time somehow (other than brooding over the bad feelings), and one morning you’ll wake up and realize you don’t remember this guy’s name.

So let’s set this rule: For the next week, you are allowed to think about this crappy boy once a day for five minutes. In those five minutes you must list at least three things about him that are pretty unbearable. Then you must leave wherever it is that you are and go for a walk. Or get some ice cream. Or call a friend who has serious troubles of her own (preferably someone who is facing a life-threatening illness, or has a family member who is, so you can talk about something important rather than wallowing in a lame ass ex). You should set a time for this to happen. At 12:55pm every day for the next week, you focus on how crappy he was. The rest of the day, if your brain turns to him, you must force yourself to change the subject.

After a week of this, you cut back to three minutes a day. After a week of that, you cut back to three minutes every other day. After a week of that, it’s one minute once a week.

With the rest of your time, you are to find a new hobby that does not involve stalking anyone on Facebook. I recommend collecting something, or becoming an expert in something, like gardening or sewing or French cooking. I also want you to enlist your friends on getting you out of your head. Go out. Have fun. Force yourself to do this. Hang out with people who are committed to you in non-romantic ways (these relationships tend to be more lasting and important in our lives, too, if you haven’t noticed). Focus on these things.

I hope you don’t know the date of the wedding, or where it’s going to happen. If you do, I hope you’ll be somewhere else doing something so fun you don’t even remember it’s going to happen. You should make plans now for that to be the case. I did write a blog about getting over it; that may be the best advice you could have right now.

But now that you’ve read this, why haven’t you blocked the two of them on Facebook already?

13
Apr
11

co worker leaving early

Reader N. A. writes:

I have a new colleague sitting in the cubicle next to mine. He apparently doesn’t understand that we count the hour for lunch as non-work time. So he comes in at 9, takes an hour for lunch, and leaves at 5. What should I do?

Dear N.A.:

You have several options in this case.

1. Tell him yourself.

can't smoke in here

Dude, you can't smoke in here, either. Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Be nice about it, but take him aside and give him a heads up. Make it a word of advice from a friendly co-worker, rather than a threat from a rival. You could email him so nobody has to hear you telling him. Just let him know you’ve noticed he takes the hour for lunch and you don’t want him to get in trouble.

2. Tell HR to tell him.

This saves you the embarrassment of having to tell someone how to do their job, but it also makes you the office tattle tale. Of course, it also adds an official measure to the whole ordeal, so if it ends up later he has other work issues beyond abusing the schedule, there’s a case for getting rid of him. Nevertheless, it’s supposed to be HR’s job to inform new employees about official rules and scheduling, so passing them the buck is an entirely viable option.

3. If you don’t have an HR department, tell your supervisor.

Again, this is the tattle tale way to go, but it’s also official and saves you some anonymity, depending on how your supervisor handles it, and on how small your company is. If your supervisor is a good supervisor (I know, a very rare species), they will simply tell your new co-worker the rules without mentioning you. But if they say, “Hey, so-and-so said you’ve been leaving early,” you’re going to end up looking like a douche. If you’re in a small company where it’s going to be obvious anyway, you might as well just sack up them ovaries and tell the co-worker yourself.

4. Don’t say anything.

To be totally honest, this is probably the most right advice I have here. Is it your business that he’s leaving early? Not really. Unless it affects your work personally, it’s probably not a big deal. I know that we all have an urge to make sure everyone is following the rules to a T, because it’s not fair if someone isn’t. But really, why does it bother you that he’s taking an hour for lunch and leaving at a reasonable time? We Americans are such dicks about making work our universe. Office life doesn’t have to be the only life you have. Let the guy have an hour to himself during the work day and get home to his family on time. It’s not going to bring our country down in socialist flames. And don’t forget that by enforcing the rules yourself, you bring yourself under closer scrutiny. Maybe your best route in this case is just to take it upon yourself to allow your co-worker to damn the man for as long as he can. Eventually, someone else will probably notice he’s bending the rules, and he probably won’t get into too much trouble if he’s the new guy and he “just didn’t know”. Let HR do their job, unless you really feel like you’re going to be helping the guy out by ruining his lunch hour.

