Random musings on whatever subject strikes my fancy, published every other day.

Tag: Worst words

“You just want to sin”

In my dealings with the religious, especially those of my family who have remained within, there’s been an occasional grace-note of jealousy.  They rightly perceive the greater freedom afforded by a life that is no longer guided by arbitrary restrictions created to keep the priestly class in golden vestments and the rest of the people quiet. “You just want to sin”  is a formulation that “presumes facts not in evidence”, as the lawyers like to say on TV.

First, that word “sin.”  Doesn’t that come up a lot in conversations with the religious?  Doesn’t that come up pretty much nowhere else at all?  I was lucky; the Jewish tradition in which I grew up helpfully divided sin into two major categories.  One is between a person and God, and the other is between one person and another.   The first category includes what we can safely call all the “victimless crimes” of Jewish law: eating shellfish or cheeseburgers, driving your car on Saturday, wearing a wool/linen blend, and so on.  (By the way, wool/linen is the only fabric blend prohibited by the Bible, so the very popular tweaking of religious people about cotton/polyester etc. should stop now. KTHXBAI)   Yes, I became an atheist around the same time I shuffled off the coil of these arbitrary and rather silly restrictions, but it’s not like I needed to do either of those things in order to do the other.  Correlation is not causation.

The second category includes everything that I would classify as genuine morality; everything that Hillel, Jesus, Confucius, and hundreds of others intended when they formulated their versions of the Golden Rule.  Becoming an atheist has, if anything, made me even more careful about avoiding this kind of transgression.  We only have one life to live, and we only have the other people here with us to live it with.  No “world-to-come” promises eternal future reward to justify treating someone in the world right here right now like crap.  So if “sin” is a thing at all, it’s nothing more or less than treating someone poorly for no reason.

The notion that I became an atheist in order to sin is, on one hand, an insistence that there is indeed a God who indeed cares very much whether the fish I eat has fins and scales or is just delicious without them.  That’s the silly part.  Where the ludicrous becomes insult, shading to injury, is if the speaker is proposing that becoming an atheist somehow freed me to treat people badly.

Because what atheism really clarifies is: people, not gods, are the only fit objects of honor.

This is #7 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.



Verbing and Nouning

I work in a corporate environment that abuses English with the best of them.  I strive to keep my own language as straightforward and simple as possible, while still making myself understood among my colleagues.  It’s a sad truth that some people simply cannot digest an idea until it has been slathered with a certain amount of obfuscation.  Apparently, this works like ribs and barbecue sauce.

So it should come as no surprise that I am not a fan of the biz-speak habit of nouning verbs and verbing nouns.  Awkward nouns have been made out of perfectly serviceable verbs like, “ask”, “edit” and “spend”.  Meanwhile, “friend”, “checkpoint”, “status” and the execrable “action” are all now verbs.  The last would be delightful as a verb if its fourth letter were replaced with a space.  But that makes for a pronouncement far too direct for it to sound like one’s $68,000 MBA was money well-spent.

“What is the ask?”  grates on my ear.  It means, “what are you asking for” but it also starts the process of allowing the requester not to have to take responsibility for the request.  What “I ask for” is firmly linked back to me.  “The ask” just sits there, a product of spontaneous generation.  Perhaps someone will pick it up and do something about it.  Perhaps not.

C where that gets you…

today’s Dilbert

Notice which one of them used the C-Word.

All the Liars

Someone I work with has a collection of “Leadership Principles” on the wall of her office.  Usually, these bulleted batches of business bromides are a mixed bag at best, but this one has an entry that really stands out for me:

  • Get all the liars in one room
Ever been working on getting a project done and run into a deadly embrace of dependencies?  Alice can’t because she needs something from Bob.  Bob can’t because Carl hasn’t provided the test results, and of course poor Carl can’t because he’s stuck waiting for… you guessed it… Alice!

Now since they have all used the worst four-letter word in the English language, “can’t”, you know that they are all liars.  How do you know this?  Well, when you hear the word “can’t” you almost always are being lied to.  After all, you have not made a request that violates the laws of physics.  So what does “can’t” really mean?  I think, the majority of the time, “I can’t” means, “I don’t wanna.”  And “You can’t” means, “I don’t want you to.”

If you press someone (and they are willing to explain further), you find not an absolute inability but a decision made based on the imbalance between what you are asking for and how much they care about making you happy.  If a customer service rep on the phone starts using “can’t” you have gotten to the point where your need has exceeded the value of your business to that company.  Time to look for a new supplier.

When a bunch of co-workers are treating you like this, assuming the objective is something that really is a goal of your business, it’s time to get all of them at once where they have to look at one another.  Gleefully blaming another is not so easy when that other is sitting there and he looks up from his phone if his name is mentioned.  The object of this meeting is for everyone to commit to finishing something in the full knowledge that anyone else in that room will immediately blame them for the overall failure, should such an unthinkable thing occur.

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