Jul. 22nd, 2009

joreth: (Misty in Box)
I've noticed that I have an unusual way of dealing with authority and with differing levels of acquaintence.  I don't know if it's because I was raised in laid-back, sun-kissed, California, land of the surfers and pot dealers, or because of my own INTJ innate sense of self-importance and equality, but it definitely seems at odds with a lot of other people I've met.

It could be suggested that it's a generational thing too, but as I get closer to middle-age and my generation begins to take the positions of movers and shakers in the world, I see the opposing viewpoint even in people in my own age bracket.  Now, I'm not suggesting I'm alone in this method, but it becomes increasingly more visible to me that my method is not the universal method (and rarely *is* there ever a "universal" method of anything).

I find I get less formal with people the more I respect them.  This applies, including and especially, to people who are in positions of authority to me and to people who move closer inwards in my monkeysphere.

When I am new to a situation and I don't know people very well, I fall back into silence, politeness, I avoid argument more often, I don't speak my mind.  Yes, everyone out there in cyberspace, I am actually shy and unimposing in new situations in contrast to my outspoken viewpoints here in the safety of anonymity and my own personal journal.  I do this until I get to know the people better.  Then, when I've decided I don't like you, I continue the silence and the politeness, although I will probably avoid *you* in my effort to avoid the argument because, since I don't like you, chances are likely that we'll argue often if I allow myself to open my mouth.  Only when I have weighed the consequences and decided that silence is actually more expensive than argument will I bother to argue with someone I don't care much about.  Piss me off, though, and that's a different matter than mere apathy or mild dislike, but then it's all about losing my temper, which is a loss of control, but is also totally off-topic right now.

But, when I do like you, when I do respect you, I relax.  I let my guard down.  I let you know my thoughts, even if that means we might debate or disagree, or even argue.  I speak my mind, I will even tease and insult you because we would have built a mutually respectful relationship that would allow me to tease or insult you because you should understand that it *is* teasing and that I actually do respect you.  It also means that we have gotten to know each other and grown close enough for me to discover traits about you that are teasing-worthy, which means that I'm paying attention to who you are.

So my bosses, my "superiors", my teachers, and my lovers, get to see me behave in a manner that, looking in from the outside, one might think shows I don't really respect or like the person.  And I expect them to treat me in a like manner.  I call my teachers by their first name and I expect to be called by mine.  I pick on my bosses, I point out their foibles, I flirt with them.  I tell my lovers the scary, dark, intimate details of my heart and mind because I have determined them to be worthy of that knowledge and not likely to flee upon discovery or use it against me in anger or retaliation.

I do not think of people as being "better" or "worse" than myself.  I think of people as having roles to play, some of which give them limited authority over me or knowledge that I do not possess.  But I do not think of anyone as "better than" me.  There are people I admire and respect, often because of some talent or skill or innate personality trait that I think outshines me in that area, and you can tell when I think highly of someone because of how informally I treat them.

If I rely on social conventions or rules of "etiquette" or polite behaviour (as opposed to simply being genuinely considerate of someone), it means I don't trust you and I'm using these formalities as a way to curb my temper.  If I have to think carefully about my words when I talk or refrain from certain topics of conversation, it means I don't trust you or that I don't like you and feel you are not worth the energy I would lose in an argument, even if I'm certain I'd win the argument.

This often confuses people.  I am often seen as disrespectful or arrogant when I behave this way, and that's because these people were brought up to believe that formality, etiquette, etc. are signs that one respects others.  There's a line from the movie Blast From The Past, in which one character explains to another that he always thought the rules of social polite behaviour was an excuse for people to think they were better than others, but that the main character says politeness is showing that one respects those around him.

And I can understand that rationale, but for me, being polite, being formal, being careful, means that you don't really like the person you are talking to.  It means that person is not trustworthy because you have to take special care not to offend or upset him, and the fact that he could be so easily offended or upset is yet another sign that the two of you are not close.

