Monday, August 21, 2006

5 things people say that are rarely true

I’ve occasionally been accused of being pessimistic and cynical. I prefer the terms realistic and experienced, but I’d agree that to the untrained eye, that isn’t much of a distinction.

One thing that I’m quite realistic and experienced about is the behaviour of other people. I don’t feel too bad about this because to other people, I’m other people, and I expect they think the same things about me. So, we’re all square. And in that realm of pessimism/realism, there are some times when I don’t believe what people say, even though I’m sure they believe what they’re saying. Here are 5 examples:

1 – “I’m a bit mad, me…”
This is usually said by desperate people trying to explain why they are either awfully unfunny even though they think they’re hilarious (chaps), or why they can’t perform the simplest of tasks without getting sidetracked into a meaningless conversation about inconsequential celebrity trivia (girls).

Anyone who tries to pin flakey idiocy on ‘being a bit mad’ has missed the point of madness. I have, in my short life that feels so long, met a few people who are seriously quite insane, and not one of them has ever entertained the notion that they might be the ones that are mad. For them it’s perfectly rational to talk about how they want to skin the yappy dog that lives next door and post the flayed corpse through their neighbour’s letterbox. They never then break into a grin and go ‘I’m a bit mad, me’ even though everyone in the room has started nervously edging towards the door.

What I’d like to say: “No, you’re not a bit mad. You just lack a personality and to make up for it you act like a prick.”

2 – “I don’t mean to be racist, but…”
Any phrase that starts with a qualifier is going to be bad. You know it’s going to be bad. The funny thing is: they know it’s going to be bad. But the difference between the person saying it and the person listening who thinks ‘Oh, my God!’ is that the person saying it doesn’t think it is racist, it only sounds racist!

One of my favourite ever quotes that runs along these lines is the woman at the bus stop in Grangetown who said to her friend: “I don’t mean to sound judgmental, but Ely people are scum!”

What I’d like to say: “When you said ‘you didn’t mean to be racist’, what did you mean by that?”

3 – “I don’t want to gossip, but have you heard about so-and-so?”
Again, another qualifier that tells you everything you need to know about what you’re going to hear next. I have met so many people, almost all of them women, over the years who ‘don’t want to gossip’ but somehow can’t help themselves. It’s like an addiction.

The real sting in the tail is that you know whatever you say in response to their gossip will become fuel for further gossip. “You’ll never believe what Jon said to me when I tried to tell him about the situation with Mrs Toast and the six members of the rugby team…” and so on. Every rebuttal and every protestation of ‘I don’t want to hear this’ gets mixed in. Just walking away doesn’t help. Real masters of the art of gossip can use that as much as anything because ‘actions speak louder then words’.

The only solution I’ve found that works is to respond to everything with: “Oh, yeah, everybody knows that. Come back when you’ve got some real news.” The power of gossip lies in you knowing something everyone else doesn’t. If you’re constantly being ‘scooped’ then eventually you’ll give up.

What I’d like to say: “Gosh! I guess stories like that are why everyone calls you a bitch behind your back.”

4 – “I want you to be honest… does this outfit make me look fat?”
It’s almost a cliché, but this is the ultimate man-trap. The thing that annoys me the most is the hidden subtext which is that ‘fat is bad and if you think I’m fat then you must think I’m hideous and unappealing and you’ll leave me for a younger, fitter woman.’

I know the media doesn’t help on this with its constant ‘thin is beautiful’ message, which leaves us with celebrity ‘beauties’ that make the inhabitants of Belsen look overweight. I mean, honestly, if I can count your ribs, then you’re too thin, honey. Take Callista Flockhart – a classic example of a woman who looks like a skull on a stick. Uuurgh. I’m pretty sure there ain’t much difference between the ‘sexy celebs’ on the cover of Heat and the pin-ups on the front of Corpse-Fanciers Monthly.

Incidentally that’s how you can tell that Heat is aimed at women and Nuts is aimed at men. You don’t see voluptuous women with decent sized asses on the front of Heat, do you?

What I’d like to say: “Hmm, not sure. I think it’s best if you go naked…”

5 – “God works everything together for good…”
I’m sure the people who say this really believe it. I’m just not sure I do any more. It’s the kind of bland piety people say to make themselves feel better, like ‘God takes the best ones first’ (why are we paying old people pensions then? They must be the worst kind of scum to still be alive after all this time!).

I’m sure that even in the worst tragedy, there are positives to be found. I know many people who have lived through terrible situations and as a result found deeper friendships, a renewed appreciation for life, and sometimes a better place then where they started. But equally there are people who are devastated by loss and never recover, or who have lives blighted by illness and never seem to get well. What purpose does that serve?

There is a theory that we live in a ‘vale of soul-making’ and that our experiences in this life turn us into ‘real’ humans. But I don’t know any human beings who wouldn’t trade their ‘soul-making’ experiences for a comfortable and easy existence.

To sum up: I think people say this because it offers some indefinite hope that however bad things are it’ll all work out in the end, even though there’s no basis for that optimism. And that presumably makes them feel better.

What I’d like to say: “Does he?”

Feel free to add the common lies you hear from people in the comments!

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