04
Mar
11

the half-age plus seven rule

Reader M. A. writes:

A friend of mine who is 40 is dating a girl who is 22. His friends (including myself) are all in our late 30s/early 40s, and while she’s pretty hot and smart, it still icks us out. Are we just a bunch of old fogies being jerks, or is he violating some rule by bringing this girl around?

Dear M.A.:

I’m going to state for the record that yes, you are an old fogey. And you may just be jealous that he can still score hot young chicks and you can’t. (Notice I’m not saying that women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s can’t be smoking hot, please. ‘Cause I know plenty.)

But you’re also right. He is violating a rule. It’s not necessarily a rule he may know about, and there aren’t any laws about it, but it’s a pretty good rule I think many people follow, even unconsciously, as they decide who to date in life, and how not to be a creep.

So if we’re going to impose rules on our loving, then I guess the half-age plus seven rule is as good a rule to live by as any.

If you are incapable of clicking on that Wikipedia link, I’ll tell you the general premise:

It is acceptable to date anyone younger than you as long as they are no less than half your age plus seven years. On the flipside, it is acceptable for you to date anyone older than you as long as your age is at least half theirs plus seven years.

Make sense?

math

Yay math! Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So your friend is 40. According to our rule, his acceptable dating age range would be (40/2 + 7 =) 27 and older for the youngsters, and (40= x/2 + 7 (solve for x)…) 66 and younger for the older age of the spectrum. (Yes, I did have to pull out a sheet of paper and utilize my seventh grade algebra skills, so thanks, Mrs. Cook!)

Your friend is obviously dating someone who is five years too young for him, according to our rule. And if your friend believed in this rule, then you could ridicule him incessantly for breaking it.

According to this rule, your friend is a creep, and you guys have every right to be icked out by his relationship.

But if there’s one thing we all know we can’t control (maybe), it’s who we fall in love with. You can meet someone who’s practically perfect in every way on paper, and find there are no sparks off the page. And you can meet someone who is just clearly wrong for you and fall head over heels without warning. It’s all chemistry (plus good lighting and probably alcohol, in many cases), and there isn’t much anyone can do about it.

It’s possible he’s just dating this girl because she’s, ya’ know, hot. (The story goes that when Lauren Bacall started dating Humphrey Bogart, she was 19. He was 44. She told her mom, “He likes me! He really likes me!” And her mom said, “You’re 19. What’s not to like?”) In which case, it’ll fizzle out when she gets bored of his taste in music (“What, no Ke$ha?”) and he gets tired of her not getting his jokes. Possibly your teasing will help highlight to him the generational disparity in their tastes, and push the break up right along.

Or it’s possible they’re just one of those odd couples who are going to work out, regardless of generational differences or what the world thinks of them. In this case, you can make fun of your friend mercilessly, but that may just drive him closer to his newfound beloved. They may just start seeing themselves as a team — us against the world!

Like I’ve said before, you can’t tell someone who’s in love that you don’t like their beloved without endangering your friendship, so if he’s really sold on her, you’re just going to have to get used to it. Of course, if you think there’s anything to be concerned about (is he acting differently? dressing younger? not hanging out with his friends as much? doing things you don’t think he enjoys just to keep up with her?), let him know, even if it could mess up your friendship.

If this is just some weird crisis thing he’s going through (after a recent break up with a serious gf, perhaps? or a divorce? or the loss of a parent?), the whole relationship isn’t fair to the young lady, either. When a relationship isn’t right, sometimes we need our friends to pull us back to reality. He could use your help in this situation.

