Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: The Missing Stair and the Necessary Bastard

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  • Myles Thomas, in reply to Danielle,

    I know what you mean. Though I live and work and breathe the rarified air of Grey Lynn we often meet munters. I recognise them because have a touch of the munter to me.

    You have to be true to your view. Firmly, politely and, if possible, humourously let them know they're absolutely wrong.

    We had a family reunion of my wife's brothers recently and the first thing they talked about was the Pakeha Party and "why shouldn't we have a....blah blah"

    I replied by saying they were a bunch of hillbillies and sang the duelling banjos. They stopped that shit and I got down to telling them about my new job at Maori TV. It helped that I didn't care what they thought and had no anger or failed expectations.

    These people thought they could get away with their stupidity because they are isolated from any other view. That changed quickly enough when they realised it wasn't cool.

    Assertiveness and confidence in your beliefs are critical. You have the right to your opinion and every reasonable person will respect you for stating your views, though they may disagree.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2011 • 130 posts Report Reply

  • Marcus Turner,

    I’m feeling bad that I’ve pissed people off on this forum. It came as a real surprise to me. I’m not sure who you are, but understand there’s more than one. I’d like to offer an apology. If, in my public comments here, or in private emails about this thread, I’ve said something that hurts/annoys you, I’m sorry.

    I think those who share aspects of their private life in a public forum are people of courage, and I like to offer them positive reinforcement when I notice the opportunity to do so. I’ve been very grateful to receive similar support in the past. If in attempting to support you, I’ve appeared to sit in judgement on you, I’m sorry. I don’t judge you; I admire you as someone who's brave enough to walk where I can’t.

    I’ve agreed not to provide further unsolicited advice on this thread. But I’d like to retain the option of offering it as an alternative to being simply negative. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s OK to hurt other people with actions or words: it’s often understandable, and can be forgivable, but I don’t think it’s ever OK. If an option is available, there are lots of good reasons to take it. (I speak as one of many who’ve said and done things we’re ashamed of.)

    Thus, I can’t get behind the concept of the “Necessary Bastard”. It’s a tactic used by those who can’t find a better way. I’ve considered that this might be because the person is under stress, or has formed a lifetiime habit of certain behaviours, or is simply unaware of the other possibilities available. I suspect that fear plays a part in many such situations: how easy can it be to confront someone who causes you pain?

    I believe (and I accept that your mileage may vary) we have the “right” (I can’t think of a better word) to be treated as adults, and to be listened to as adults.

    I think there are options to the “Necessary Bastard” technique that will help me to be treated like an adult (whether as the ‘bastarder’ or ‘bastardee’), and I’ve found that training in assertiveness, negotiation and other skills can help with that. I’m aware of other skills and paths, many of which I’ve chosen not to take. I doubt any of it works all the time, but offer all this to you as an alternative to something that, while it can be effective, is also destructive.

    Since Nov 2006 • 212 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    My old man definitely was a missing stair. I try not to (inherit-idly) be one as well by making sure my riser is in place and I tread as warily as can. Although I know I have wound a few people up here! My intentions have always been honourable with no malice intended!

    Basically, we start out just wishing it would be okay to show a bit more cleavage..

    Does not taking a glance mean we have missed a good stare?

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Jennifer Duval-Smith, in reply to Heather Gaye,

    :)

    Auckland • Since Sep 2011 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Marcus Turner,

    Thus, I can’t get behind the concept of the “Necessary Bastard”. It’s a tactic used by those who can’t find a better way. I’ve considered that this might be because the person is under stress, or has formed a lifetiime habit of certain behaviours, or is simply unaware of the other possibilities available. I suspect that fear plays a part in many such situations: how easy can it be to confront someone who causes you pain?

    Or, perhaps, as I've already said to you, the problem is not the person being the Necessary Bastard, but the Missing Stair. That they have already tried other things, which is something I recommend in the post, and they haven't worked.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    This thread is doing my head in. I feel I should be able to think of someone in my life who fits the Missing Stair description, but I can't. Maybe a couple of people whose mental health isn't always tip-top, including a friend's partner who I didn't feel safe around for a while, but who now has a better handle on her issues, and who I like and respect as a battler. But that's not really the same thing, is it?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22830 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Be thankful? :)

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Can't think of anyone who really fits the bill in my life either. But there really aren't a large number of people whose company I can't avoid. The father-in-law is an annoying fool, but lives in Oz, so meetings are rare and mostly about my wife and kids seeing him. As with you, there are some people who make me nervous on account of their imbalance, but no one who revels in annoying me, that I'm aware of. Could be luck. Or good handling. Or speaking from the heart of the privileged demographic myself. Or being physically imposing enough to deter aggression, whilst amiable enough not to provoke it. Or a bit of all of that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Or, perhaps, as I’ve already said to you, the problem is not the person being the Necessary Bastard, but the Missing Stair. That they have already tried other things, which is something I recommend in the post, and they haven’t worked.

