The Difficulty of “No”

I’ve had cause recently to think about how it’s been an ongoing struggle for me to say “no” to people.  Strangely, it’s rarely been a problem when I’m dealing with someone I know well.  If a family member or friend asks me to do something I don’t want to do, I typically can be honest about not being interested.  This problem almost only crops up when dealing with strangers.

It used to be such a problem for me I would genuinely fear picking up the phone or being approached by someone on the street.  Making a stranger dislike me was some sort of anathema.

The thing is, they know this.  Sales, telemarketing, and in-person fundraising rely on the principle of people not wanting to be rude, not wanting to be disliked by the other person, not wanting to ruin the other person’s day with rejection or potential loss of income.  Their reliance on the niceness of strangers prompted Congress to create a do-not-call registry almost exclusively to protect the peace of mind (and pocketbooks) of nice, little old ladies.  A cottage industry exists that relies on the niceness, forgetfulness, and gullibility of elderly people.  How fucked up is that?

I used to feel so guilty about saying “no” to a salesperson, telemarketer, door-to-door salesman, fundraiser, or even a panhandler that I almost invariably said “yes”.  Want to sell me some disgusting, overpriced candy for your band fundraiser?  Sure, I’m only 13 years old and have no income aside from my allowance, but I can’t say “no”.  Enjoy.  You’re a 40-something who has no better option than selling useless crap door-to-door?  Well, actually since I’m a 15-year-old who still doesn’t have any income, I physically can’t give you any money for that useless crap, but I will let you relentlessly bully me until you finally give up and go the fuck away.  Accosting people on the street of New York to donate to your charity?  Be sure to hassle the 17-year-old (again with no income) because older people are mature enough to ignore you.

It’s funny, because I think a major reason why I started to stop feeling guilty about saying “no” or, conversely, ashamed for saying “yes” (that’s really how they get ya; set you up so *you* feel responsible for being weak) is because so many of these people targeted me when I was obviously too young to be able to buy their crap or donate to their charity.  It would be nice if someone could pass a law making it illegal to direct door-to-door selling, telemarketing, or chugging to anyone under the age of 18.  Although, I guess the outcome of that is a huge number of fleeced 18-year-olds who technically have money to spend/donate, but don’t already have years of experience telling these people to fuck off.

I think the real tipping point for me was this one telemarketing call I made the mistake of picking up my senior year in college.  It was a standard bullshit magazine sales pitch, and, thinking back on it, it’s a really stellar example of the type of shit salespeople will pull to pry your money out of your hands.  There was never, not once, a discussion over whether I wanted the product he was selling.  It was, “You want this, and you’re going to give me your credit card number.”  Not being familiar with that kind of aggressive sales tactic and being too afraid to say “no”, I complied.  I got stuck with a year of some really shitty magazine subscriptions, a few of which I never received, but, if anything, that was a blessing.

In the following years, I developed various tactics for avoiding these situations in the first place.  A major one was training myself not to answer the phone, which was tough when I was still living with roommates and had a landline.  While I never forked over my money on demand again, I did waste a lot of my time being polite to fundraisers and telemarketers.  Crossing the street became useful, except for when chuggers set up on both sides of the street, naturally.  Ignoring them became necessary.  On those rare occasions I was guilted or tricked into engaging with someone who wanted the content of my wallet, I finally learned to endure the extreme discomfort of “no”.  Over time, rejecting a product I didn’t want finally became a largely guilt-free experience; although much of it happened through anger over having to deal with it at all.  Nothing washes away guilt quite like righteous rage over some greedy asshole intruding on your day.

But I still occasionally have that one time per decade that I just can’t get the stomach to say “no”, which brings me to why this topic has fired me up today.

I was obliged to get a new gym membership recently.  There were very few gyms to choose from in the neighborhood where I live or the one where I work; so, I just went with one near work.  A few things irritated me when I joined, particularly the shady practice some gyms engage in of refusing to discuss their membership fees until *after* you decide to join.  (Seriously, any gym that does this is a pile of shit, full stop.)  But, like I mentioned, I had slim pickings (I already had experience with the other gym in the area and knew just how bad its sales tactics were), and ultimately the gym wasn’t insanely expensive, so I just rolled with it.