Otherwise, you could be a real pal and just watch as their relationship develops, and possibly get to know her. Maybe you’ll find she’s an old soul. And maybe you’ll get over the ick factor. If it’s meant to be, they’ll be together, whether you, the rules, or anything else likes it or not. And if it’s not meant to be, their relationship will end, possibly in a fireworks show, at which point you can thank them for the entertainment, at least.

10
Feb
11

the dreaded vday

Reader E. G. writes:

I’m the single girl yet again for Valentine’s Day this year. What’s the best way to get through the holiday without wanting to kill myself?

Dear E.G.:

arrow and heart

Sometimes we'd all like to murder Valentine's Day. Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have to throw it out there that I love Valentine’s Day, not because of the commercialized nonsense of it all or the chocolate or the flowers or whatever, but because it’s basically the first day of the year when you realize the sun has started to come back and is setting later. And that, my dear, is how I have come to cope with Valentine’s Day, whether I’m single or not.

What I’m saying is: you’ve got to reframe it. It seems like our society has given us two ways to look at Valentine’s Day. Either it’s a stress-inducing event for all couples to try and prove how they feel to each other and the world, or it’s a pity party for single people. Those are not the only options. You have to find a way to look at Valentine’s Day that suits your needs and doesn’t get you down. The world has made a holiday of it, but you can celebrate it for your own reasons. Think of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love — all love, from familial to friendly to love of nature to love of whatever else — and couch it in your terms.

Some great ideas I have:

Show your love for humanity.

Make VDay a service day this year so you’re not thinking about how lonely you are. You could go all out and volunteer your evening at a homeless shelter. Or give blood at a local clinic. Imagine all the folks at “old folks homes” who happen to have lost their beloved, or perhaps never had one. They could use your love on a day like today. Take yourself outside of your head and put yourself to work for someone else.

Show your love for your friends and family.

Instead of focusing on your lack of a partner, rejoice in your friendships. Regardless of whether I’m single or not, I always try to send Valentine’s to a few of my friends, particularly anyone who’s been having a rough year. One year I sent hand-painted cards to all of my girlfriends, my sisters, and my mom. (Just the ladies!) I’ve sent flowers to friends who were bummed about being single. It doesn’t have to be heart-shaped or dipped in chocolate. Just show the people you love your appreciation for their existence. If you put some real time and effort into it, I promise you’ll be pleased at how well things turn out.

Show your love for nature.

Get out and hang with the trees and the birds, even if it is freezing out. Just get a little sunshine in and marvel at how this world works regardless of human intervention. It’ll get your mind off the goopy gunk going on in the commercial world. Remind yourself that a commercial holiday has nothing to do with your worth as a person.

Show your love for yourself.

Take yourself out for a treat. Get a facial and a massage, or get your toenails done. Get a new haircut. Buy yourself the flowers you want or a new piece of jewelry you’d like to have. Remember that being in a couple isn’t all fun and games, especially not on pressure-filled Valentine’s Day. Revel in the fact that you’re not expected to get anyone a present or enjoy their company on this day. You’re free to do whatever you want with yourself.

Enjoy the longer days and the love for things other than commercial romance you already have in your heart. That’s what makes VDay livable, in my opinion.

23
Nov
10

to opt out or not to opt out

Reader T. F. writes:

I’ve been hearing a lot in the news about those new TSA backscatter scanners, and I know a lot of people are saying everyone should opt out of using them during the Thanksgiving holiday flight rush. What do you think?

Dear T.F.:

I’m gonna’ quote Jiminy Cricket on this one:

“Always let your conscience be your guide.”

In the end, what you do in this case depends entirely on what you think is more important: standing up for your own personal rights and privileges, giving up some of your rights to ensure “public safety”, and/or your aversion to inconveniencing yourself and others.

Flying

There's a lot more to flying this holiday season than just getting on that plane. Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are a lot of issues in play that I think you need to consider to make an informed decision on whether or not to opt out of the scanners. Let’s go through them all one by one, shall we?

Having other people see your junk.

