From an email blasted to my inbox:
Where to begin?
I have no interest in a would-be vendor who skimmed through my website. I want one who pored and emerged with specific, useful recommendations.
But then, I doubt that you even skimmed. I suspect you obtained an email list and clicked SEND with no further thought. Else, you would have known that, right or wrong, I fancy myself a writer. Armed with that information, you might have thought better of “you could greatly benefit from our high-quality blog writing service,” anticipating that it could come across as something of a slap.
If you didn’t skim, then you lied. I loath misleading statements from people trying to sell. Of course, not having skimmed, you couldn’t be expected to know that.
But suppose I’m wrong and you really did skim. In that case, you score abysmally low in the empathy department. That’s a problem for any writer, for good writing begins with knowing your reader.
All of which argues against the alleged high quality of the writing you hope to sell me.
I must reluctantly conclude that I could not benefit in the least, much less greatly, from your high-quality blog writing.
Note to readers: I didn’t email this reply. If the hapless vendor wishes to read it, he’ll have to skim my website.
You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate this wonderful tribute to writer’s block from Gary Larsen. In deference to Larsen’s copyright, I have masked most of the image here, but you can view it au complet on his website by clicking anywhere on the box below or by clicking here. Enjoy.
My July 4 musings, published three days ago in The Salt Lake Tribune, may be a sure way for me to lose friends, second only to letting them get to know me. You can read the article by clicking here or on the image below.
Rhetorical questions aren’t really questions. They are statements in question form. And while they serve a purpose in dramatic literature, when invoked in matters of fact they signal a closed mind.
Shakespeare used the rhetorical question well when he penned for Juliet, ”What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Note that the bard didn’t follow up by having an etymologist, a botanist, a cognitive psychologist, and a taxonomist walk onstage and set her straight. His aim was to express Juliet’s inner turmoil.
But in argumentation, the rhetorical question can be a dishonest device. I can think of no better example than the widely-invoked, would-be refutation of the Theory of Evolution: “If we come from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” To be sure, some who pose that question really are interested in an answer, and good for them. But those who “ask” with the intent of dismissing the matter might as well say, “I reject evolution, and I’m not interested in being disabused of my ignorance.” If you don’t believe me, watch them tune out or simply await their turn to jump in with “yeah, but ...” as you attempt to explain ancestry, geographic separation, and geologic time.
Some people try to frame a dishonest rhetorical question with, “It’s okay to ask questions, right?” That, too, is rhetorical—and dishonest—in that its goal is justification, not enlightenment. Nevertheless, the answer to “It’s okay to ask questions, right?” is: Not if you have already resolved to reject any answer.
“I’m not interested in being disabused of my ignorance” is intellectually irresponsible, but at least it’s honest.
There is no shortage of armchair experts—and the “facts” they spread are not always harmless. That’s the subject of my new piece for The Salt Lake Tribune, which ran yesterday. Click the image at right to enlarge, or open it a new window by clicking here.
We call that kind of consideration manners and common decency. Were it not for the negative connotation, we might equally call it political correctness. But the negative connotation exists and, as connotations go, this one is powerful. It is not a little ironic that in some circles political correctness is treated as politically incorrect.
The negative connotation is not terribly hard to understand. For one thing, none of us likes to be corrected. The less kind the correction, the less we like it. For another, while the offense of “that person is fat” is universally understood, it’s not so easy to understand why a word with a history of acceptability in our own culture is suddenly to be avoided the moment another culture says, “We don’t like that.” Nor is it easy to understand the need to abandon a once-acceptable term when it begins to take on a new, unacceptable meaning.*
Yet attention to the effect of words on people coming from a different frame of reference tends to move society, albeit sometimes kicking and screaming, in a positive direction. Empathy, the art of identifying with what’s going on in someone else’s head, is a worthy talent to acquire and grow.
To be sure, sometimes PC speech is carried too far. Sometimes it is used to bully. Sometimes it is ambiguous, deceptive, excessively euphemistic. These are not arguments against PC speech. They are arguments against carrying it too far, against using it to bully, and against ambiguity, deception, and excessive euphemism.
The usual objections to PC speech do not hold up well. Take the fellow I know who frowned and lamented, “It’s getting to the point where you can’t disparage any group anymore.” That’s a bad thing? Or another who told me he resented having to “think so much” before opening his mouth. That, too, is a bad thing? Take my friends who, when I pointed out that a certain phrase was in fact a racial slur, apologized and pledged never again to use it. Ha, ha, just kidding. They launched into a diatribe on how “They” shouldn’t be so sensitive. Why not “We” shouldn’t be so insensitive? Or take those who reply, “lighten up,” “it was just a joke,” or “you don’t have to get so upset about it.” These knee-jerk defenses born of wounded pride are understandable, but they need to go. The more constructive reaction is to pause, think, and, where needed, apologize and make a mental note to do better.
I recall being corrected, not kindly, upon using what I theretofore did not know was a sexist term. To add to my humiliation, the colleague doing the correcting disliked me (which went both ways) and sought at every turn to sabotage my career (which did not). Trouble is, her correcting me was called for, and I have avoided the term ever since. I contented myself with finding other reasons not to like her, which abounded.
* It’s important not to fall prey to the Genetic Fallacy, that of holding to what a word once meant but no longer means. These days it’s not a good idea to refer to laymen as idiots. On the other hand, the former racial slur Samaritan has become quite the compliment.
... where I share thoughts about writing. I don’t consider myself a writing authority, but that doesn’t keep me from presuming to blog like one. Oh, and I reserve the right to digress when I feel like it.