Don’t judge me=I’m already feeling guilty

Some time ago I came to the realization that whenever someone throws out the “Don’t judge me!” line, it’s because at some level they suspect that they’re in the wrong, but they’re not ready to admit it, and certainly not ready to resolve it, and would rather that everyone STOP REMINDING THEM about it.

It’s called GUILT, and for some reason we often think we shouldn’t have to deal with that emotion.

My most amoral character agrees:

“Man’s greatest weakness! Guilt, regret, feeling bad about behavior . . . It’s a forced condition, you know, shame about a misdeed. A behavior taught to humans that can, and must, be overcome. Ignore it long enough, it dies away as simple as that . . . Humans abuse themselves. With guilt. With regret. It holds them back, makes them feel as if they owe some duty to others, as if there should be some level of behavior all should aspire to. Well, there isn’t! 
~Chairman Nicko Mal, Soldier at the Door

Well, there is!

And my, do we hate it when someone tries to remind us that the purpose of our lives isn’t to indulge ourselves and hope there aren’t any consequences.

I first encountered this very weak logic back in high school in the 1980s, when punk music hit the US. I had a few friends embrace the culture, dyeing their hair black and using a bottle of mousse each morning to make it stand up straight, putting spikes on every inch of clothing, then scowling when people stared at them.

“Don’t judge me!” I never understood that; they purposely put themselves on display, then didn’t expect people to look?

As a senior in high school I became grunge before Kurt Cobain made a name for himself. I wore holey jeans, didn’t bother with make-up, spent only 5 minutes on my hair (and yes, a few boys commented that I needed to “do something with it”—which pronouncement meant they weren’t boys I’d ever be interested in) and I did so for a purpose. I wanted to prove that I didn’t care about my appearance, but wanted to focus only on trying to get a scholarship (since I hadn’t been the best student for the first 11 years of schooling). Yes, people looked at me–this was the height of preppiness; watch “The Cosby Show” to see how I should have been dressing–and I rather enjoyed it. It was also a good test for my vanity; am I still worthy, even though I don’t “look worthy.” I was trying to make a point, and I made it. Judge me! Go ahead!

Social media has given us even more ways to stand up and be judged, or to scream, “Stop judging me!” Today I read Matt Walsh’s blog on why Christian women should hate Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ll state right now that I think the novel is women’s porn, so I agreed completely with his position.

However, the real lesson is in the comments, as it always is; scattered among the remarks of “Thanks for stating what I always suspected about that horrible book,” were phrases such as, “Hey, nothing wrong with reading about a little sex,” or “So what if I like a little excitement in my books?” and, most common among the dissenters: “Don’t judge me based on what I read! How can you be a Christian and be so judgmental?”

Ah-ha . . . someone’s conscious has been pricked, yet again. If they didn’t feel any guilt, they wouldn’t be justifying themselves, and in the huge social media presence of Matt Walsh, no less. There, for thousands of readers to see, they declare their stance yet demand that no one judge them. How very odd.

Weird Al, Mandatory Fun, Word Crimes, Grammarly

I have no doubt a few grammar Nazis wished they could find a similar uniform.

I see pricks of guilt and judgment everywhere on the Internet, and it always tells much more about the responder than what they respond to. For example, Weird Al Yankovic just came out with a brilliant parody about common grammatical errors, and Grammarly interviewed him about it. Again, the great lesson was in the responses to the interview, because poor Al accidentally used the pronoun “that” instead of “who.”

Oh, there’s no group more self-righteous and unforgiving than Grammar Nazis. (I’ve ranted about them here. Grammar snobs put the Pharisees of Christ’s time to shame.) These responders, instead of appreciating the incredible work of Weird Al, which he shares freely on YouTube so that all of us English teachers can kill another five minutes of class time; instead of being grateful that someone with a greater sense of humor has taken up the grammar cause; no, instead of applauding him, Grammar Nazis vilified him:

“People that know me … people that still haven’t figured out” 😦 And he thinks he’s a grammar nerd. <shaking my head>
[As of this is some kind of special club, and he just violated its most sacred rule.]

I, too, was shocked to see that he used that instead of who. 
[Yes, she actually wrote “shocked.”]

Fortunately there was some reason among the rabble:

Alright, everybody caught the “that/who” error. He’s still a satirical genius. Disagreement with that proposition is dissent up with which I shall not put.

Judgment is everywhere on the Internet, and just as we’re quick to not have people point out our faults, we’re even quicker to point them out in others. I think that’s because when we’re feeling guilty, the fastest way to assuage that guilt is to point out how someone is guiltier than us.

For example, I read an article about a woman who recycles clothing from a thrift store, updates it, then donates it back. I was amazed and humbled to realize she’d done over 700 pieces. I can sew (sort of), but it never occurred to me to use that minimal talent in such a generous and creative way.

Again, the lesson was in the comments. There were plenty of judgments which, I suspect, arose out of guilt.

“Look at the photos—she’s just shortening the hems and sleeves. That’s nothing too special.”
[And yet, still likely more than you did.]