Yes, Virginia, you can see someone’s genitals on the images these scanners produce. (In fact, they can see sanitary napkins, too. And possibly tampons.) Furthermore, while they have called the images “skeletal” or “ghost-like”, they’re apparently pretty easy to invert, i.e. make life-like. Some fake news sources are already pretending that TSA employees will treat the images like porn, which, while unlikely, isn’t totally impossible to imagine. Honestly, if someone I’m not dating or married to is going to see my naked body, I’d prefer to get paid for it, thankyouverymuch. And even though the TSA has said it’s impossible to save these images, how much do you really trust them? You could, of course, buy some Flying Pasties to cover yourself up, although nobody is quite sure how the TSA is going to react to this sort of effort, and you’ll probably be subjected to the pat-down anyway, as described below.

Having other people feel up your junk.

If you “opt out” of the TSA scanners, as some groups are urging you to do, you will be subjected to an “enhanced pat down“. So basically, the mandatory nature of these new scanners has subjected all flyers to the classic rock and a hard place conundrum. Even if you do go through the scanners, you may have to participate in one of these pat-downs, which some folks are complaining go too far and are pretty much tantamount to sexual assault. This may be more invasive than having your body displayed on screen for some TSA employee to ogle at will. It also depends on your TSA agent, it seems.

Fear of CANCER.

I find this one to be pretty ridiculous. Apparently, the chances of getting cancer from the backscatter radiation are about 1 in 30 million. In other words, you have a greater chance of the plane crashing for mechanical reasons than of getting ill from the 10 seconds of radiation you’d be exposed to. Still, if you have frail health because of some other infection, the scanners might pose a greater threat to you than others. And lord knows we are exposed to plenty of other cancer-causing agents in our daily lives — why risk it with one more?

Making a political statement about your civil rights.

I think we are currently viewing a historical wonder: it’s one of few times that conservatives and Tea Party groups are in agreement with the ACLU. Opting out of the scanners could be a way of standing up for your civil liberty. You have the right “to be secure in [your] person, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”. (That’s the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, kiddos.) You have to decide for yourself if you feel that the TSA is engaging in activities that put your liberty at risk, and if your actions are going to have a meaningful effect on challenging those encroachments. Whether you decide to opt out or write to Congress, you may find it in your conscience to say something. As Benjamin Franklin put it: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” (Motto on the title page of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania. [1759]) Speaking of “temporary safety”…

How much safety you think these procedures provide.

Few people (other than Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano) seem to think these new security measures are keeping us any safer than before, although the TSA has apparently found one or two prohibited items (check out the “Week at a Glance” section at the bottom of the homepage there). If you think these procedures prevent terrorists from hijacking airplanes, then you can probably rightly say that you are sacrificing a little comfort and perhaps a skosh of your liberty to a worthy cause. That’s all up to you, of course.

Delaying other passengers and yourself.

This is where you have to weigh standing up for something you believe in versus inconveniencing others. Yes, all of the current screening options are uncomfortable, but going through the scanners as instructed will save you and everyone around you time and trouble at some point. Yes, it’s stupid that we have to put all our liquids and gels in a Ziploc baggie, and yes, it’s stupid that we have to take off our shoes. But perhaps Thanksgiving Day is not the forum in which you want to make your civil liberties statement. Again, you could always write to Congress. Or start a different movement of your own.

Giving grief to the TSA agents.

They are, despite some complaints to the contrary, just normal human beings doing a job. I know, a common retort to that is, “Yeah, so were the Nazis”. I think if you can compare Nazis to TSA agents, you have some serious issues with degrees of magnitude where evil is concerned, and maybe you deserve a cable TV show, preferably on Fox News. In any case, these TSA folks are people (I happen to know one or two of them), and they don’t want to touch you anymore than you want to be touched. You may find that making their lives miserable is not how you want to be spending your Thanksgiving travel time, and that if you cooperate with them, they can actually be rather pleasant.

After you’ve considered all of these issues, I believe you are ready to make a decision. It may depend on your mood for the day, how long the line is at the airport, and whether or not the guy in front of you chooses to opt out.

