Think Before You Speak

I remember being chastised as a kid for asking my aunt if she was “racist” during a family dinner party. We were at the kitchen table at my parents’ house, and she said something about Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg dating. If memory serves, it was along the lines of “why can’t she find a black man so a white woman can date him?”. I can only assume the technical answer to this question had something to do with Ted Danson’s impressive chin anatomy, but my kid brain didn’t care about that. It only cared that it was taught not to judge people based on their appearances, and an adult’s comment in my parents’ house didn’t match up with that world view. A kid, a comment, a question, a curse. Maybe that’s when I learned to fear my own thoughts.

I redeemed myself in future years, catching loved ones in the act and pointing out that saying “that’s so gay” (intended meaning: “that’s so bad/ugly/uncool”) sounds ignorant and ridiculous. These weren’t ignorant bigots saying this, and this was not a Danson/Goldberg/kitchen table moment. This was nonsensical verbiage projectile vomited into the Millennial Collective Consciousness, and we were better than this. 

Taking offense is a personal thing, although overheard mouth caca need not be personal in nature to be offensive. Sometimes the things we say or gestures we make almost daily have the potential to offend, turn off, cause unease or make us look less intelligent and professional than we really are.

As massage therapists it is our calling to comfort, but this can be challenging when we’re oblivious to what we’re communicating. Do any of the following examples sound familiar?

Retarded – Saying that someone or something is “retarded” is bound to offend sooner rather than later, even if you’re just talking about yourself. Think twice before uttering “this table warmer is being retarded”. Also worth noting in this category are words like “idiot”, “dumb”, and “lame”, as these words have historically referred to people with different mental and physical traits that deviate from the norm, and are now used in a negative context. 

Gyp – Let’s lump this one in with all racially-derived digs on a person’s character. It turns out the Roma people (“gypsies”) don’t appreciate being associated with cheating and scams. Saying “I don’t want to gyp you out of your time” can make your very kind sentiment sound icky and ignorant. (Same goes for “jewing down”, “Indian giver”, and any similar utterance.)

Perv – A term often used in our field to reference a table grinder or happy ending enthusiast. “That perv just threw a $20 bill on the table and undraped his package.” Just keep in mind: It wasn’t that long ago that many common bedroom practices and expressions of sexual and gender identity were classified as pathological in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Many of us would’ve been labeled as “pervs” in years past, even though we’re good-natured people who wouldn’t hurt a fly (unless he asked for it). I prefer to use “creeper”.

Suicide References – Unless you truly feel like you may be suicidal, please stop threatening (thereby trivializing) self harm. Saying “if the Cowboys lose one more game I’m going to kill myself” is insensitive to people who have attempted, succeeded, considered, or lost someone to suicide. Also, I don’t care if you’re a hip hop artist or a comedian: unless you truly feel like you may want to put a gun to your head and pull the trigger, do not bend your fingers into a gun shape and point your index finger at your temple. I know someone who did this with a real gun and now they’re gone, and you’re just an asshat who’s still here. 

Oversimplified Statements on Complex Issues Verbalized Using a Judgmental Tone – “Abortion is terrible”, “suicide is selfish”, “Mega-Mart moving in down the street is great for everybody everywhere”, and “your deceased pet was just a tarantula and mine was a teacup poodle, therefore your grieving couldn’t be comparable to mine” are examples of statements that are usually best left unsaid. Maybe that client tended to his tarantula at a time when he desperately needed someone or something to care for, and maybe he obtained just as much emotional support through his relationship with his spider as you did with your puppy. Maybe that associate’s mom lost her job at the local hardware store because the Mega-Mart cut into the indie shop’s market share. Maybe an abortion saved an employee’s life. You know a lot of things, but you don’t know more. 

I too am guilty of saying things out of ignorance. Twelve years ago I answered the phone at the print shop where I worked. The woman on the other end described a messed up print job she had obtained from another facility in town. I offered a sympathetic “that’s crazy”, and was promptly lectured by this caller (who had spent a significant amount of time being treated for mental health issues) on the offensive nature of the word “crazy”. Twelve years later I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about the word, but I do consider this woman’s standpoint regularly. 

What do you wish people would take a moment to think about before they speak?

(Want to read more about overheard mouth caca? Check out this nifty article.)

On Bullies, Adulthood, and Knowing Better

Hi. I’m Andrea, I’m thirty-six years old, and I was bullied the other day.

