Friday, October 4, 2013

Don't MAKE me say "substantiate!"

It is appropriate that my blog this week is about words - oral and written. After a difficult struggle in her final days, and a will that hung on to the end, we said goodbye to my mother-in-law last week.

Alice was 93 years old when she passed away. She was a kind, generous, gifted wife, mother and grandmother who enjoyed life's simple pleasures... campfires, attending her grandchildren's sporting events and concerts, and finding little treasures for Christmas gifts that would go on and on.

One of her greatest passions was reading. She and her husband John traveled for many years, experiencing life through the small confines of a Shasta trailer that their children could likely all tell you stories about.  No matter where they were, Alice had a book in hand - usually a romantic paperback, once in a while an autobiography, and very often a story rich in history. My mother-in-law and a book were a natural pairing. We shared this hobby and often passed books back and forth over the years. I picture her now in her living room wing-back chair, nose buried in the pages, unaware of the world around her. She was a teacher, a traveler, and blessed with a family that loved her.

Enough said... or not

Every once in a while I wish I could speak another language. Italian, for instance. Then when I am upset or having a bad moment (I seriously try not to do whole days of "bad") I could rant, arms flailing, nostrils flaring, nobody understanding me. My strong-willed grandmother spoke only Italian, longed for her granddaughters to dye our hair a sultry auburn like the main character in the opera Carmen, and would have been thrilled if I had picked up at least a few phrases from her. Unfortunately, I was too  stubborn and immature at the time to realize I should have listened and learned when I had the chance.

So I don't know a second language but I did come to the realization recently that, when antagonized, I spew syllables.

How does this come about, you ask? Fine, just pretend you asked. It may have to do with the fact that, while I certainly can't say I have never uttered an expletive (or cursed up a storm), it is not my initial reaction. My tendency when backed into a corner is to hold my own and get my point across. Still, let's face it - the title Mom of Many Words was not chosen without careful consideration.

These circumstances seem to occur more often in the workplace than at home or among family or friends. Maybe that right there is the answer - you really can't blow steam with cursing when you're dealing with a suit. I mean, it's not unheard of... my brain just doesn't tend to swim down that stream.

Scrabble - office style

Say, for example (purely hypothetical, of course), I received a call from an irate staff member of a company whose main goal is to bite the head off the first person who answers the phone. Doesn't matter if he is actually talking at (not to, not with - at) the party responsible for the alleged offense. All that staff member knows is that it's not Friday, he is tired, nagged, frustrated and on fire, and that can only mean someone is going down.

I try to be helpful. I try to be sensitive to their plight. Often my response to an already irate call is an attempt to calm them down, be the mediator, the peacemaker. I really do try. Unless I am tired and cranky. Then maybe not so much.

Them:  I'm looking at your invoice and I want to know why the charges don't match. I'm not paying anything until this gets straightened out.

Understandable, right?

Me:  Let's just take a look at your file. I appreciate your patience, I'm pulling up the last few invoices now.

Them: (grumbling) Waste of my time.

Me:  I'm running the numbers. Oh - okay, yes, I do see where the last invoice you received should have been adjusted. I'd be happy to send you a revised copy. I apologize, it was because we billed part of this sep --

Them:  Let's cut to the chase. I want another invoice - a CORRECTED invoice sent out. And you people provide no detail. Where is the detail? I need detail!

Me:  You can absolutely receive detail with your invoices. We don't automatically sent it out but we're happy to honor requests for --

Them:  Then send it. Send it every time. This is extremely inefficient. My email is.....

And that's about when No More Mrs. Simple Sentences kicks the door in.

My usually calm, borderline southern-twang tone ("Sure, just one sec while I take a look here") develops a brisk, slightly less amiable, slightly more indignant demeanor ("Please hold while I analyze the calculations").

What may have started out as, "I'm coming up with a difference but it doesn't quite match yours. Let's go over them together," suddenly morphs into, "I've reconfigured the amount and the difference is not as substantial as you indicated. I'll send the revision for your review."

See how that whole let's-work-together theme just went out the window?

Name that adjective

On a personal level, I do admit to having expressed my anger or pain not so much with four-letter words (or two-word phrases that are straight to the point) but with a barrage of lengthy language designed to slaughter the psyche. See? Just thinking about being mad makes my verbose blood boil!

What that comes down for me to is this: Being "good with words" does not give me (or anyone) permission to verbally beat on another person. The wise soul uses words as expression, not ammunition.

I believe there are appropriate ways of dealing with the lack of common courtesy that is more and more prevalent these days. We don't have to be vicious or disrespectful - we can simply try to sound intelligent.  In an age when we have access to several means of abusing anyone at a distance, even anonymously, maybe ripening our rhetoric for the right reasons would at least give us, and those around us, something interesting to learn.

Strange thing is... suddenly I have a burning desire to look up the touring schedule for Carmen.

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