However, you may want to consider this final issue:

There’s already plenty of hubbub surrounding this issue. I don’t think you have to worry about the TSA not getting the message because you decide not to opt out. Your own personal qualms are what should go into this decision for you, less than your worries that someone doesn’t know this is a problematic issue.

Not flying this holiday season, but want to participate in the joys of security screening procedures? Playmobil has got you covered. (Thanks, D.A.!)

16
Nov
10

not so thankful

Reader T. B. writes:

Thanksgiving is next week and I’m supposed to go home and “celebrate” with my family. The catch is: I hate my family. What should I do?

Dear T.B.:

My first words to you will be words of comfort. Find solace in this fact:

Everyone hates their family during the holidays.

gourd family

I'm sure the pumpkins wish they weren't related to the acorn squash. Image: Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Oh, sure, you’ve got your Goody-Two-Shoes friends who will deny that vehemently and say they love their family, all the time, but in all truth, there is nothing to love about a group of stressed out people who only visit each other once a year and are only loosely tied to each other through DNA and know exactly how to press each other’s buttons.

Of course, some people hate their families less than others. And some have reason to hate their family to a greater extent than others.

So on that note, I have two suggestions for you:

1. Don’t go. Cancel your plane or train tickets, regardless of how much they cost and who bought them. Call Mom right now and tell her you’re putting an end to the madness. If you hate your family that much, she’ll probably be relieved, even if she does get angry at you or try to guilt-trip you. Stand up for yourself. Refuse to come, no matter how much of your favorite dish Aunt Jane is  going to be making. Deny your grandmother’s right to see you one last time. Hold your own orphans’ Thanksgiving with people you DO like, or just stay home and watch whatever marathon of whatever TV or movie series appears on whatever cable channel you can get while sipping your favorite beverage of choice.

This would appear to be the cruel and callous way to go. It’s selfish. You’re hurting everyone’s feelings. But let’s take a step back. Sometimes it’s ok to be selfish. You can’t please all the people all the time, and sometimes you need to make sure you’re actually happy. I have forgone a Christmas or two myself because my mental health couldn’t handle it, and let me tell you, I am one of those Goody-Two-Shoes who says she doesn’t hate her family. Sometimes you just need a break. It can actually be better to remove your grumpy ass from the supposedly happy occasion to let everyone else breathe a little than to show up and be the terrible cousin who’s sulking. At those moments, for me, James Bond and Jack Daniels are all I need to make a worthwhile holiday.

But of course, there have been other seasons in my life, which brings me to option 2:

2. Get over yourself and go hang out with your family for two days. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Unless they’re going to physically or emotionally or mentally abuse you (and I mean, really abuse you, not just tease you about that time you wet the bed when you were seven), toughen up and just go. I can almost promise that this Thanksgiving holiday won’t kill you. (There are always those people trying to fry their turkeys who burn down the house, so I won’t make any absolute promises.)

As Americans, we are so adverse to being around people we haven’t chosen to be around that we forget the world is populated by others. Smelly others. Annoying others. Others who voted for the wrong person or talk too closely or watch stupid TV shows. Sometimes those others also happen to be related to you. Being around people who annoy you builds character. It teaches you patience.

And furthermore, if these annoying people are biologically related to you, you can learn a thing or two about yourself that you’d be completely blind to if you’re only allowing yourself to hang around people you like (and who, hopefully, like you, too). You may have one of those surprising movie-script moments where you learn your dad sacrificed a lot to get your family through some giant, meaningful crisis you weren’t aware of when you were seven. Or you may get so mad at one of your siblings that the potatoes end up on the wall with the gravy following soon after. Either way, you’ve got a story to tell, at least.

Plus, why is it always someone else’s job to watch out for your feelings? Make Thanksgiving enjoyable for you, even if you do have to spend it with your crazy family. Just change your perspective and look for the positive side of things, and you’ll probably actually end up hating your family less by the end of the weekend.