Six days a week I work out of my very own office. One day a week I work somewhere else, with other people. This is where it happened. Basically, without going into too much detail, a group of women who hang out in the break room every day decided they would enact a new appointment booking procedure whereby (despite my having seniority and being one of the original employees who opened the spa) I would be the last person to book because I deserved the least amount of appointments because I only work there one day per week. (Please keep in mind this has never been the booking policy here, and most likely never will be. Also, keep in mind that these women are all massage therapists, same as me, and do not have any authority over anything.)

Although I am not typically the target of this group, the ever-mired break room crew has been making the work sitch crappy for various coworkers of mine for years. Through the magic of mob mentality and safety in numbers, they take appointments from others and manipulate the book like a game of massage therapy Tetris, the ultimate goal being more appointments in less time so they can make their money and leave early. (We close at 7pm, and God forbid they book a 6pm.)

This crew talks about other service providers and staff members behind their backs constantly, and on rare special occasions, to their faces. It’s very Mean Girls, and I’ve never been OK with it. It’s negative, stressful and draining, and sometimes it makes what should be a great experience working at a beautiful facility with a highly skilled team a flat-out nightmare.

You may be wondering how your humble narrator reacted when blindsided by the mob on this fateful day. Sweet Jesus, it wasn’t pretty. As much as the break room crew was hoping to get their jabs in and head for the hills, I no doubt surprised them when I said we were “going to talk about this now”. And then the ugly cry of a million emotional shit storms emerged, I blubbered some colorful language (not directed at any people in particular, mind you), and basically said if they didn’t want me to work there anymore, they should just tell me. In fact, it went down very much like this emotional episode that I blogged about last month. Then I holed up in my massage room for the next forty-five minutes and sobbed like a wee babe.

You know what was the worst part of this whole debacle? I thought these people were my friends. Writing this down now, I realize how little sense that makes. “Why would I be friends with meanies?” is the first question that comes to mind. The answer is that I see the good in people as much as I possibly can. I remember the times when they’ve been generous, or sympathetic, or funny, or supportive. But now that I see their toxicity and insecurity with new eyes, I question their motivation behind everything, ever. I do not like feeling this way.

In chatting with a bunch of self-employed massage therapist buddies since this went down, I’m struck by how much the avoidance of coworker drama has to do with their decisions to go into business for themselves. Some of them have tried working for/with others, and have experienced workplace bullying firsthand. Some would honestly like to give spa employment a try, but they’ve heard so many stories about workplace bullying and drama that they’re hesitant to go there (and maybe, sadly, rightly so). Spa drama is such a widespread problem there’s even a training course out there meant to address “dangerous drama levels” in the workplace – taught by massage therapist, continuing education provider and spa consultant Eric Stephenson. Imagine that!

Although this post is focused on a sad day in the life of this blogging massage therapist, I’ll grab the opportunity to point out some other irritating examples of bullying in adulthood that I’ve been noticing as of late:

  • wife bullies husband (put downs, guilt trips, extreme negativity, unnecessary conflict and drama)
  • boss bullies employees (abuse of power)
  • manager fears being bullied by bully employees
  • adult child bullies parent or parents (financial gain, manipulation)
  • crooked, shady townspeople bully other townspeople (control of information)
  • grandmother bullies the entire family (pick a reason)

And it makes me sick.

I don’t know what the solution is. I’ll freely admit I was an unhappy teenager. I was judge-y, scowl-y, and mean to a lot of people who didn’t deserve it. In adulthood I now understand that I was depressed, paralyzed by anxiety, painfully insecure, and trying to find my way out of a bad situation in the best (albeit misguided) way I knew how. Now I’m sorry for causing hurt, and I know I can never get those wasted days back. At some point I realized that dumping more negativity on top of my already low self-esteem was a stupid idea, so I evolved. I wonder: Do other meanies want to be happy? To stop hurting others? To evolve?

For my own good, I should probably just give up on trying to understand how other humans think. Instead of wasting time wondering “why did picking on that person ever seem like a fab idea to that other person?” I should be hitting the gym to get my obturator internus in competition form, and learning to play Tiny Tim’s Greatest Hits on the theremin. Yet I continually attempt to make sense of nonsensical human behavior. I guess I feel the need to be more knowledgeable today than I was yesterday, so I can convince myself that I’m making progress as I convulse around our little world in a manner not unlike a marionette suspended by woefully tangled strings.

I can’t promise you we won’t be blessed with a visit from a bullying internet troll, but I like to think of The Young Thumbs as a relatively safe place to discuss general goings on that don’t sit right with us. Do you have a story to share or some wisdom to dispense? Feel free to unleash it on the comments section below (because unlike humans, The Young Thumbs comments section does not have any feelings, and kinda likes the abuse). <3