Now, for years, I avoided getting personal training.  For one, it has always been too expensive for me.  I started getting serious about fitness when I was still chronically underemployed and making all of $10/hour, so personal training at six-eight times my hourly wage was completely out of the question (even now, at three-four times my wage; it’s still out of the question).  For two, I prefer to do things my own way on my own terms. I actually kind of hate being instructed.  I prefer to read a book or figure things out on my own.  For three, I saw at my old gyms what personal trainers had their clients do, and it was obviously bullshit.  For four (and this gets into how I’ve gotten smarter about avoiding arm-twisting sales tactics), I always figured that saying “yes” to personal training once would turn you into a mark for the gym.  Say “yes” once, and they’re going to treat you like you can never say “no” again.  Running the gauntlet of saying “no” to personal training is difficult enough when you first sign up, but let them smell blood in the water?  You might as well just sign your bank account over to them.

So, this time, I ran the gauntlet of saying “no” to training, and it was uncomfortable as per usual.  The same bullshit claims of efficacy with no proof, the same insistence that you have to do it or you’re going to be fat forever, the multiple occasions of having to say “no” firmly and they refuse to listen.  Things are wrapping up, and then the salesperson offers, seemingly offhand as an afterthought, that I should try the “free” personal training they offer.  Being momentarily stupid (I’ve always said “no” to the “free” training out of my now-confirmed fear that it’s a scam), I said “yes”.  Fuck me.

When the personal trainer contacts me for my “free” training, she mentions that she’s really excited to work with me and that I should start thinking about my goals.  Um, what?  This is supposed to be a free trial thing, right?  Ha!  No.

That was my first missed clue that I should have canceled.

At the appointment, she again reasserts her conviction that I am definitely, without a doubt, interested in forking over 20 percent of my monthly income for training.  We go through a standard training session, nothing I’m not familiar with and also with compound weight lifting, which I don’t like to do.  And again:  “You are giving us money; I’m not giving you the opportunity to say no.”  Where have I heard this before?  This being in person made it even more impossible for me to say “no”.  At least with that horrible telemarketer a decade ago, I could have just hung up on him (and the thought did occur to me at the time).

This is really amazing sales, you have to admit it.  It takes some real brass balls to railroad someone into buying a luxury product that has no real world use.  This is why I’m not in sales.

In the ensuing three sessions, it became even more clear to me that saying “no” to this woman was going to be very difficult.  She was very perky and nice, and being “mean” to a perky and nice person does feel a bit like kicking a puppy, but, given that I can’t afford the training and, even if I could, I easily have dozens of things I’d rather spend that money on, I resolved myself, at the very least, not to buy more training.  I also grew increasingly uneasy about what I was sure would be an equally obnoxious attempt at railroading me into spending another $500 on something I don’t want.

But the gym supposedly solved the problem by firing that trainer with no advance warning to me.  I still had three sessions remaining, but letting that money go to waste so I don’t have to deal with those people again sounded like a good deal.  I suspected that any other trainer would attempt the same kind of ballsy “you are buying more training; I’m not asking you if you want more” sales tactics and/or would rely on guilt-tripping me for eventually getting them fired.  I’m positive my old trainer was fired for not meeting sales quotas, and she specifically mentioned in her closing salvo that she wanted to see me through my last three sessions, but that the gym wanted to give me a chance to “fall in love” with a new trainer.

*cough* bullshit *cough*

Little did I know, however, the lengths to which the gym would pursue me to get me to schedule my last sessions (getting me in hoc to a new trainer and having me use my sessions so they can sell me more).  I received a call from the trainer and from the salesperson who had sold me the “free” training. Okay, fine.  Then, on Monday, the salesperson hunted me down as I was working out to demand that I schedule a new appointment.  It wasn’t even just:  “do you want to?”  It was flat-out bullying.  You are doing this.  You are doing this tomorrow.  Several “nos” and “I’m busys” later (and being busy isn’t enough for them, you are obligated to do what they say, apparently), she instructed me to schedule with her when I leave for the day.  Thankfully, she left before I did.