I’m never going to advocate “blood is thicker than water” — I think sometimes our families can cause us more harm than good. If your family is truly abusive, I think it is your duty to take care of yourself and stay away. But for the rest of you, who are just annoyed that you have to spend a weekend away from that bar you go to every night anyway, I’d say give Thanksgiving another shot. Enjoy your crazy family. Get some stories to tell your chosen family of friends at that bar for when you all get back. I’m sure they’ll have a few good tales of their own.

08
Oct
10

office strife

Reader T. M. writes:

The other day I went over to a coworker’s cubicle to ask him a question. He wasn’t there, but he’d left his computer on and unlocked, and I noticed an IM on his screen to another coworker had my name in it. I couldn’t help but read it while I was standing there. Let’s just say the  IM conversation wasn’t particularly flattering to me and I was insulted and hurt. Both of these coworkers are supposed to be friends of mine — we’ve even gone out to happy hour a few times and I went to one of their birthday parties a few weeks ago. Now I’m not sure what to do. Should I confront them about the conversation and what they said, even though I’m not supposed to know about it in the first place? Should I just cut ties with them both? I’m really hurt and confused.

Dear T. M.:

I’m sorry you had to come across that kind of back-handed nastiness. If your coworkers had a problem with you, they should have said so to your face. But obviously it’s a rare bird who is willing to own up to his or her actual feelings, particularly when they’re negative and about someone else. It’s too late now and you can’t un-see that IM. So I say be proactive.

watch out!

Loose fingers sink friendships. Image: br3akthru / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

First things first: you should remember that IM conversations are different beasts than face-to-face conversation. What I mean is, you may have seen something out of context that was part of a longer, harmless joke. Or you may not have understood the sentiment of the conversation — there could have been sarcasm or tones you weren’t party to by just seeing that part of the convo.

The problem with lots of modern communication like texts and IMs, beyond the fact that they’re easy to misinterpret, is the fact that they are actual reproducible records of what we say. We can joke around with our voices and never have to worry about what we’ve said being shown word-for-word to someone who wasn’t part of the original conversation (unless we’re being followed by a camera crew for a reality show or a budding linguist who records conversations for research). Unfortunately, this same devil-may-care attitude doesn’t necessarily translate well to the written forms. While we as a culture (or a generation, perhaps) take IMs or texts about as seriously as we take regular voice conversations (i.e. not seriously at all), textual convos can be used as incriminating evidence later on. Just ask any number of government officials who have been caught sending naughty texts to interns or supposed protegés. We don’t take what we write very seriously, and it can certainly come back to haunt us.

Basically, what I meant by that last paragraph was “let us all take this as a lesson”. I’m sure you’ve got a few IM conversations in your closet you’d rather not have seen in the light of day. But probably Google has a record of them somewhere. Imagine what offenses you could have caused to curious eyes, even if you didn’t mean them. It’s possible (and probable) your coworkers said things in this IM that they didn’t mean. In fact, I would argue that IMs can be taken even less seriously than real conversations, in spite of their reproducibility. I know it’s no comfort to you, but there are things we’re willing to type that we’d never say out loud to anyone, because it would just be too much.

In any case, you should probably figure out what the IM actually meant. You’re going to be stewing over it anyway. You might as well know if they really meant to insult you. If they did, you can tell them you don’t appreciate it and end the friendship in a whirl of flaming glory. Piece of cake. If they meant something else, you’ll at least have a clear mind over it and you can feel better, although I doubt you’ll be willing to be as close with them as you were before. Unless you’re a masochist, hanging out with people who belittle you isn’t usually fun. The trust is broken.

I hate to do victim blaming, but you kind of brought this on yourself, too. I would also warn you not to read private IM conversations, but first off, you already know that, and secondly, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop that kind of curiosity. And it may be better that you found out how these people feel about you, even if it had to be in this manner.

