Friday, November 10, 2006

I Am A Neurotic Assumption Questioner; Is There a 12-Step Program for This?

For several years, I taught management training workshops in Egypt for AMIDEAST. I had a favorite workshop, Creative Problem Solving.

The Creative Problem Solving workshop introduces involving various problem-solving techniques and tools to participants. One of them is the very interesting and eye-opening exercise of "questioning assumptions". I always spent a lot of time on it because trainees responded very well to it, finding it to be a useful tool to diagnose their own blind spots as well as those of others. (I thought of it as an enlightening tool as well.)

But now, I tend to question premises or at least try to define them when I hear anything, and it has made me extremely sensitive to things that I probably would have had a let-live attitude about otherwise.

Here is a case in point. If anyone who reads this has a thought on whether I am becoming neurotic or dangerous to myself and others through this sort of over-analysis, please let me know. (Perhaps SOMA or something is available over-the-counter.)

I was at a meeting of a group my mother is involved in called "Initiatives of Change". They were hearing a presentation from a bunch of young people from the US and other countries, who had been taking an exchange program sponsored by the group, and were traveling around the country meeting groups in various cities. The speakers were extremely interesting and the evening was fun.

I was sitting at a table with my mother and her husband, two Democratic Party activists, and one of the participants (who was from Vietnam). One of the two Democratic activists immediately asked me why I was "not on the Bus" (it's this program for young Democrats who travel around Oregon and try to get people to vote, and it is a pretty cool program, and this guy is on their Board). I wondered to Mom when we were in line for the food "does this guy think I am really super young? Do I really look that young?" She said "Hmm, I don't know."

So when we returned to the table they asked, so why did you move from Cairo to Portland, and I immediately mentioned that I have kids in high school and want them to get used to the US system before college. I figured this would be a nice indirect way of signalling to the guy that I am not super young without raising the issue directly because I have this weird privacy thing about discussing age with total strangers.

The guy, however, jovially gave me an open-mouthed expression and said "You have kids in high school?" I said "Yes, one is a freshman and one is a sophomore." He said, "Did they arrest the guy?"

So there were a couple of beats and my mom and I sort of laughed in that polite way you do when you are at a dinner table with strangers and they say something weird, and the conversation moved on.

Later I was sitting at home thinking about this and it was bothering me. Here is a guy who apparently thinks that telling a woman she looks young is SUCH a compliment that implying she was a victim of statutory rape is not insulting. Or else, he would not have made this joke as if he were saying something I would think of as a compliment.

This guy is a well-known Democratic liberal activist, too. Are they not supposed to be sort of aware of feminist precepts that women don't need stupid compliments about how young they look? (Especially if the compliment involves raising innuendos about their sexual practices when they were young? Or is my sexual past now considered regular conversation fare at a table with utter strangers, and I am just an out-of-touch prude?)

Then I decided that perhaps I overanalyze these things. And perhaps, this "question assumptions" thing is more of a curse than a blessing, when I can get myself upset about a stupid conversation with a stranger I will most likely never see again, all because of the premises I am ascribing to his comments. The problem is, once I get used to using the "problem solving tool" of questioning assumptions, how can I stop doing it? Maybe I should join a cult or something to get myself out of the habit of analyzing every damned thing I hear. Otherwise I may end up in a rubber room.

18 comments:

Abu Sahajj said...

Anna... considering the venue violence would not have been acceptable at the event but, if I was accompanying you as you guest I would have punched the guy in the mouth for a statement like that... wa'allahi'azzim!

Anna in Portland (was Cairo) said...

Salam Abu Sahajj
that is another problem with us women, the way we are socialized is to be nice and polite even when people are rude; I just don't react properly when the proper response is to call them on their rudeness; and later I feel like I should have said something. Sigh. At the very least probably it would have been good to throw my water in his face :)

Aaminah said...

Asalaamu alaikum.

Hmm, maybe he really didn't mean anything by it, but geez, maybe he did. I know that sexual openness is one of the hallmarks of white feminism (I know you read BFP's blog too, so I can assume you know what I'm talking about) so that maybe many don't think it's so odd to talk about these kinds of subjects. And I know many liberal men think that they can say these kinds of things because they are liberal - that it doesn't have the same connotation as if they were a "conservative" and judging you; afterall, it's just a joke.

Society is such now that it is considered strange that a woman won't just proudly reveal her age, and of course we are supposed to be so flattered that we are assumed to be younger - it's a great paradox - we are supposed to be unashamed of our graceful aging but we are also supposed to be young and mistaken for young. Also, it is not abnormal to hear sexual innuendo publicly, even amongst people that you may not consider more than a stranger. It is just the normal public behavior these days.

So for women like you and I who have any amount of modesty, liberal people just don't know what to do with it.

I agree, we have been socialized to be polite, and even to give the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't trying to be a pig in what he said. But myself, I probably would have asked him flat out just what he meant. Of course, that's also why I'm told I don't have a sense of humor.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why you took the Bus question so personally. That might be considered neurotic, however second question was out of line.
Liberal or not, joking about gender violence is absolutely uncalled for. These little jibes only ridicule the survivors of these acts, which acts as a sort of silencer, that in turn protects the perpetuaters of these crimes.

Anna in Portland (was Cairo) said...

Anna in Portland (was Cairo) said...
Thanks for comments - here is another story about something that was much more offensive than what happened to me, yet funnier at the same time. KNITTING STORY

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Japozai said...

Hey don't worry, I think that all of us are a little bit neurotic in the way we ask questions and in all we do. For instance, I trained my two rottweilers to do what I want. I trained one of my dogs to scratch the door of a specific house (a gorgeous girl's house) so the girl opens the door and when she does, I order my other dog that I also trained to quietly go through the window of the same house and look for the girl's underwear: lacy panties, bikinis, bra's anything sexy! and he grabs them and brings them to me. Then, I give them a dog cookie for doing such a good job. So, do you think that is neurotic?? of course I do not think so at all!!! hence you are fine my friend!

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