Great God, I just made a fool of myself.
Do I write it up here in full? “For the file”? I don’t think I have the energy… not for full “in full”… Let’s just say:
Around midday I was in a comment thread with some friends-of-a-friend in Facebook, under a linked article about Ebola. I was in a good mood, and on whim I said something to someone (my friend’s brother) about how a particular expression he’d used could lead to information getting lost on a subject in discussion. It was just a knee jerk, from my own preoccupations with how discussions go sideways; I really shouldn’t/needn’t have said anything; given what it led to, I can hardly stand to think of it!
If it matters, and maybe for the explanation it does, what I referred to was the formula “It’s not a _ _ _ problem, it’s a _ _ _ problem.” Good for directing attention to a useful direction, I said, but, if it’s a multi-factor important problem and the people being addressed aren’t necessarily all familiar with the range of factors, it’s a way that information can get lost… Part of the “people confuse slogans with summaries” file… Use sparingly… Gah. Needn’t have said anything. It was supposed to be a passing comment, done amusingly.
He politely but painedly took it as rather making a mountain out of a molehill, a reaction which I hadn’t meant and which was the first sign of trouble. I explained having said it, and said (as I had before) that I agreed with the point he’d been making anyway…
… and this one young woman criticized what I had said… and then she began getting madder… and madder… and madder. Really really fast.
I didn’t understand. I kept explaining what I had meant, and reiterated that I had not meant anything bad about my friend’s brother. This woman kept coming back, madder… and saying things I didn’t understand. She said she’d already clarified that it was about my hypocrisy - and that was the first time she’d used the word “hypocrisy”, so I didn’t have a clue what she’d already… She kept saying that I was distorting her argument. I had no idea what she meant!
(I was NOT CALM. I was astonished - and my hands were shaking on the keys. I can’t remember things going so strangely bad so fast!)
When my friend’s brother, who was pretty mellow about the whole thing, had to go, and I thanked him for saying he understood my intentions, and I told him, “The possible trivialness [of what I’d said to him] ain’t disputed. :-) “, she said, “So if the possible trivality isn’t being disputed why are you misinterpreting my argument so that you don’t have to admit that?”
Actually, when she said that last bit I’d already “left”, or at least stopped posting. I was bewilderedly talking to my friend in private chat, but I could still see the comment thread. I’d said, “(her name), either I’ve missed my own hypocrisy, in which case the whole thing is hopeless anyway, or I haven’t been a hypocrite.” I once again said I’d agreed with him, that I’d said something about language that I did try to follow myself, and, in bewilderment, I said another thing, minor… and I’d said, “But I’ll leave it there.” I was then out…
But she kept going.
For two raging posts. She said, “Don’t purposefully misinterpret my words and then agree with them in the next comment whilst touting your own intelligence. ” She even in her fury made up an insult I hadn’t thrown at her - I hadn’t wanted to throw any, or say anything bad! - “Don’t paint me as some sort of pseudointellectual white knight when you can barely support your own argument.” What?!?
So I talked to my friend in chat. (Aghast, and wringing wet!) My friend had meanwhile interjected a post on the thread that all three of us were good people, let’s not eat each other. (Meanwhile she was getting a phone call from her brother in the background. Her brother was evidently much calmer about everything.) I was in shock. I puzzled over this woman.
Because it was nakedly obvious that she thought I was being incredibly evasive and dishonest and distorting what she was saying in the most vile Bad Faith In Argument fashion! Evasive. Yes. SOMEHOW.
… and it was nakedly obvious that she did not realize, at all, that I was completely lost, that I had no idea what she was or wasn’t talking about!
Anyway, after that there was no more. Evidently she’d gotten totally distraught and had rushed off the computer, and, though I had to piece this together, was evidently in touch with my friend a bit and was upset for a bit.
My friend said that what had happened was most uncomfortable all round. She said that her friend this woman was like that, fiery, with only one gear and that was punching gear, but that this was extraordinary even for her. That she’d been under a lot of pressure…
I puzzled (horribly, horrifiedly, if that’s a word) over it. My friend commiserated. We talked awhile.
Eventually my friend had to go. She’d come online again briefly that evening before bed.
So… I went and did some things I needed to do for work-search, with some small success… TRIED not to dwell on it… my mood was wrecked; it was awful and incomprehensible what had happened…
… but something was nagging at me.
My friend had vouched for this volatile friend (as she said she’d vouched for me to her). She had vouched for this woman very strongly. Great person; like-minded; she and I would/should really get along wonderfully!…
… Yes, that feeling.
When I’m troubleshooting a computer - or trying to hook up a stereo/turntable system, with lots of wires - anything like that, I have a slow-learned rule of thumb. If there’s a minor understandable problem, then the problem is in the hardware; keep troubleshooting and you’ll find it. But if there’s a problem that makes no sense at all; if the system is behaving bizarrely, or actually impossibly, with checking only showing you more bizarreness… that is a specific indication that the problem is in your head - in an assumption that you are assuming 100%, an assumption that is wrong.
In this case… if the only possible conclusion is that this person, someone who my friend is so strongly vouching for, has gone totally buckaroo rabid batty exactly at the moment when she’s talking to me, then I’M MISSING SOMETHING.
I had to have screwed something up.
So I went back and crawled through the conversation, now that I was no longer experiencing it bang-bang-bang, now that I could see the whole thing sitting still on the screen. I stared at what I’d said. I found a minor wrong assumption I’d made about what my friend’s brother had been referring to at one point, and left a note to my friend about it… otherwise… nothing. Good grief, if I came to the thread tomorrow in a similar good mood I might have blundered in and made the same silly comment to my friend’s brother again! There were no warnings!
