Archive for the ‘Sensitivity’ Category

Service of a Word

Monday, February 5th, 2024

I’ve written 27 other posts in the “word” category in 16 years. Forgive me if I already ranted about this one way back when.

It came up again the other day when a friend who owns a jewel box like antique shop in New England almost moaned as she told me that a recent visitor entered and said about her boutique, “How cute.” Why not say “charming,” or “delightful,” or “attractive?”

I think cute is almost insulting when used for anything other than a little child or pet, their clothing, photos, hairstyle and toys. I have a vintage Teddy bear. Some might call him “cute.” I think he’s handsome. But he wouldn’t mind the cute word given his origins as a toy.

I once owned a landscape in oil painted by the daughter of my mother’s friend. Its vibrant colors and composition drew me in and every time I passed it, I enjoyed the scene. When a guest—the boss of my then husband—pronounced it “cute,” I smiled, thanked and cringed quietly. He had good intentions and wanted to be nice. It may have been many things but cute wasn’t one. This happened decades ago but when I hear “cute,” I think of that exchange and my sinking heart.

No doubt 98 percent of the English-speaking world has no negative feelings about the word cute, or why it would rile anyone. I suspect that words matter little to most who are oblivious to their potential impact when uttered without malice or anger during benign conversation. Am I too sensitive about words spoken by well-meaning people?

Service of Well-Meaning Gestures That Miss the Mark

Monday, February 6th, 2023


Image by Shaun from Pixabay 

You may remember similar stories. This one was about a spectacular surprise 50th birthday party that went south because the birthday girl didn’t want anyone to know how old she was. Her husband, who planned a creative and lavish event for everyone she knew, didn’t understand that about her. When she arrived at the venue, her expression was of horror, not surprise.

It happens.

Misunderstanding may also have happened at a Nyack, N.Y. middle school on the first day of Black History Month. A student received a lot of local publicity for criticizing the cafeteria for serving what she considered to be a racially insensitive meal: chicken, waffles and watermelon. She was on TV news, all over the papers, and the media also jumped to the conclusion that the meal was indeed a terrible slight.

The food service company apologized.

Because of my marketing background, I wondered whether the meal planner at the food service company had been trying to do something in recognition of the day, to respect it–in no way intending to make fun of it or demean it.

I mentioned the incident to Deborah Wright, a retired Chicago public lower and middle school teacher with 40 years under her belt. When I said: “call out the food police” she replied: “Food police for sure! I am pretty sure if it is a typical school, there will be other choices in the cafeteria. I agree that it was offered as appreciation for Black History Month. It would be comparable to Casimir Pulaski Day in Chicago highlighting pierogis and sauerkraut. Only in Chicago was that day celebrated!”

A friend who for many years was a food service director/chef at a major hospital said: “holidays always required themed days. So typical meals of the celebratory day were served and my food establishments were decorated in that holiday du jour!  People lightened up celebrating cultures.

“Maybe I don’t understand why this meal is offensive, sounds like a meal kids will eat…isn’t that the point of a school food service?

“Christmas/Hanukkah we’d serve ham, sweet potatoes next to the roast chicken and latkes, fresh vegetables, decorations, and a smile. One year, a black customer told me I wasn’t representing Kwanzaa. So, I asked her for help. She was thrilled. We served goat stew and fried fish, collard greens, black eyed peas and rice. I bought decorations and asked her to help. She told everyone and we were so busy pulling it off. It was a great success!”

It’s a shame that the CBS 2 News at 11 PM producer didn’t read up on the distinguished pedigree of the chicken and waffle dish. Like many popular recipes, kitchens and towns claim to have invented the combination in the South, in Pennsylvania and New York City. Harlem World Magazine found the best execution in its backyard: “Well’s Restaurant In Harlem, The Best Chicken And Waffles In The World 1938-1982,” was the title of an article.

According to the magazine: “Tori Avey reports that Wells became a late night hotspot for jazz musicians, who would stop by late at night after their various gigs. The musicians, arriving too late for dinner but too early for breakfast, enjoyed the appetizing compromise of fried chicken and waffles. Before long, Wells was frequented by the likes of Nat King Cole (who held his wedding reception there).” Avey is a food blogger. Sammy Davis Jr, Kim Novak and Frank Sinatra were only some of the celebrities who also frequented the restaurant.