    And the thing about hitting the Necessary Bastard setting, is that it's exhausting and very often a pretty unpleasant headspace to be in. But, Marcus, really think about what you're saying here, and who you're saying it to. Yeah, as often as not I'm going to be the 'Necessary Bastard' with people who think it's OK to be casually homophobic or make rape jokes, because I can. I also remember when I heard that crap and just died a little bit more. Do you have any conception of what a difference a few more Necessary Bastards would have made to me then? Just keep in mind that this isn't a thought experiment or intellectual game for a far few of us.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Just keep in mind that this isn’t a thought experiment or intellectual game for a far few of us.

    +1 As I head off to an unavoidable bout of bastarding today, I’m cheered to read that Craig.
    Marcus has no fucking idea of what it is like to have a person in your life who coldly scans the prey like a crocodile when they enter the room, seeking the first sign of kindness or humanity (= weakness in their eyes), so they know where to attack. My defence is withdrawal before it gets to me and self-protective deflective bastardry. I go into this situation with my eyes open because there is someone else involved who needs help and protection due to dementia.

    Without getting too therapy-like, there is world of difference between being able to sack a friend or running into munters at work and dealing with an asshole who has no wish to change year-in-year-out for decades. As I have made the choice to stay in that ring, it is a matter of modifying my reactions to that person and strategically pushing, as my beloved calls it, the selfish cunt button or else like you say --

    the thing about hitting the Necessary Bastard setting, is that it’s exhausting and very often a pretty unpleasant headspace to be in

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2898 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    for the ambience chasers...
    here's an uninterrupted flight
    perhaps a riser to bait...
    I always liked the idea of Oblique Strategies and
    the missing stair explains the existence of the Obtuse Strategy card sets

    1: Cultivate the disreputable
    2: Lie gratuitously
    3: Argue extravagantly over minutiae
    4: Blame the innocent
    5: Solve the wrong problem
    6: Construct the trivial sturdy, the crucial shoddy
    7: Give misleading directions
    8: Damn with faint praise
    9: Make a virtue of waste, a vice of thrift
    10: Play dumb... etc

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7943 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    Be thankful? :)

    I am :-) I know that for some people extended family are a blessing and a comfort, but it sounds like for many of you they're a minefield of bigotry, twatcockery and uncomfortable obligation. Not having any interactions with mine, since they've been on the opposite side of the planet for most of my life, has left me with the privilege of largely being able to choose the people I interact with. If anyone in my friendship circle shows signs of egregious trollery, then they're likely to get a pointedly raised eyebrow the first time, a stern calling-out the second, and a good hard shunning after that.

    That's for the strict definition of Missing Stairs, but it does leave the odd person who has to be tiptoed around, and leads to us wondering "are they worth it?"

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Maybe a couple of people whose mental health isn’t always tip-top, including a friend’s partner who I didn’t feel safe around for a while, but who now has a better handle on her issues, and who I like and respect as a battler. But that’s not really the same thing, is it?

    Yeah, I've known a couple of people who've veered into this territory because of stress or other mental health issues, and pulled out again. One who turned into what's apparently Old Bart for a while, and simply could not let any little thing go and had to be right all the time, even if that meant ruining everyone's evening. But they were, as Max says, Worth It.

    The two (and there are only two) that I've had to put up with long-term were because they were connected to me by a relationship I really didn't want to give up: our mutual mother, and a dear friend. You make that determination, that you're going to stick it out for the sake of the other person, and then you need coping strategies. One thing I've recently started doing with Friend's Partner is not smoothing things over. When she says something horrible and then laughs, now I just let the awkward silence fall.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Max Rose,

    Nuclear families sometimes seems accurate.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2898 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose, in reply to Hebe,

    Thermonuclear, in some cases. Mine was formed by fission followed by fusion, which may have led to a chain reaction.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • RaggedJoe,

    The Missing Stair sure resonates with me. In one close relationship in particular. in the positive side I am fortunate not know anyone who would think a rape joke was either funny or acceptable.

    However casual racism is not unknown. Mostly it is born of ignorance IMHO. I travel widely and cross culturally for work. I know how different the interpretations of personal space and traffic rules, for example, can be. When translated to an East Auckland supermarket or arterial route, these behaviours can set off the "bloody Asians" noises. My reaction is to try and explain the cultural mores that exist in other countries, however it is not necessarily effective (sigh). Frankly the "bloody Maoris" comment is harder to explain or to forgive. Some of it is born of some tough secondary school experiences, but that is a possible cause not an excuse, because it is frankly inexcusable.

    The collateral damage is to great to contemplate a full on confrontation, so I am counting on wearing away the stone drip by drip....