I think the one thing we can all take away from this is that we should try to think before we send our own IMs. And who’s actually going to do that?

01
Sep
10

beating the blues

Reader K.C. writes:

It’s been a really crappy past couple of weeks for me, and I’m starting to feel like the world is out to get me. What can I do to beat this feeling?

Dear K.C.:

Sometimes things go wrong outside of our control. You know this, I know this. Your feelings don’t know this. They’re just feeling overwhelmed. When things go wrong continually for a long period of time and we feel like we can’t stop it, the pattern of thinking things are going wrong turns into a habit that is really hard to break. You start expecting the wrong, rather than the good, and you to see only the bad things coming.

the blues

This is kind of what life looks like when you have a migraine. Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Once it’s set, this negative mindset is a tough habit to break, and can take years of behavioral and cognitive therapy to get out of.

But there are little things you can do on a daily basis to break out of the negative mood you’re in. You just have to force yourself to do them. And I do mean “force” — these are physical things you will have to get up and do. And that’s the idea. Remove yourself from the pattern. Forcibly.

Here’s my list of things I do to help me beat the blues:

Emote.

First and foremost, if I feel like crying, I cry. If I feel like screaming, I scream. The trick to this is only to allow it to go on for ten minutes max. After that, I change the subject for my brain and redirect my thinking elsewhere.

Accomplish something.

Finish a crossword puzzle or a sudoku; dive into your work head first; paint the kitchen. Just accomplish something. Finish it in its entirety, regardless of how you feel.

Get some sunshine.

I know this may be harder in those northern climes, but sunshine is imperative. This is why I got a convertible, in fact. Get at least 10 minutes of sunshine in every day. I’m not saying sunbathe and burn your skin off, but our skin reacts to sunlight by creating vitamin D, which can help regulate mood.

Take a walk.

Don’t take your phone with you, or even your iPod. Just take a walk around the block. Breathe. This is not about exercise per se. It’s about changing the scenery.

Go to the gym.

Get that heart rate up. Get your aggression out and build up some seratonin levels in your brain. Even if you’re too blue to really concentrate on a workout, get on the elliptical and just get going. Go for at least half an hour. Sweat some stuff out.

Interact with a domesticated animal.

Play fetch with your dog; take your neighbor’s dog for a walk; get on the floor with a cat; check out the gerbils at PetCo. Animals don’t get the blues the same way we do. They’ll distract you. Pet them and snuggle with them and let them entertain you.

Go see a movie.

Distraction is key when things are really bad. Seeing a funny movie can help. Hell, a sad movie can be just as good because it can get those emotions out into the open. Sometimes you need to cry at something other than your own life.

Do something really healthy for yourself.

I mean other than exercise. Eat some broccoli. Drink some green tea. Give yourself a facial.

Do something really decadent.

Chocolate is usually my recommendation here, but it just has to be something special you usually refrain from doing. Buy yourself that new pair of shoes. Go roll naked in the grass in the backyard. Just indulge in something decadent you truly enjoy. Don’t overdo it, of course.

Call a friend who’s having a worse week than you are.

Trust me. This will definitely make you feel better, and not just because you can do some comparison. Sharing things makes people feel better. We humans are social creatures, after all.

Call your mom.

This, of course, depends on your relationship with your mom, and I don’t recommend it for everyone. If your mom is terrible, call the closest person you have in your life who fulfills the actual maternal role, not necessarily your blood mother. This is the person who is on your side regardless of how stupid you may be, and will listen to you cry even if there’s no reason to. Call that person.

Seek professional help.

If things continue to be bad for longer than two weeks, or if you start thinking about suicide, you probably ought to talk to a doctor. I insist. I’ve had my own problems with doctors, and I know sometimes it makes you feel worse, but there are certain cases where it’s a necessity. If you had a giant tumor on your leg, or a gash in your rib cage, or a broken bone, you’d go to the doctor. Treat your mental health the same way you treat your physical health. There are warning signs and emergencies of the brain, too.




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