The husband in the first example should have first checked with his wife’s best friend to float the concept of a surprise 50th. That might have averted a disaster. I wonder if the chicken-waffle-watermelon meal would have received kudos if there was a simultaneous recognition of Black History Month at the cafeteria through decoration the way the hospital food director amplified celebratory holiday food? Are we at the point at which we can’t safely recognize anyone’s heritage at a public school cafeteria? Or, at the opposite extreme, must we not miss a single holiday, starting with St. Swithin’s Day?


Image by WOKANDAPIX from Pixabay 

Service of Editing II

Monday, February 21st, 2022

I wrote the first post with this title in 2013. Coincidentally it shared with this one the topic of resumes. Nine years ago the focus of the post was a company that preyed on students charging $700 to revise their resumes, scaring them into subscribing. To start, their marketing materials were poorly written.

What inspired today’s post was hearing of the discomfort an acquaintance experienced counseling a friend about her resume that fell short of the succinct, essence-of- your-life-in-one-page style expected these days. Seems the resume writer did not take well to the suggestions.

I am so grateful for editors who tighten, tweak and question my copy to perfection. When a former client would ask what my press release headline meant–one that I thought was a brilliant play-on-words–I was appreciative. Maybe only a New Yorker would get it or perhaps even only me….and she saved me. Happily she approved most of my beaux mots.

I review all sorts of copy for clients, colleagues and friends. If I’ve never before worked with someone I’ll tell them that they must be comfortable with each alteration or suggestion. I’ve found that writers do not take offense. Those unfamiliar with the process frequently balk at suggestions because they often fall in love with a phrase or word and can’t grasp why what they see as catchy makes little sense. Some take edits as criticism rather than an attempt at clarity. That’s why I prefer to edit a writer’s copy. I edit and rewrite my own copy until I hit “send.” 

Do you cringe when someone revises or changes your words? Do you refuse to edit friends’ copy if they aren’t writers for fear of their reactions?

Service of Lopsided Friendships

Monday, July 12th, 2021

Image by michael maggiore from Pixabay

I’ve written about friendship over years. A favorite post is “Service of What is Good Company,” from 2012.

Some friendships are lopsided temporarily either during crises such as illness, job loss and death or at happy times, to celebrate milestones: births, marriages, raises, promotions, new jobs, clients, relationships or homes. At these times most conversations involve the special events/circumstances.

Image by Here and now, unfortunately, ends my journey on Pixabay from Pixabay

Other relationships seem chronically out of balance. One example: Person A, who lives alone and is retired, has enjoyed a lifetime relationship with Person B, also alone, who still works and is in frequent contact with siblings and their offspring. Person B has little patience with A, often cutting off B saying “I don’t need all those details” or “I know what you are going to say,” or “everyone knows that,” or “you’ve said that before.”  B doesn’t understand–or care–how important it is for A to share thoughts even if at times they are heavy with minutia. It’s not as though A is wasting B’s time. Conversations–or putdowns–often take place when the two are on the road.

Friendship should be like a game of ping pong or tennis between two people of similar ability, with back and forth conversation–equal amounts of listening and talking. Do you agree? Are your friendships even Steven most of the time?

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Service of Marketing Tone Deafness in a Global Economy

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

There are some things that seem so clearly offensive, at least to me, that I can’t understand why manufacturers need diversity, cultural-awareness and sensitivity committees and training to prevent them from producing distasteful products. They do need something: Common sense and a team of educated, aware marketers, design employees and independent contractors.

Take the H&M hoodie with the words “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” modeled by an African American child. In South African stores customers knocked over manikins and clothing racks where it was sold. You don’t need to be South African to find fault with hat hoodie. The same with Zara’s tee shirt: you don’t need to be Jewish to question the yellow star and its placement on the shirt, reminiscent of what Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. I wrote about a similar embellishment faux pas on a top in a post, “Service of What Were They Thinking?” in April, 2012.

Tiffany Hsu, in her New York Times article, “How to Prevent a Racist Hoodie,” listed these and more items such as shirts in which women were compared to dogs and other tops decorated with words like slut and slave.

With corporations selling to countries worldwide, I can see the necessity of knowledgeable people weeding out images and words that are benign in some places but not in others. But often the bad taste is glaring and obvious.