“She’s only taking fat clothes and turning them skinny.”
[And what have you done?]

“As a plus-size woman, I take offense that she’s reducing the amount of clothing that would fit me, making it for skinnier girls. They already have plenty of clothes . . .”
[Seriously, she wrote, “I take offense.”]

And on, and on.

What I don’t think people realize is how transparent they are, how they give the world a telling image of themselves through their comments. Invariably, the more defensive people become, the guiltier they demonstrate themselves to be. I find myself cringing at their responses, pitying them that they’d expose themselves so freely and easily, showing the world their self-centeredness and pettiness.

Oh, he’s not getting out. Trust me.

It’s the old crabs in a bucket. If any tries to climb out, the rest drag it down, until eventually the crabs have torn each other into pieces. We envy others who dare to climb higher, feel guilty that we’re not doing likewise, don’t want them looking down at us from above in judgment, so we drag them back down and tear them apart with our criticism.

Now, I realize that what I’m doing here is also criticizing, on the Internet, and demonstrating my own transparency. I’m judging and doing all of the same things I’m nagging about here. I’m not going to rationalize away my post, but I will draw a distinction: our society is very loath to declare something “moral” or “immoral.” You want to see declarations of “Don’t judge me!” fly? Then make a declaration of what’s right or what’s wrong. Oh, they’ll be coming out of the woodwork like termites exposed to sunshine to come after you.

Yet, this is what we must do:  make evaluations—of products, of ideas, of media, of people—in order to recognize the strengths and weaknesses, the logic and fallacies, the truth and errors, and publicly declare what we have recognized.

And then, this is very important, then do NOT be offended at what comes back at us. If we’re going to be brave enough to take a stand, we have to remain brave enough to let people see us standing there.

As a practicing Christian, I believe wholeheartedly in the Judeo-Christian beliefs of accountability to a higher Being, in following the 10 Commandments, in realizing that life isn’t about getting what I want and when I want it, but in serving others first. It’s crucial for me to recognize what elements in society detract me from pursuing my chosen lifestyle, therefore I not only read about but also comment on those elements.

However—and this is a BIG “however”—we must also be honest with ourselves as to WHY we are making these public evaluations, these statements of “this is bad, and this is good.”

  • Are we doing so because we are truly concerned about the direction of our society, and we want to point out the slippery slopes to help our friends and family avoid them?
  • Or are we critical online because it gives us a sense of superiority?
  • Because we displace our guilt when we shame others?
  • Because we’re merely crabs in a bucket, unwilling to let anyone else rise higher?

And when we decide–and it is a decision–that we are “offended,” we also need to be honest as to why.

  • Has someone pricked our conscience?
  • Demonstrated where we’ve strayed from our personal yardstick of acceptable behavior?
  • Were we looking for a reason to hate “X” or shun “Y” and so we’ve chosen to be offended?

Sometimes we swing that word around proudly, as if being “offended” is some kind of virtue.

Personally, I think it’s a weakness. Years ago I heard someone state this philosophy, and I’ve taken it as my own: “You cannot offend me, for I simply refuse to take your criticism, to see your opinion as overriding my own, to give your hurtful words any room in my mind. If I am right with God, then I needn’t worry about where you think I am wrong.”

(Yeah, it’s a lot like, “I’m rubber, you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you,” but a bit more eloquent.)

I’m not saying I live this philosophy perfectly—I took a beating from trolls not too long ago that really tested my resolve—but I’ve found that when someone says something that threatens to offend me, it’s usually because they’ve knocked something inside of me that I’ve tried to hide, like C.S. Lewis’s proverbial rats in the attic that we’re shocked to discover, but were always there, hiding despite our attempts to ignore them.

Over the years I’ve learned to not blast those “stupid people!” in online forums, but I instead I retreat to my closet, get on my knees, and ask where I should be doing better.

And I’ve also realized that God’s criticism is much gentler, more instructive, and more uplifting than any arguments I engage in on the Internet.

In the meantime, I appreciate those who state boldly their opinions on issues that concern me. Even if they declare, “There’s really nothing wrong with a little bit of porn,” I’m grateful, because then I know who I need to distance myself from in the future.

Grammar Snobs

I’ve had acquaintances confess they fear writing to me because they worry I’ll be like this:

But I’m not. As a long-time college writing instructor and occasional professional editor (and occasional maker of mistakes myself), I assure my friends that I never correct one’s grammar unless they’re paying me. Because I refuse to be a Grammar Snob.

grammar

I’m not.
I promise.

Oh, I’m so glad you asked what a Grammar Snob is!

First, a disclaimer: as a teacher I will point out every last error I see in a paper, and will even lecture on the finer points of language usage.

But as a friend I would never correct another person outright or even in my mind, because if I did, that would turn me into the most wretched of self-righteous creatures, the Grammar Snob (or grammatical superbia).
(Did you see the snobby thing I just did there? Converted it into Latin? With the help of a website. Because I’m just faking a knowledge of Latin here.)

Grammar Snobs hunt for errors like a vulture for a corpse. When a friend emails about the heartache of discovering her husband has been cheating on her, Grammar Snobs can’t help but snigger that she wrote “udderly devastated.”

