Pet Peeves Breed Like Rabbits

If peeves can be pets, I have a menagerie.  I don’t keep them in cages, though; I have a free-range peeve menagerie.  A peeve preserve, if you will (not to be confused with peeve preserves, which is delicious on wry toast).

That’s not to say I’m a negative or angry person.  On the contrary; I’m usually pretty positive, appreciative of the proverbial little things, and fairly hard to ruffle.  But, goddamn, I have a lot of pet peeves.

I love words, when they’re used correctly, so most of my pet peeves are related to grammar and spelling.  Now, my grammar isn’t perfect (though my spelling very nearly is).  I’m overly fond of parentheses, ellipses, and asides separated by dashes, for instance.  I also sometimes write sentence fragments (GASP).  But I see these more as stylistic things rather than actual grammar problems, and I’ve never been called on it by anyone who knew a damn thing about the rules, so I’m not too concerned about it. 

I’m actually a lot less annoyed by it than I used to be (in most cases)–and, therefore, less likely to correct people without being asked.  I attribute this partly to learning to prioritize as I’ve matured, and partly to the internet systematically wearing me down through repeated exposure.  It’s like immersion therapy.  Or maybe that numbing thing “they” like to say video games causes in kids. 

People I care about have a much higher irritation threshold when it comes to this stuff, too, I have to admit.  And it’s all a matter of context.  A good friend accidentally saying “your” instead of “you’re” in a private conversation is a lot more acceptable to me than someone who puts it on a sign.  Theoretically, that sign had to be approved–why did no one catch it?

What it comes down to, though, is just a general annoyance that so few people seem to have paid attention in school when this stuff was repeated year after year after year after year after ye…you get the idea.  I can understand not being very good at it–after all, I’m kind of terrible at math–but that’s why schools in the US go over it multiple times.  Barring disability, there’s no excuse for anyone with a high school diploma not to know that an apostrophe is meant to replace missing letters in contractions or show possession, not denote a plural. 

As communication gets more and more text-based, grammar and spelling become more important, not less.  You could be talking to anyone, from anywhere, at any given time.  Clarity of language is what binds us.  It’s your first impression to the world.  Why would you want it to be so terrible?

Honesty is Always the Best Policy (Except When it Isn’t)

Conventional wisdom tells us that we should be truthful, all the time, full disclosure, full stop–especially in relationships, romantic or otherwise.  Nothing good can come of lies (“white lies” notwithstanding), so it’s best to come clean about everything.  But I disagree.

Now, hear me out.  I’m absolutely in favor of straightforwardness and precise language.  I try to come as close as possible to saying what I mean in the most literal, denotative terms while still being tactful (and not saying what I don’t mean, which can sometimes be more difficult, though I recognize it afterwards and do my best to correct and explain myself).  I’m not big on hints, either giving or receiving, so I ask (and answer) seemingly obvious questions.  I’d rather be embarrassed for a few seconds than be completely wrong thereafter.

The trouble with full disclosure is, not all truth is created equal.

It wasn’t until recently that I was able to put into words the difference that I’ve innately grasped for as long as I can remember–or, at least as long as I’ve been committed to being as honest and forthright as possible, which is still as long as I can remember, but probably started around junior high or so.  It’s a matter of destructive vs. constructive honesty.

What I mean by that is best explained by describing what goes on in my mind when I’m deciding whether to tell someone something.  I ask myself some–or all–of the following questions:

  • Is this something that will help or comfort this person?
  • Does this provide valuable information for future behavior or planning?
  • Will not telling them be more hurtful in the long run?

What it comes down to is determining, on a case-by-case basis, whether being honest can have any long-term positive effect.  This means that even a painful truth can be constructive, because someone who is fully informed is better equipped to make the decisions that are best for them.  A good example is when a cheating spouse decides to come clean.  In the short term, it may seem kinder to keep that truth quiet, but, ultimately, telling them is the more compassionate and ethical decision.

When trying to decide whether a truth is destructive, you really only need to ask one question:

  • Does this serve any purpose other than hurting them?

Telling someone something bad another person said about them falls into this category.  The fact that Joe thinks Bob is an idiot may be true, but it helps no one.  It doesn’t teach a lesson–it only makes Bob feel bad.  It’s best to keep that sort of truth to yourself.  Now, on the other hand, if Joe doesn’t like how Bob keeps interrupting him when he’s talking, but is too shy to speak up, that’s another story.  It passes the three-question constructive honesty test.  Telling Bob may hurt or embarrass him, but, if he wants to keep Joe as a friend, he’ll be more mindful of his behavior, and everyone will be happy.  Yay!

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not advocating lying.  If someone asks you something outright, it’s best to tell them as tactfully–but clearly–as you can, even if the truth is potentially destructive.  Prevarication rarely does anyone any good.  But there’s also no need to tell someone absolutely every fact that comes to mind.  Keeping a destructive truth from someone isn’t dishonesty:  it’s kindness.  And couldn’t we all use a little more kindness in our lives?