In the Arts Lounge of my University there are rows of paper lining the walls. Each one has a different question posed to the Arts Students: Who is your favorite professor? Which class is your favorite? What are you going to do with your Arts degree?
There are the standard jokes about working at Starbucks and learning to make the perfect caramel macchiato (let it never be suggested that we Arts students don’t know how to make fun of ourselves). There is another poster, however, that asks “What have you learned from your Arts degree?”
There are a few jokes scattered around in bright colours, once again demonstrating that, Hey, even we know what it looks like when you claim to have an ‘Arts Degree’. But, if you look very closely you notice that someone has written the most important statement that can ever be declared in response.
“I’ve learned how to think critically.”
This, right here, is why I love being a Communications Major. A lot can be said for the courses that Arts students are forced to engage in, but as a Comm major the most important thing I have taken away from my degree is the ability to think critically about what is being said and written, what I decode, and how I respond to the world around me.
This post is inspired by a bit of a, er, let’s say conflict that has appeared on a blog I read on an almost daily basis. It is a writing blog, upheld by people like myself. Amateurs. Wannabes. Struggling Artists. Baristas. There was a post created where-in someone asked how we find, establish or create flaws in our characters. About a week later a response post was presented that may have lacked, shall we say, a bit of tact? The actual content of either post isn’t important because, ultimately, it comes down to personal opinion. What is important is manner in which thoughts were communicated. No names, no pointing fingers, just observations.
Call it a Crash Course of Learning to Play Well With Others (CCLPWWO? Sounds like some sort of War Time gender-biased fund.)
1. Define Your Concepts
Okay, let’s make the first one easy. Are you talking about a specific topic? Yeah? Define it. I’m not talking dictionary-textual-analysis f the word. I mean how do you as an individual, define the word? The term ‘flaw’, as in ‘character flaw’ can be defined differently by individuals. If you’re using a definition that is contrary to someone else, no wonder there is conflict. Save yourself time and start off by saying “I define X word as the following…” Trust me, it makes a huge difference.
2. Don’t Be an Asshat
I am a big fan of snark, but there is a time and place for it. If you think you are being funny, the chances are other people might not. Unless you are Stephen Colbert, you probably aren’t a master of sarcasm and run the risk of offending at least one or two people.
3. Interpretation is the Game
This is one thing I notice a lot in writing. Admittedly, I have been guilty of it, sometimes purposefully and other times not. The way you word thing can be interpreted in a variety of ways, not just the way you intend it to come off. That’s what is fun about writing, it is entirely interpretive. Just because you didn’t mean for it to come off that way doesn’t mean that an individual didn’t interpret it that way. You’re both at fault.
4. Apologize, Jackass
Once you’ve mastered Step 3, you’ll be at the point where you need to apologize. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But Kathleen, I didn’t do anything wrong! Why should I have to apologize?” I’ll tell you why – because you’re a human who is full of faults and it always takes two to make a mistake. Just because you are saying “Sorry” doesn’t mean you are wrong. What you’re saying is “I’m sorry what I said wasn’t clear enough to avoid this conflict. I didn’t mean to offend you.” Is that so hard? No. Why would it be? Unless you meant to offend a person. That’s obviously a different story. And yes, saying ‘sorry’ can be difficult. With a bit of practice, I’m sure you can master it.
5. Clarification, Bitches.
Assuming you successfully accomplished #3 and #4, you now have an opportunity to start over. Repeating your original point using the same wording is not going to help, so get your creative boots on and try rewording is. Pay attention to the reactions of your audience. Are they still peeved? Guess what, you have to try again. Go back to the start.
6. Get Off Your Ego High Horse
Just… just stop. When people get into verbal conflict there is this unwritten rule that the conflict has to continue until someone backs down. For goodness sake, if you aren’t getting anywhere just politely back out of the conversation. “I’m sorry, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. Still friends?”
7.Stop With The Last Word Nonsense
This is similar to the “Just because you are louder, does not make you more right” concept. If someone is willingly ending the conversation on a “Agree to disagree” point, just leave it alone. You can certainly reiterate “Agree to disagree” but seriously… Just stop. I mean, what are you gaining by continuing to push people’s buttons?
8. Don’t Be a Douche.
9. Be Critical of Your OWN Words Before You are Critical of Others
I cannot stress this enough. You gain a lot out of being able to critically analyze what you have written and where you went wrong in conversation. By examining your own words for flaws, placing yourself in someone else’s shoes, and being big enough to admit you were wrong you will accomplish much more and have far richer conversations and debates.
Think critically. Act slowly. Analyze carefully.
And above all else, don’t be an asshat.