The major excuse manufacturers give for the blunders is lack of time to approve designs because so many are introduced at once and so quickly these days. One website introduces 4,500 a week wrote Hsu. An industry supply chain expert observed that it’s easy to overlook mistakes when you have two hours, not two months to approve a line. The hoodie and star, slut and slave should have been flagged in two seconds. Zara is using an algorithm to scan designs for offensive motifs. Good luck with that.

Another simple solution: stop introducing so many products that you don’t have time to vet them. H&M isn’t finding the model works that well for them. According to Hsu, it is currently “sitting on $4.3 billion in unsold goods…”

Let’s admit it: We can be too SENSITIVE these days. Some things are bound to slip by regardless of well-meaning measures. One example Hsu shared would have flown right over my head. She wrote: “Heineken pulled a series of commercials for light beer with the tagline ‘sometimes lighter is better,’ after an ad sparked criticism for being racist.” Before I finished reading to the end of the sentence I guessed the injured parties might have been people trying to lose weight. Wrong.

There was an image of a frog on a skirt that reminded some of a “cartoon character called Pepe, which was designated a hate symbol of the alt-right by the Anti-Defamation League,” wrote Hsu. I have seen neither cartoon but why would a Spanish artist who lives in London and is responsible for the frog in question design such a reptile for a skirt with hate and violence in mind? Wouldn’t he look for a more prominent object?

Waiting to pay at Trader Joe’s the other month someone left behind on a table just before checkout a carton of “Arrogant Bastard Ale.” I took a picture [below] because I thought it was such a stupid name for a drink, the result of a bad case of “aren’t we hip?” at the brewery. The marketers no doubt  hoped the carton filled with cold ones would stand out from the well known brands and appeal to would-be cool customers. I’ll take the Coors, Brooklyn Larger, Blue Moon or Rolling Rock.

How would you suggest companies determine the funny and hip from the nasty, offensive and cruel for their product designs and advertising campaigns? Have any offended you? Do you think some consumers can be too thin-skinned?

Service of Being Overly Sensitive

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

Support groups provide many benefits starting with comfort in knowing that others are going through what you are. For the same reason I felt enormous relief when I read Elizabeth Bernstein’s article, “Don’t Take This the Wrong Way, You May Be Highly Sensitive.” According to Bernstein, some 20 percent of the population is just like me and House Speaker John Boehner, who also weeps easily. It’s 50-50 men/women. I took the quiz linked to Bernstein’s article and if there were ever any doubts that I’m an HSP—highly sensitive person–the definitive results wipe them away.

I was surprised that this personality trait may have a genetic cause as most of my family members were/are steel-strong with upper lips so stiff as to be made of cement. I get teary at schmaltzy commercials, when I hear the National Anthem, see the American flag on holidays waving from the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie, NY, when a beloved animal dies on “All Creatures Great and Small,” and when I say goodbye to someone moving far away. “While they haven’t yet identified all the genes involved,” wrote Bernstein, “research suggests that the serotonin transporter gene—which is involved in the recycling of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that impacts emotional well-being—plays a role.” Sounds serious!

But there’s good news: “Sometimes called Sensory Processing Sensitivity, high sensitivity isn’t a disorder or a condition but rather an innate, permanent trait.”

And I loved this: “Mr. Hassard admits that sometimes being overly sensitive can cause problems such as ‘when you can’t hide how much arguing with idiots upsets you.’” Bernstein included Michael Hassard in the article because he also cries easily. She described him as “a former engineer for NASA, [who] hikes and camps, takes long motorcycle rides, mows his lawn, fixes leaky faucets, and loves football.”

The rest of the researchers’ “findings” about the trait cover their posteriors because they are extremely fuzzy. Wrote Bernstein, “They also believe that psychological factors—your temperament or personality—have an affect on your level of sensitivity, as does your physiology, specifically how you respond to stress.” Pardon this overused reaction: Duh.

A sidebar listed tips on how to get along with this type of person should one be your parent, child, sibling, cousin, friend or lover: Don’t be critical of an HSP; never say “calm down” or “why are you making such a big deal of this?” and “Recognize that…..feeling emotions of pain and joy more acutely can be a good thing.”

Do you know HSPs? Are you one?

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