Again, amazing sales tactics.  At some level, you have to admire people who won’t take “no” for an answer just in terms of their sheer brazenness, their greed, their determination.  Another sticking point for me is, by rights, paying $80/hour for something that’s worth maybe a quarter of that cost should grant me some serious ass kissing.  You don’t treat the customers of luxury goods this way unless you’re particularly shady or particularly stupid.  When shelling out way too much money for something, I expect to be treated as something other than a cross between a walking, talking wallet and a doormat.  Unfortunately for them, though, the more I’m treated this way, the more pissed off I get.  As I’ve established, getting pissed off washes away my guilt and my concerns with politeness.

Soul Fitness, you’re on notice.

 

Anthro What?

As time has gone on, I’ve gotten more and more, I don’t know if irritated is the right word, but I’ll use it here: irritated by the anthropocentrism of sci-fi.  It makes sense in the larger scheme of things.  Humans are pretty egotistical, and we don’t have any experience with lifeforms from other planets (nor do I think we ever will).  So, of course our sci-fi either writes about species that are somehow exactly like us, despite their story taking place in a galaxy far, far away, or it tells a story about how humans will always save the day.

It’s hard to think of a major sci-fi franchise that isn’t anthropocentric.  The Alien franchise might come the closest since the xenomorph almost universally kicks our asses, and there’s no suggestion that humans are uniquely suited to kill the xenomorph or to save the galaxy from it.  Although Prometheus does insert a ton of anthropocentrism into the franchise, with its ridiculous human-origin story.

sacrificial_engineer_prometheus1

Star Trek is the worst offender in anthropocentrism in my opinion, especially under Roddenberry’s reign.  Watch the original series sometime and note how racist it is.  The ultimate compliment is to call someone “human”.  Kirk does it all the time to Spock, and Spock pretends to be offended.  The supposedly moving eulogy in Wrath of Khan suggests that Spock’s greatest achievement was to be the most “human” man Kirk has ever known (at least he wasn’t the most scrutable man he’s ever known).  McCoy, additionally, is extremely nativist in his regard toward aliens, especially Vulcans.  Then there’s the ridiculousness of aliens in Star Trek being named after human mythology.

orion-slave-girl-susan-oliver

locutus

While the later series handle aliens a little better, they still suffer from the idea that humans are the pinnacle of existence.  Q is fascinated with humans because he thinks we’ll eventually become like the Q Continuum one day.  The Borg are obsessed with assimilating us because we’re just that special.  They kidnap one individual human (even though they’re not supposed to give a rat’s ass about individuals) to create some sort of bridge between Borg and humanity and take the trouble to go back in time to enslave humanity.  The fact that the Borg is just as (or more) interested in “technological distinctiveness”, which Earth in the mid-21st century lacked, was apparently lost on First Contact writers.  Hell, the Borg took one look at humanity in Q Who and high-tailed it to the Alpha Quadrant to assimilate us.  You’d think the Borg would take the long view in such matters.

The anthropocentrism in Star Wars Episodes IV-VI is so obvious, I’m not even going to bother with this one.

Delenn04

Babylon 5 is similarly anthropocentric.  Even though humans almost get our asses handed to us by a technologically superior and more disciplined species, we were ultimately saved at the last minute by their discovery that we had somehow been absorbing their reincarnated souls.  That connection was so super special, one of their most important diplomats, a woman directly descended from their most significant political and religious leader and a member of their political council, turned herself into a human to bridge the gap.  The show then posits humans as uniquely suited to unite the galaxy in galactic war against a nearly unstoppable foe.  Much of what supposedly makes us so well suited to this task is our diversity, our shared history of overcoming our own differences to achieve a shared task.

sheridan

liara

Which brings me to Mass Effect, which, if it isn’t informed by Babylon 5, I’ll eat my hat.  Again, we have an ancient galactic threat that’s apparently unstoppable.  Again, we have humans presented as being uniquely suited to confront that threat, largely by uniting aliens with competing agenda, and, again, we’re uniquely suited to this task due to our unique diversity.  (Apparently turians, asari, volus, elcor, hanar, drell, krogan, and salarians are all homogenous cultures.)

