PSYCHOLOGY: Politeness in Communication

David Musick (
Sat, 18 Jan 97 05:55:34 UT

In response to my comments on avoiding offending people in order to build a
stronger relationship with them, Lee Daniel Crocker said, "If I have to spend
time thinking about everything I say in terms of how the other person might
react--based on my limited knowledge of him or her--before I speak, and if I
react with annoyance at what is said to me, in what way is that relationship
healthy, strong, or beneficial? Because the sex is good? Because we don't
kill each other? Couldn't I have a relationship with those attributes, and
that also served the goal of expanding our minds with unrestrained expression
and criticism? Must I condemn myself to a life of restraint among fragile
waifs, or might I empower everyone at the small price of ruffling a few

Well, if you have limited knowledge of someone, then you don't have much of a
relationship with them, healthy or otherwise. In those cases when I don't
know someone very well, I just assume they will be offended by the standard
things that most people are offended by these days, and I am careful not to
offend them if I am intending to have a good relationship with them. As I get
to know them, I am constantly adjusting the patterns of speech I use with them
as I learn how they react to various ways of me saying things. I develop a
fairly distinct relationship with each individual I form a relationship with,
and I adjust my ways of talking to people so that what I say has more closely
the intended effect on them as an individual. What areas they are sensitive
to is just one small subset of the charachter profile I generate for each
person I communicate with. Other things on the profile are how much
mathematics they know, so I know whether I can use mathematical metaphors to
explain things with, or how intellectually inclined they are, so I know how
complex I can make our conversations without losing them.

If you find yourself among people who are offended when you are just honestly
stating your opinion, then perhaps you need to hang around different people.
Why condemn yourself to "a life of restraint among fragile waifs", when you
could simply choose different, more rational and tolerant company, where you
could be quite uninhibited? It's your choice. But if you do choose to hang
around people who get offended easily, it's hardly reasonable to demand that
they change their emotional responses just to suit your prefrences.

I agree with you that it would probably make their lives more enjoyable to be
more tolerant and rational, and it would certainly be nice if people didn't
get offended so easily, but there are lots of people who *do* get offended
easily. That's just a fact of the world we live in. I agree that it's
irrational and self-destructive for them to be so easily offended, but
nevertheless, these people exist, and we must choose how we will deal with
them. We can ignore their sensitivities and just say and do whatever the hell
we want; that's certainly a legitimate option. Or, we can take note of their
difficulties and modify our actions accordingly, if it's not more trouble than
it's worth. If one wants to do *business* with someone who is easily
offended, and that business relationship will be very lucrative, then it may
be worth it to censor oneself around that person.

I also prefer to hang around mature people who are not easily offended, and I
share your desire that all people were like that so that I could say and do
whatever the hell I wanted to without bothering anyone. But the sad reality
is, most people are very immature. It is often easier to moderate my behavior
around those people so that they will help me get what I want than to avoid
them and try to get what I want without their help.

- David Musick

-- Profanity is created by those who insist that certain words are profane. --