So I don't stand on ceremony much.  I don't like to be called Ms. Smith because I am not "Ms. Smith".  All the females in my family are Ms. Smith and it's arguably the most common last name in the country, so that name really doesn't identify *me* at all.  I answer to my first name (only when properly pronounced) or by the name I gave myself, Joreth, because those names identify me, not my family.  After the first couple of offers, I don't offer to serve my guests food or drink because I like to establish that I want them to be comfortable in my home, and the most obvious way to do that is to help oneself.  I like teasing and joking as long as it's not done out of malice.  Because teasing me tells me that you trust me to take the joke and you trust me not to fly off the handle and you trust me to tell you when things get taken too far, and that you have spent enough time getting to know me that you know that your kind of teasing will be well-received by me.  I do not respect someone because of the title they hold, I respect people who have earned my respect.  I will, of course, comply with someone's rightful and not mis-abused authority, because I respect the fact that a complex society requires a certain amount of order to function, but that respect is for the position, not the person holding it.  The person holding it must earn my respect for him as an individual just as anyone else must.

I bring this up because of a few conversations in the recent past regarding my informal behaviour and I just happened to read a passage in a book tonight that sort of explains what I mean.

Basic premise: In a world with the 5 Races of Man (elves, halflings, humans, dwarves, and hradani), the hradani are like really tall men with fox-like ears who are hated by all the other races because they were cursed with The Rage a thousand years ago in order to be better fighters for the Dark Gods in a mighty battle. Their decendants continue to suffer from a red-haze madness when they get angry much like a crack addict on a bender, they can't feel pain and they run around chopping people to pieces with their large swords.

Bahzell is a hradani from the Horse Stealer clan who hates his curse and tries really hard to be a decent guy in general, like rescuing women from would-be rapists, who has been chosen by Tomanak, the God of War And Justice, to be his Champion. Bahzell has just learned that there is actually an Order of Tomanak, a group of knights who dedicate themselves to the service of the War God, who, in effect, also serve Tomanak's Champions. They are primarily human and this particular chapter of the Order has not had dealings with hradani, although they are familiar with their blood-thirsty reputation.  The idea that their God has chosen a hradani as his Champion is confusing at best and blasphemous at worst, particularly because they had no contact or information about Bahzell prior to him being chosen as Champion and therefore do not know anything about him other than the reputation of his race.

This is some exposition about the difficulty the other knights of the Order are having with the idea of Bahzell as the Champion, from the point of view of Bahzell's companion, Brandark:

And in fairness to the Order, Brandark had to admit that Bahzell might have been more than a bit hard for them to accept even if his race weren't hated and reviled.  There were innumerable things Brandark had yet to figure out about Bahzell's relationship with Tomanak - which, he reflected wryly, also seemed to be true for Bahzell - but he could certainly see why the Horse Stealer might disturb the Order's more orthodox members.

Most importantly, he supposed, was the way Bahzell spoke about Tomanak.  There was never anything disrespectful in his tone or manner - not by hradani standards, at any rate - but Brandark doubted the rest of the Order saw it that way.  Sir Charrow clearly did, but it was hard for any of the other Races of Man to understand the hradani's ways, and especially those of the Horse Stealers.  Like his own Bloody Sword clan, Horse Stealers were capable of exquisite courtesy, but (even more than among his Bloody Swords) having one of them be polite to one was usually a sign of serious trouble.  As a rule, formality on their part was a sign of distrust, and they were most polite of all to people they detested.  Personally, Brandark suspected that politeness was yet another defense against the Rage, a way of using courtesy to defuse tension and keep swords sheated.

On the other hand, the Horse Stealers were inclined to be a bit more ... informal under normal circumstances than even other hradani.  Brandark had never been to Bahzell's home land of Hurgrum, but he'd heard reports of his father, Prince Bahnak's "court" and he shuddered at the very thought of how someone like Vaijon would have reacted to it.  Not because of any "barbarian squalor" or crudity, but because any of Bahnak's people had the right, by custom and law, to appear personally before him to present petitions directly.  And, as Bahzell had told Sir Charrow, Bahnak's position as lord of Clan Iron Axe was more important to his own people than any princely title. 

By a tradition stretching back to the days when only the clan's swords stood between its people and extinction, a clan chief was the true source of its cohesion, the embodiment of its joint survival.  Nothing and no one could be more important to Bahnak's folk, and he had proven himself one of the greatest chieftans in the Iron Axes' history.  Which meant, of course, that his people addressed him as they would their clan chief, with an earthy succinctness utterly at odds with Vaijon's notions of proper courtesy.

And that was precisely how Bahzell spoke of Tomanak - with the devotion, loyalty, and familiarity of a Horse Stealer for his clan lord.  In its own way, that was a supreme compliment, the highest honor Bahzell could bestow, yet too many of these citified, over-civilized knights seemed unable to grasp that fact.


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