Mass Effect is/was one of the best sic-fi franchises out there as far as I’m concerned, so the fact that even it can’t get away from anthropocentrism is probably why I got started thinking about it in the first place.  I’d be inclined to create something myself, but I don’t know if I have nearly the kind of creativity called for for such a project.

Oh well.

There’s Got to be a Better Way

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/upshot/the-housing-market-is-still-holding-back-the-economy-heres-why.html?_r=0

 

It’s funny that this is now my second post on a NYT article since I can’t stand that newspaper (something that also deserves its own post), but there it is.

I stumbled upon this article thanks to Twitter, and I was less than impressed.  It posits that our non-existent recovery is due to a stagnant housing market, particularly a stagnant market in single-family homes.

Investment in residential property remains a smaller share of the overall economy than at any time since World War II, contributing less to growth than it did even in previous steep downturns in the early 1980s, when mortgage rates hit 20 percent, or the early 1990s, when hundreds of mortgage lenders failed.

Do we even need more housing?  Obviously we do in key areas, the article cites San Francisco and New York, two cities that are tragically underserved in real estate development; cities in general aren’t building nearly enough.  But does this country have a housing shortage in real numbers?  Last I heard, there were tons of empty houses; many of which are sitting empty thanks to attempts by banks to limit available supply, or just plain laziness on the part of banks.  (This is one of those times I’m not really sure whether to chalk this up to lazy or stupid or evil or some combination of the three.)

We have 14.2 million empty homes according to this website.  As with world hunger, this may be more an issue of getting the housing to people who need it (empty homes in the wastelands of Las Vegas, Phoenix, and suburban Florida are useless to those Americans who live someplace useful), but we currently have a total surplus of housing.  How does it make sense to kickstart our economy by building more homes where they’re not needed?  In most areas where there are legitimate housing shortages, political and geographical obstacles are the reasons for those shortages, not a lack of investment.

It may yet prove to be temporary, but for now at least, millions more people are doubling up with roommates, living at home with parents and otherwise finding ways to avoid doing the one thing that would get the housing economy back to normal: buying a home.

Of all the things that are wrong with our economy, that would be the last of them.  We’ve long needed more thrift, not less, at least on a consumer level, and we desperately need consumers to cut down on their energy consumption.  The American “dream” of citing a four-person family in a 5,000-square-foot McMansion is part of the problem.  Our overabundance of huge homes is likely a reason why no one is buying.  Starter homes are what fiscally healthy Americans can afford these days, but starter homes are nowhere to be found, except, perhaps, in cities, where prices overall are beyond reach.  Greater investment in condos, co-ops, and townhomes would be a great alternative (I recently bought a townhome, just about the only affordable non-condo option in my area); oh, but wait:

It appears that many people who once set their sights on buying a stand-alone house are now deciding that renting an apartment is a better option. While renting may make plenty of sense for cash-short individuals or downsizing retirees, the boom in apartment construction is doing less to support the overall economy than if it were happening with single-family homes.

Single-family living in the United States is ruinous to our health, our energy policy, our economy, and our environment.  An expansion of suburbia is the last thing this country or the planet needs.  If our economy is dependent on wasteful spending and building that is killing our planet and sending us barreling toward a massive energy crisis, then maybe we’re better off with a stagnant economy.  Forget paying a mortgage, how are people who are stuck in the suburbs supposed to get to work when gas reaches $10/gallon?

Here’s a wild idea:  Spur economic investment by investing in clean energy, mass transit, and education.  Given that we’ve had a jobless recovery with the stock market and corporate profits recovering without any of that trickling down to regular people, investing in regular people is what’s in order, not continuing to prop up an unsustainable system.

