Saturday, July 15, 2017


Perhaps it is an over-generalization, but it is often said that women crave love and men crave respect.

Like many generalizations, there is some truth to the statement.

I was recently a member of a men's group.  Frankly, I was not a very good fit.

Most of the men had children.  Most of their children were in grade school.  The oldest child in most of those families was teetering on the cusp of adolescence.

I have four children and my youngest child is eighteen.  I tried to articulate some of the challenges they might encounter, to throw a few bouys on the reefs so to speak.  The reception was consistently dismissive.  The more clearly I attempted to articulate the shoals I had personally encountered the less veiled the dismissiveness.

"No, people are not like that. That does not happen.  I work in an office and ....blah, blah, blah." with a grand wave of the hand.

Some learn by watching.  Some learn by listening.  The rest of us have to pee on the electric fence for ourselves.

The thing is that these men are choosing to drive with their headlights turned off.  That would be sad but not tragic if it were just them.  But they are choosing to careen down the highway of life  with their family in the back seat.  It is a choice they are making for their families.

What this episode did was to reacquaint me with how it feels to not be heard, to be "dismissed".

As somebody who is proud of their ability to observe, to be "dismissed" is to be called a liar, or blind or stupid or of no consequence.  It is the opposite of respect.

This may be an occupational hazard of being retired.

There is a tremendous amount of "dismissing" going on from both sides of the aisle.  Both conservatives and progressives are guilty.

For my part, I need to slow down and ask, "Why do you have that opinion?"  When I hear a story when my initial reaction is to call "Bullshit!" there are undoubtedly circumstances that came into play that I am not aware of.  I cannot expound on circumstances where I was blind, but I can talk about a situation where my "narrative" was dismissed based on the listener's assumptions.

I was talking about one of my Eaton Rapids buddies.  He is over eighty years old and his teeth are rotting, splintered and falling out of his head.  He visited a dentist and was told that it would cost more than $500 to pull even the first tooth.  I checked out this story and found out that my buddy was being given a discount.  A preliminary check-up after a long-term hiatus from dental care typically costs $700-to-$800 due to standards-of-care "requiring" full X-rays.

When I was sharing this story, the person said, "He doesn't want to fix the problem. He must want to keep his teeth."

I explained that he only has $700 a month in income.

The person said, "That is just an excuse.  Lansing has a free dental care clinic twice a month on Thursdays.  All he has to do is get on the internet to find out when and where to go.  The only logical conclusion is that he really does not want to address the problem with his teeth."

OK, I get that some people have anxiety about going to the dentist.  But what this person did not comprehend is that my friend cannot afford a phone, much less access to the internet.

"But he could go to the library" you protest.  Right!  He could go to the library to log onto something (the internet) he has only heard of, to look for something (subsidized dental care) he has no reason to believe exists.  

Perhaps that is not as big a deal in the city.  There are far more person-to-person interactions.  People who are not literate can survive in the city because there are plenty of people around them who will gladly fill that function.  I think it must be the same for folks who are not computer savvy.

My "story" was dismissed as bullshit because the listener could not picture somebody surviving on $700 a month who was not totally plugged into the welfare system.

A sub-conversation involved his diet.  There was a bit of blaming the victim.  "Yes." I said.  "He eats a lot of donuts. Donuts are soft and inexpensive.  It is not like he is going to be chewing beef jerky or paninis given his budget and teeth."

I cannot change other people, but I can vow to be a better and less judgemental listener.

You have my permission, nay encouragement, to bust my chops when I am "dismissive".


  1. "Some learn by watching. Some learn by listening. The rest of us have to pee on the electric fence for ourselves."- Thank you for a good laugh on that quote. One of the most profound lessons that I learned in college was in a Counselling Techniques class on listening. We were divided up into groups of three, one person talked for five minutes straight, the other two listened. No comments. No dialogue. No nothing. Just one person speaking, the other two listening. It taught me that even if I don't suspend judgement, if I listen, I'll get what Paul Harvey called ""The Rest of the Story..." which tempered my judgement. It may not lead to agreement but it does lend itself to understanding.

  2. It is difficult to be a good listener, especially when getting dis.sed(dismissed). When in college I took an elective course called Group Politics. The general theme was that everyone fits into a group, and their power is multiplied in the quest to reach their goals.

    I am frequently dismissed when I assert that I am not a part of the group that people strive to put me in, and that I disagree with the group stance on some subject. Most frequently this is the liberal-conservative divide. Both groups assert that if I ain't part of theirs, I must be part of the opposing group. Then the two minute hate comes on.

    I have come to believe that *group politics* is the reason our society is tearing itself in two. Further, by listening carefully, and advocating for the rights of individuals, like your poor, bad-toothed friend, we can lessen the gap tearing society apart. Listening, observing, and agreeing with others (when possible) as we seek to share experiences may be the answer.

    Joe, thanks for being a good observer. I have benefitted much from that skill of yours.


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