I do not remember how exactly the light dawned. I suspect you never do.
I looked at what she had been saying. And I realized that I hadn’t quite been reading everything she’d been saying - or, no, I had, but with a difference.
I’d found her sentences rather confused. There were some bits that didn’t really make sense, that I’d looked past, as garble, sort of… because they were a silly phrasing, were a comment that were so ridiculous that they couldn’t possibly be her point… I’d looked past those bits so efficiently they hadn’t even really registered.
Those bits, that phrasing, that comment, that I’d looked past - HAD TO BE HER POINT.
What the point was: She had said, and she had repeated, that to point out a piece of rhetoric is itself rhetoric.
Which was ridiculous, so ridiculous I didn’t even focus on it. I wasn’t pointing at him and saying “YOU USED RHETORIC!” (as a gotcha? rhetoric is bad in the first place?), I was saying “That phrasing can go wrong” - and what I said wasn’t a rhetorical device, it was just an explanation of that idea.
It’s a bizarre “you said he has cooties but that’s cooties too” conception.
BUT at least NOW I knew what she meant by hypocrisy (and the previous invisible reference to hypocrisy), and what she thought I was being so evasive about and distorting her argument about!! THAT’s why she went so crazy!! THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED!!!!!!
:-) :-) :-)
I was over the moon for a bit. …Which sounds strange, because I knew it was my fault. But now I understood what had been going on.
And I now also understood her.
If that was what she meant by her argument - and if she didn’t know that I didn’t know that was her Point; if she thought that I knew it was (and thought that I “knew” it was a LokTite logical trap, that had me) - then with my responses I would have looked like MR. BAD FAITH RIGHT IN HER FACE.
On the very rare occasions when I’ve gone absolutely Vesuvius in discussions… THAT, BAD FAITH, HAS BEEN EXACTLY SPECIFICALLY WHY.
If I’d been who, or doing what, she thought she was looking at, she’d have been right to be enraged.
My friend finally got home and came online before going to sleep. I ecstatically told her.
She said, “Yes, you found it!”
She said her brother had said the same thing on the phone.
She said her brother and this woman had been on the same page. But her brother had known I’d missed it. He’d been good about it, she said, “actually pleasant and complimentary in his annoyance, if that makes sense. He was like, ‘He’s a smart guy who gets this stuff, come on.’ He was laughing.”
We talked, me in relief. But it sank in… Her brother had called her at the beginning of our conversation earlier. But she had not said anything then - though we’d talked for a while…
I asked, “Did you know that was her thing? Or was I the only clueless dorp in the room?”
She said she had. She hadn’t known that I didn’t know. She’d been confused.
A little later I asked her if she had been waiting to tell me until I was calm, or…?
She said, “No, I probably would have avoided it forever.”
I laughed that I was HORRIFIED! - and I WAS. I hereby deputized her and begged her to tell me when I’m being dumb, by Frith’s ears.
She said yes, but she hates confrontations, and it’s a thing she’s working on in therapy. She has told me that before.
I told her any input from her was specially wanted, but I would take her word that the therapy road about it was needed.
There’s not much more to say. I very awkwardly asked her if she would… if she wanted… convey my apology to this woman… and explain what happened… oh, in whatever way she thought best (crikey, an awkward matter indeed!!) because I was stumped… if she wanted to. Or just leave it alone with me as the capering devil. As she chose.
… Convey my very sincere apology, or leave it alone with me deserving this woman’s bad image of me. Because - never mind anything - I should have recognized her meaning, and I should damn well have answered it! Even if my answering/disposing of it was as as I explained it above and wasn’t comfortable either, for me or for her, she’d have known I was answering her.
(What a strange, strange thing for me to do. I [wrongly] rejected that as being what she was talking about because it was totally absurd - but seeing it’s absurd doesn’t make me perceptive, because I didn’t do myself the courtesy of making my dismissal as absurd CONSCIOUS.)
It was late by then, especially in the Eastern time zone, and my friend soon said she had to go to sleep. But a few more things did sink in before we said good night…
It was slow to sink in that her brother had been on the same page as this woman in finding her argument sound.
I did not quite ask - and I won’t; confrontations - but I gathered the sense that… never mind that initially when she came in tonight I expressed myself quite vividly to her about the ridiculousness that was the reason I overlooked it… that my friend herself finds it sound.
I have said what I think - and I don’t think I’m wrong… but… -sigh-… this is not without impact.
And - I’ve already said that her brother called her, and that it also became clear this woman was also in contact with her for a bit, while we were chatting.
I asked her how many people in all had contacted her about the brouhaha.
She said five had - four in chat, one on the phone.
Not including me, that is.
(She says that it happens frequently; because she knows everyone, she is the official Facebook argument hand-holder. Apparently I look at Facebook far too blandly.)
What do you suppose that those other three people wanted to say, when they contacted my friend - or understood of this woman’s point (that she’d typed in plain view), or thought of it, or thought about how I responded?
I kind of think I have an idea.
And I am thinking of one witty friend-of-my-friend I know a little with whom I’ve had a lot of good exchanges, who weighed in late in the business with the single dry comment, “It’s a good thing I got here too late to get angry.” It was plain to me then, in the bewildered thick of it, that this person was talking about her. Now I’m not sure.
In that comment thread about Ebola, not including me, there were a total of ten people.
And that, Dear Reader, is how utterly completely and catastrophically I made a fool of myself today.
Last updated October 17, 2014