Continuing on this article by io9:  10 Questions From Sci-Fi That We’re Glad Were Never Answered, I’ll add two I *wish* were never answered:

The motivations of the Reapers

The source of Jedi power over the Force

Seriously, if you don’t have a good explanation, then don’t explain it.

And even still I could come up with numerous better motivations for the Reapers than what we got.  Garbage writing.  (Yes, I’m still bitter.)

Random Photo Deletions

For some reason spammers have been attacking specific photos on this blog. I don’t know what their reasoning is since the comments don’t get approved, ever, but there will be the occasional random photo deletion whenever they set in on one.  I could have sworn WordPress used to have the ability to turn off comments on specific posts and media, but, if that functionality exists, I can’t seem to figure it out (anymore)

Give a Little, Get a Little

pie2

This article brought to mind the principle of political compromise and how compromise simply doesn’t happen any more in this country.  I’m not even going to harp on the lack of compromise/bipartisanship in our broken legislature today.  (One thing both parties can agree on is fucking over regular people for the benefit of the finance sector.)  No, I’m more talking about the idea that, in politics, you should be expected to give a little to get a little, and that goes double when you expect the law to be rewritten almost exclusively for your benefit.

To summarize the article:  Private purveyors of student loans (vs. the government which is responsible for the vast majority of student loans) are  calling loans the second the loan’s co-signer (frequently the borrower’s parent) dies.  It doesn’t matter if the loan has been paid on time for years.  Once the lender has determined the co-signer has died (and you can bet they have data miners scouring the web for this information, because that’s a great use of money), the lender pulls the loan, and when the loan can’t be repaid in full, it goes into default.  Sometimes the borrower isn’t even informed that the loan has been pulled until after it goes into default.  You gotta love this little nugget:

The bureau said that after a co-signer’s death or bankruptcy, some borrowers are placed in default without ever receiving a demand for repayment. The agency did not accuse loan companies of doing anything illegal.

Not informing the borrower of the loan being called is not illegal.

Let’s consider that, nine years ago, the finance industry got the American public handed to it on a silver platter.  This act made it extremely difficult to discharge debt in bankruptcy.

You would think that if the finance industry were to be given carte blanche to bend debtors over, someone in Congress or the Senate might have hammered out a few new regulations for finance companies.  Hell, I’ll personally settle for making it illegal for those bastards to harass customers with unwanted credit card offers.  (How much those offers piss me off warrants a separate post.)  But, no.  No such compromise was in the works nine years ago, even as anyone who wasn’t stupid could see how this country was barreling toward an economic crash caused largely by bad debt.  We wouldn’t get any lender-side regulations of consumer debt for another four years.

Which brings me back to what really angers me about this new predatory behavior on the part of lenders.  Student loans are treated differently from standard debt.  They cannot, under any circumstances, be discharged in bankruptcy.  And that makes sense to a great degree.  Lenders are taking a big chance on students.  There’s no guarantee that an individual student will complete their degree and get a degree that will give them a significant leg up in their career.  Unlike many/most other loans, there’s nothing to repossess or foreclose on if the student defaults, and, by definition, students are starting out without any real assets.  Private student loans, in particular, are going to students who can’t get federal student loans, which makes them the riskiest prospects.

That gets to the principle of giving a little to get a little (or a lot, depending on how much power you have).  Student debt can’t be discharged in bankruptcy as a means to keep students from making dumb choices (theoretically) and to protect lenders.  But the lenders should be required to give something back for that protection.  They should be required not to cause borrowers to go into default just because they can.  They should be required not to lend more than the debtor could ever hope to repay.  They should be required to verify that the loan is going to something worthwhile.  Banks won’t offer a mortgage on a burned out husk of a “home”, why should they be permitted to offer a student loan for a “degree” from the University of Phoenix?  (Personally, I think the real solution is to disallow private students loans, period, but I’m a radical like that.)

We don’t see that, because, in our political system, those in power aren’t willing to give anything back.  They will not compromise, they will not regulate themselves, they will not throw a bone to those who have less power than they.  And, as far as I’m concerned that makes our system broken beyond repair.

