Sunday, November 04, 2018

To Serve and Correct

I had to laugh at this costume, because it feels like me. Then I realize it's not just me, since the photo has been shared nearly 17,000 times. Grammar mistakes, misspelled words, misused words and incorrect punctuation bother many. Or perhaps it's the "correcting" that is the true bother. I've been in both camps. But mostly on the correcting side. 

It doesn't sit well. No one likes being told they're wrong. Even if they are. Especially if they are. 

"But I'm just trying to help," my right brain says. "If you had spinach in your teeth, wouldn't you want to know?"

Yes. Yes, I would. But I don't want it announced from the podium. Or a public forum. 

If we're entirely honest, it's not usually about "helping." Especially when it's done from behind a digital screen. It's about proving one's superior knowledge. Helping the poor, uneducated doofus. A thinly-veiled superiority attitude that thinks of the other as "less than."

Watch how public dialogue rapidly deteriorates into vitriolic diatribe because one corrects another. Soon the entire online thread is full of "You're wrong!" comments which degrade to name calling, profanity and derision. Witness when a commenter completely misses the valuable point of a profound paragraph because they fixate on a typo or misplaced apostrophe. Some completely dismiss valid information because the vehicle in which it was presented is flawed. So they revert to dismissive shame. 

What is that about? Do we shame others simply because we ourselves have been shamed? Do we fall prey to the lie that criticizing others is a means to elevate ourselves? We take personal offense at the slightest lack of imperfection.

Some of you might think there's a misspelled word in that previous paragraph, when it's simply a cultural difference between Canadian and U.S. english (as if the english language wasn't already confusing enough). There may be other typos of which I am unaware. I am human, thus imperfect, and that really annoys me sometimes. 

My former career was in Communications. I discovered no matter how many eyes proofread reports, articles and publications, there would invariably be an error discovered after it went to print. Sometimes such an obvious one, the entire batch had to be reprinted. Most notably, an annual report in which none of the four proofreaders/editors caught the wrong year on the front cover.

On my first re-read of this draft, I found an improper use of the word "their" -- one of my most teeth-grinding frustrations. Simply a misspelling. Sometimes I can blame auto-correct or a predictive text insertion. Predictive text is famous for adding apostrophe's where they aren't needed. (See what I did there?)

How often do you correct others? Do you do it publicly on social media? 

"Doesn't everybody?"

No. No they don't. I nearly lost a friend that way. And for all the correcting that has been done, very little is learned on either side.

I try to restrain myself now. I value my relationships more than that, as this can go far beyond grammar. One person gets triggered by any woman giving instructions because a fourth grade teacher was so condescending in the way she corrected her students. There's a marriage (or two or a thousand) in trouble because when one speaks, the other "hears" their parent's voice. That happens in business relationships, too. Oh, let's be frank, it happens any time two people are together. The family of origin issues are a whole 'nother therapy session.

So some of us are opting not to give unsolicited "help." More often than not, it's received like a two-year-old who angrily pulls away, shouting "I don't need your help!" 

If you are privileged to be in close enough relationship where you can speak into another's life, this is a beautiful treasure. Even then, relationships fare best when suggestions or instruction are given gently, in private. 

So go ahead: tell me my fly is open or lunch is still in my teeth or I used the wrong spelling of "too" or this article is just to much. (I just twitched writing that.)

But perhaps, it is better, to switch your thought from "She made a mistake" to "What is she trying to communicate?" and "Where do we agree in this matter?" 

Your relationships will thank you. I thank you.

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