    City of Sales • Since Sep 2008 • 72 posts Report Reply

  • Amanda Wreckonwith, in reply to Max Rose,

    formed by fission followed by fusion, which may have led to a chain reaction

    it sounds like they had fun but surely that's illegal?

    Since Sep 2012 • 171 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Hebe,

    One ... person... I know actually said to me, while laughing, that he was trying to wind me up and wasn't it good that it was working because he liked to get under people's skin.

    One of my old friends has a one-hour rule for his wife's rellies: he goes to everything then leaves after an hour, no exceptions.

    This is something I try to do, and it works quite well most of the time. Partly I do it by starting work early, which means I just say "sorry, I have to leave by 8pm because I start work at 7am tomorrow" and most people go "ok, thanks for saying" and move on. Unfortunately some people are experts at "but soon we're going to {something special}" and string that out for hours. Which leaves the missing stair far too much time to fill with amusing wind-up games.

    Hebe, the "look for humanity/weakness" thing resonates with my. Fortunately I've managed to cut those people out of my lives. And I'm sorry for turning a couple of people like that who aimed at others into jokes. At the time it seemed that shunning them would make me the only one who hadn't forgiven.

    I keep reading this discussion and thinking of a: serial abusers in various communities; and b: microaggressions. The abuser problem is similar, and abusers are by definition missing stairs, but a lot of the same problems arise - people like that are often good at digging into communities and making themselves difficult to remove. In activist circles, often by getting related jobs so the activists have to deal with them, but in BDSM, for example, they're often a source of new members because they're always hunting for interested people who don't know about them. Microagressions is a handy term for describing the other end of the spectrum - the stream of little niggly things that just make people unpleasant to be around.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1229 posts Report Reply

  • Roger Lacey,

    Reading this thread reminds me of this Tom Robinson track.
    http://tomrobinson.bandcamp.com/track/pub-hassle
    It seems like there are plenty of these types still out there.

    Whatakataka Bay Surf Club… • Since Apr 2008 • 148 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to RaggedJoe,

    However casual racism is not unknown. Mostly it is born of ignorance IMHO.

    In the cases of people who grew up in small, isolated, homogenous communities, sure, like my mother in law staring with blank incomprehension when the waitress tried to explain to her that this restaurant doesn't serve pork because it's a Muslim restaurant (not exactly racism, but transfer that ignorance of the big wide world outside the two villages she's spent her life in, and... ). But what bugs me is the white former colleagues who've felt the need to shit talk our own students or The Chinese generally within earshot of the students. If you're in China, you don't have any excuses for such prejudice. No amount of explaining those odd little facets of Chinese history, culture, language, society, etc that they're deliberately choosing to ignore slows down long enough on its trip from one ear to the other to stick in their brain. They have decided. And so one day I asked, "So why are you in China, then?" "Money" was the answer. Oh yeah, you get real rich teaching in China...

    Argh. So a careful strategy of managing the amount of time spent with certain colleagues became necessary.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • knightpfhor,

    When I read this post it resonated with me, but I was very thankful that I don't have any missing stairs in my life. Now, less than two weeks later it seems that we have a stair go missing at work (I think it had been a bit wobbly for a while). Reading this has given me enough back bone to try and fix it. Not holding my breath, but we'll see...

    Ak • Since Dec 2009 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Miche Campbell, in reply to Marcus Turner,

    If you told me I made you angry or upset every time I said a certain thing, why would I continue to say/do it?

    Because I'm just telling it like it is and you need to harden the fuck up. Politically correct blah blah blah in the old days blahdy blah...

    Dunedin • Since Feb 2011 • 79 posts Report Reply

  • Miche Campbell, in reply to Moz,

    A former friend used to start a "discussion/debate/argument" with me, get me good and wound up and then say "I don't know why you're so upset, I was only playing Devil's advocate."

    I'm all for a nice game of Devil's advocate as long as it's advertised as such beforehand.

    Dunedin • Since Feb 2011 • 79 posts Report Reply

  • Miche Campbell, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    Well of course it is. You need to lighten up. Can't you take a joke? Are you one of them humourless feminists? Etc etc BARF.

    Dunedin • Since Feb 2011 • 79 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Miche Campbell,

    A former friend used to start a “discussion/debate/argument” with me, get me good and wound up and then say “I don’t know why you’re so upset, I was only playing Devil’s advocate.”

    I’m all for a nice game of Devil’s advocate as long as it’s advertised as such beforehand.

    Yeah, I hate this. For a start, if you don't in some way call Devil's Advocate before you start, what you're actually doing is arguing in bad faith. Devil's Advocate is supposed to be a way of testing an argument for flaws, not deliberately pissing someone off.

    But also, "Oh, I didn't really mean that, I was just playing Devil's Advocate," is a not-uncommon way of weaselling out of having just lost an argument.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

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