Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mixed Signals

The front left blinker on our car isn't working. I don't know how long it's been broken, but I suspect it occurred around the time the rodents attacked our electrical wires. Because the day I picked up our car from the mechanic and turned the blinker to signal left, the clicking sound was going double time.

I realized the blinker wasn't working last week when I was turning left at a four way stop. My blinker was clicking at double time, and it was my turn to go, but the woman in the car across from me gave me a nasty look when I turned. So I inspected the blinker and, sure enough, it's not blinking.

Since I've discovered this defect, I've become a paranoid left-hand turner. Sometimes I try to compensate for the defect by rolling down my window and signaling my intention to turn by hand, like this:

Only, when I signal by hand, I'm not on a bike, and my arm is not so straight and direct. Actually, I'm pretty embarrassed about signaling by hand, an embarrassment which leads me to only roll the window half way down, and to weakly thrust my arm out of the window. This sorry attempt at signaling left doesn't seem to be working.

It's funny, because before, when I didn't know that my left front blinker was broken, I had a lot more confidence when turning. I was blissfully unaware of the fact that my double-time blinker wasn't really signaling anything to anybody. It's a discovery of sorts to find out that the message you were trying to broadcast isn't being sent at all. And it's made me think about other signals we send each other, not when driving, but when communicating, and how at times they can be terribly misread.

For example, when I first moved to London, I became friends with two women in my ward. All three of us confided in each other that we were hoping to become pregnant soon. Shortly after, the first woman announced her pregnancy, and shortly after that I announced mine. But the third woman remained announcement-free. As the months and the pregnancies progressed, I noticed that this third woman seemed a little withdrawn. As me and the other woman happily discussed our pregnancies, her face looked sour and pained. I read her behaviour as evidence that she was saddened that she too was not pregnant. So I avoided talking to her about anything baby-related.

And then, months later, she confessed to us that she was pregnant, almost four months along, but hadn't said anything because she had had some complications and was worried that the pregnancy was not viable. And suddenly, I had to rewrite history and correctly decipher all those signals she had given over the past few months.

There is an older gentleman who lives in the building next to ours who is usually very friendly to us. Lately he has started commenting that he thinks Henry needs more room to run around. I usually smile and concur with this statement. Then, a few weeks ago, he asked me quite bluntly if it isn't time we bought a house yet. I smiled and said nothing, instead of asking him in return if it wasn't time he minded his own business. To put the final nail in the coffin, a few days ago he actually stopped us and told us that he had found a house for rent a few streets over, and strongly urged us to consider renting it.

What is this man trying to signal to us? It is very possible that he is just trying to be kind and helpful. But I have a hard time not interpreting these messages as intrusive and rude. Why does he seem so intent to drive us out of our apartment? Are we annoying neighbors? Or is he sincerely concerned about our welfare? I don't know.

I guess people, like cars, sometimes have faulty wiring. It's not always possible to determine what, exactly, they are trying to signal. All those nasty looks that were cast my way when I thought my left blinker was indicating my intention to turn were cast in vain. Because I DID think I was signaling left. So I guess I should give my neighbor the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's trying to signal left and doesn't know the wiring's disconnected.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The 3 Most Offensive Words in the English Language

The conversation Bubba and I had this morning while I drove him to work reminded me of something my sister Traci had told me about the 3 most offensive words in the English language. She had taken some sort of psychology or sociology course in college, and her professor had actually spoken these 3 offensive words in class. And I was reminded of them today, because (although Bubba may protest), we were both in kind of foul, early-morning, grumpy moods, and because we used all 3 words in our communication with each other this morning.

So... prepare yourselves. Because I'm about to recreate part or our morning dialogue, and it might get a little offensive.

Here goes:

Bubba: (As I am slow to notice the traffic signal's change from red to green) "You ALWAYS are slow to go after the light changes."

Bubba: (As I ask him for his American Express card, because I reported all of my cards lost or stolen last week, because my wallet(which was quickly recovered), could not be located for a few minutes) "You SHOULD have waited before you cancelled all of your cards."

Me: (Feeling unjustly harassed) "You NEVER say anything nice to me!"

What? You're surprised? You were expecting some profanity? You see, the 3 most offensive words, according to my sister's college professor at least, aren't what you would expect at all. If you really want to excite your partner, if you really want to escalate an argument, skip the swears. "Always," "never," and "should" will do the trick.

Think about it. How many times have you almost flown off the handle because your partner says you should lose some weight? Or you should keep the house clean. Or you never clear the dinner table. Or you're always late picking him up from work. Or you should be making more money. Or you never help with the baby. Or, etc, etc, etc.

I think the reason these words are so offensive is because they immediately cause the receiver to go on the defensive. None of us is consistent enough to always or never do something. So I always am slow to go after the light turns green? What about that time last month that I ran the red light? Huh? How bout it? That time I was so fast, I didn't even wait for the signal to turn.

And none of us like to be told what we should do. Because, the truth is, we probably know it without being told.

The funny thing is, these 3 words don't have to be the most offensive. They could just as easily be used to mollify a situation, to show concern and sympathy. When's the last time you told your husband that he's been working so hard, he should just kick up his feet and watch t.v? When's the last time you heard that you always look beautiful? Or were told that you have never cooked a bad meal?

I'm still not completely sold on the idea that should, never, and always are the most offensive words around. But, it might be useful to avoid using these words as much as you might avoid using other profane words. Because if used too often in the wrong way, they might be more damaging than those other 4 letter words.