 

The Topic of the Day: Bullshit

Or, rather, how not to put up with it.

 

When I think about what really gets my goat in the short term, it’s putting up with crap from other people or entities, particularly putting up with crap in situations where I’m not being remotely rewarded for it.  It’s one thing to tolerate bullshit at work, since presumably you’re getting paid for the privilege, but what about putting up with bullshit from people who are trying to sell you something?  Or who already have your business and think they can take you for granted?

 

Case in point:  I really loathe upselling.  I’ll go into a business and buy whatever.  Then, when I go to pay, the low-wage worker at the counter tries to sell me more crap or different crap or an extended warrantee or a store credit card.  At a number of these companies, the low-wage worker is also being evaluated on his/her effectiveness in upselling.  So I’m battling conflicting feelings of annoyance at the inconvenience of having products shoved down my throat, an obstinate refusal to hand over any more of my money, and a vague sense of guilt for making the worker’s life harder.  Meanwhile, as far as I’m concerned, in this economy that business should simply be grateful that I walked in the door.

 

Presumably some bean counter has crunched the numbers and figured out that x percentage of customers who cave in the face of upselling trumps x percentage of customers who fucking hate it, but it’s still a stellar example of why I go out of my way to avoid these kinds of encounters at all.  I think I’m at a point in my life where self-care trumps most other considerations.  I need to not respond to people who insult me.  I need to push back against the idea that I owe something to other people, even or especially when the other person has never done anything for me.

How to Not Make Friends and Influence People

fri_wand

Related to the last post, I was thinking just today about a social faux pas I committed some 17 years ago (almost).  (See, I told you I obsess over stupid crap.)  One day, in a writing class in college, my seatmate and I were supposed to discuss… well, I don’t remember what anymore.  It may have been something as inane as “get to know your neighbor”, which was pointless since the class hardly had any collaborative opportunities.  I was holding my day planner in my hand and I accidentally tapped it on my classmate’s knee.  He recoiled like I hit him with a hot poker.  I apologized immediately, but he still acted repulsed.

 

Normally, per my new strategy, I would have just put this memory out of mind, but it got me thinking about how some people just Do. Not. Like. You.  They’ll never like you.  They’re constitutionally incapable of liking you regardless of how you behave.  They’ll treat a minor faux pas as though you just murdered their favorite pet.  I can’t claim that I always react to social awkwardness in the best possible way, but, assuming I don’t think the other person is The Worst Person in the World, I’ll almost always seek to disarm a socially charged situation.  But then I also know how it feels, and I want to be liked.

 

As a somewhat more experienced adult, I’ve finally started to grasp the fact that there are people out there who simply can’t be pleased (at least by me), and, man, do I wish I’d learned that lesson 17 years ago.  Probably most of my regrets stem from caring too much about what other people think of me, particularly every time I failed to advocate for my own self-interest.  Maybe I’ll convince myself that those things “didn’t happen”.

Letting Go

judas

I’ve been working on a new tactic lately to stop obsessing over mistakes I’ve made in the past.  These mistakes can be as profound as significant failures to minor awkward moments that a normal person would have forgotten about by now.  My new tactic when I find myself dwelling on something ridiculous or profound is to tell myself it never happened.

 

Of course, it did happen, and, particularly when it was a major mistake, it’s something I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life, but something about this exercise seems to work.  It definitely shuts that self-destructive thought process down.  Not being able to live down past mistakes has been linked to depression.  Depressed people can’t stop obsessing over past mistakes, and there’s something about depression itself that causes them to relive those mistakes over and over; depression somehow breaks down the mental wall that helps healthy people leave their mistakes in the past.

 

I’d like to think that this new exercise will only have positive results, but I guess it remains to be seen.

Believe it or not, I am usually right

“Requested” takes a direct object?  I.e.  “I requested them to join me for dinner”?  According to the dictionary, that is appropriate usage, but damn if that doesn’t *sound* wrong.  To me, it would make more sense as “I requested that they join me for dinner”, or some variation thereof.

 

The more I learn by correcting grammar at work.