When a young couple continually writes “Greatful” in their blog about how wonderful the hospital care was for their infant with RSV, Grammar Snobs roll their eyes and mentally cross out all occurrences of the offensive mistake.

Discworld Quote by Sir Terry Pratchett. By Kim White.

Thank you, Terry Pratchett

When a teenager gushes about her acceptance into highly selective college, Grammar Snobs chuckle mirthlessly at her usage of more exclamation marks than should be allowed on one Facebook page.

Now, I may be taking things a bit far here, but I happen to know of some colleagues who fit this behavior, and I worry that our linguistical superiority is turning us into heartless buffoons.

We cringe when others with sense of heightened knowledge and a desire to demonstrate said knowledge barge into our personal spheres. Think about the fashion aficionado who gives your outfit the once over, then the twice over, then the long drawn-out sigh.

Or the neighbor with the personal gym in his garage who eyes you as you mow your lawn and shakes his head in time with your belly.

Or the political pundit who expresses outrage–yes, outrage!–that you have no idea what bill Congress is threatening to pass.

Don’t we hate all those people who point out we’re not on the same level as them?

Yet somehow Grammar Snobs don’t see themselves in that category. Perhaps it’s because many of us have appointed ourselves Champions of the English Language (or vindicem linguae anglicus—that Google translate is the bomb, baby). And in an attempt to preserve her purity, we feel the duty to point out when anyone attempts to heinously ravish our beloved mother tongue. 

But I think it’s something a bit less noble than that.

I think we simply like believing we know something more than the next guy, and we want to prove it.

In my undergrad work I had a professor who told our language usage class that he went to college as an eighteen-year-old full of ambition and promise, and was mortified to realize just how deplorable his command of the English language was. He spoke like the rest of his family—Idaho potato farmers—and quickly discovered the definition of the word “hick.”

Because he had dreams of becoming a university professor, he set out to improve his pronunciation and grammar. When he went home at Christmas he promptly showed off his new knowledge by correcting all of his family members, beginning with their ubiquitous “we was.”

The visit did not go well, as you can imagine.

Shortly before he was to head back to the big city, his grandfather pulled him aside and said, “You may know how to talk good, but you shore don’t know how to make people feel good. That’s more important.”

My professor told us that over the next few years he learned how to cultivate his “university tongue” but also easily reverted back to “farmer tongue” whenever he went home to visit. He could mangle verb tenses and drop incomplete sentences as easily as his uncles.

Now, correct grammar certainly has its place: in correspondence with those you don’t know, in formal situations, and in emails to those who have position over you.

(Note to parents of future college students: Please tell your children that sending an email to their professors with language such as “so umm like i was wundering if this is gonna be like a hard class or not lol?” is NOT the way to make a good first impression. Such emails violate all three of the above rules, and instructors remember these students. Oh, do we remember these students . . .) So true.

And yes, there are times to correct others in their grammatical missteps, but it really should be in private.

I know a woman who takes perverse delight in correcting her husband’s slight mispronunciations in public. She may think she comes across as educated, but what we’re all thinking is, “The poor guy. If that witch treats him this badly in public, what’s she doing to him in private?” My insides squirm whenever I see this couple approaching, and over the years I’ve noticed he says less and less, which is unfortunate because he usually had wonderful things to say. Even more unfortunately, his wife now gabbles endlessly, proving that she’s not nearly as educated as she pretends to be.

I’ve learned to train myself to not be hypersensitive to the tiny errors—and really, mixing up there/they’re/there are minor errors—when I read my friends’ posts and blogs. If I’m too fixated on their mistakes (which fixation is my problem, not theirs) then I miss the message they’re trying to communicate. Well, that's one way around the problem.

Grading freshman essays for twenty years has taught to me to focus on the ideas, not on the surface errors. That’s something graduate schools try to teach their composition TAs: surface errors shouldn’t account for more than 10% of an essay’s grade. More important are the deeper issues: organization, thesis, development of thought, logical fallacies, etc. In my grad school days there were a handful of TAs that would have red-inked an otherwise excellent paper into the depths of F-dom merely because the students struggled with then/than.

Grammar Snobs seem far more interested in demonstrating their grasp of linguistic trivia (or linguae minutiis; Google translate—where have you been all my life?) rather than trying to understand what’s being communicated. Just read the comments on posts to Grammarly.com’s Facebook page to see the Battle of the Grammar Snobs.
It’s embarrassing, it really is.
I put a wince on my face before I even start reading, just to save time.

So Grammar Snobs, may I issue this injunction: Be kind to your friends, your family, your social networks. Don’t miss the message because the writer doesn’t understand the importance of the Oxford comma.

When we obsess over the minutiae, we may miss the marvelous.
(Ooh—quick; someone make that a meme, will you? Nam cum obsiderent minutias super nos mira careat—It even looks good in Latin.)

Because the only thing more uncomfortable than a Grammar Snob is a Latin Wanna-be Snob. (Finite Incantatem.)

Punctuation