Saturday, August 11, 2012

We are what we speak: Benefits of the “No Hard Feelings” Outlook

An eco-cow with cow bell staring at the camera

Attitude goes a long way. It affects not only one's perception on life, but also social relationships. A “nerd” with the (stereo)typical characteristics would have a hard time fitting in with punks, for example. It occurs on various levels - clothing, education, hobbies and interest - but what I want to focus on here predominantly are language expressions. In other words, we are what and how we speak.

There are those who secretly court and openly play with nihilism. This is expressed in various ways. It can be aggressive and upfront “who gives a shit or rat's ass,” to a blatantly pessimistic or fatalistic view of “nothing matters anyway” or an even existential “what's the point” attitude. It can also be expressed in the juvenile yet still apathetic form of “whatever” or – one of my favorite in this category - the all-encompassing “meh,” popularized, at least for me, through the Simpsons' cartoon characters.

Then there are those who take the cues from the hippie generation, idealistically reaching for peace or the stars for that matter. They use non-aggressive and de-escalating expressions, such as “chill out” or “take it easy.” Their stance can be sometimes confused with the other group except that in their chill-attitude, they prefer peaceful non-action. It may denote a lack of goals and motivation in life, but the difference with the nihilistic group is that they are happy with the state they are in and their voice is, for the most part, exempt from cynicism.

In this category, I would also put the two expressions of “no worries” or “no hard feelings.” Here the context is a little different. It depends on a situation in which somebody has somehow trespassed. Others might have taken your seat, stepped on your toe, shoved you with their elbow or even betrayed your trust. Yet the speaker holds no grudge because of her easy-going attitude on life.

What I like here is the generosity and acceptance incorporated in those phrases. It goes with the attitude that whatever works for you, “whatever floats your boat” is all right and there is no need to worry about anything. It is also forgiving in the sense that “nobody is perfect” and everybody may step out of line once in a while. In the grand cosmic scheme of things, a botched exam or job interview or an oversight is really not that important and nothing to fret about.

One of my favorite anecdotes about Zen Buddhism is when two monks are approached by a woman. She asks them if they could help her cross the brook as she does not want to get her dress wet. The novice looks on his master in horror as he cheerfully accepts to help this woman out of her plight. In fact, the novice is so troubled by it that he remains silent for the remainder of the walk. The observant master notices and asks him what the trouble is.

Well, master, is it not one of the tenets of our order to not have any contact with women, to not touch them...”

The master nods.

Well, then, why did you carry that young lady in your arms, I would like to know.”

The master laughs, which makes the novice blush.

The master then says, ”When I helped the woman, I dropped her off at the other side of the stream, whereas you, my dear friend, have been carrying her around all this time.”

I took some creative liberties in the account of this anecdote, but the point does come across nonetheless (I hope). Sometimes we simply worry too much. We make a mountain out of anthills, feel bad and guilty, are eaten by the mea culpa voice of conscience, excuse and genuflect ourselves, go to church and confession and feel sorry pretty much most of the time.

We could all benefit from the “no hard feelings” approach. Yes, I screwed up, big time or not; yes, what you did was wrong, you should not back-stab your friend or hold a grudge for a long time because, all things considered, but it is all right and there is nothing to mull over. And if in the past I have, advertently or inadvertently, offended friend or foe, colleague or supervisor, please keep this phrase in mind: No hard feelings.

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