I Don’t Care What You Say

Nothing should be more effective in stopping an argument than these words:

I don’t care what you say…

There are other variations — “no matter what you say”, “you can’t tell me”, “I know for a fact”.

STOP!

These are STOP signs in any conversation. The person who injects these phrases is telling you that any further discussion is pointless.

So the proper reaction is to just end the conversation. Walk away. Move on to something else.

Yet — in real life and certainly in internet life — that’s not what happens, usually. Instead, for no apparent reason, these words increase the volume or accelerate the typing. When someone says “I don’t care”, we take that as a challenge that must be answered, swiftly, with even more words, facts, opinions, sound bytes.

How often have you turned right back into the argument, determined to get in the last word and end it on your terms, not theirs?

Why? They’ve let it be known quite clearly that they aren’t open to any further evidence or reasoning or authoritative findings. Yet you persist.

Take them at their word. They don’t care. It doesn’t matter.

Move on.


Oh, right — before YOU inject this into your speech, STOP and think.

Can We Talk?

No, I don’t mean “Do you have some time to talk?” I mean, really — are we able to have a conversation?

In an interesting column, Pamela Druckerman describes her observation, and her learnings, of cultural differences in conducting conversations in the French, the British and the American styles. The French style, she writes, is to seek out ways to prove someone wrong or skewer them “with a biting remark.” Their tendency, developed over hundreds of years’ experience, is to reward “clever, erudite and often caustic wit, aimed at making rivals look ridiculous.”

Continue reading

Who Said What? NYTimes Editors Take A Day Off

In the First Draft post for the New York Times today:

As Mr. Blum introduced Mr. Paul, he spoke about casting his first vote in Congress against John A. Boehner for speaker.

“I don’t report to John Boehner. I report to all of you wonderful people,” the senator told a crowd that had gathered in a sports bar to see him.

The room erupted in applause. Mr. Paul stood there looking on.

In this excerpt, there are two people named as “actors” — Mr. Blum (a representative) and Mr. Paul (a senator).

The first sentence uses the pronouns “he” and “his” — but does that refer to Mr. Blum or Mr. Paul? Grammatically, it should refer to Mr. Blum, who is the actor (the subject) of the opening phrase “Mr. Blum introduced…”. This is also reasonable since Mr. Blum is a representative and only representatives vote for (or against) the candidate for speaker.

But the next sentence attributes the quote to “the senator” — that would be Mr. Paul, not Mr. Blum. This is reinforced by the reference to the crowd that had gathered to see “him” — Mr. Paul is a well-known public figure, Mr. Blum is not. But if the senator is making the statement, what do we make of the quote “I don’t report to Mr. Boehner”? No senator does, since Mr. Boehner is speaker of the House and has no leadership role over senators. For this statement to have meaning, it should have been made by a House member — by Mr. Blum.

The final sentence, however, says “Mr. Paul stood there looking on.” This makes it sound like he was a spectator to all of this, not an actor. Was it Mr. Paul (“the senator”) who said the words that caused the room to “erupt”? Or was Mr. Blum speaking, relegating Mr. Paul to the role of a spectator who “stood there looking on”?

Where is the editor? Couldn’t this confusing misuse of words and pronouns have been detected on first read and reconstructed for clarity?

Whenever two people are named as actors in a piece of writing, the writer must use pronouns with great care. To cast pronouns about as they are in this real-life example leads to a jumble of words and messages that leaves the reader with more questions than answers.

I’ll grant that this section is “First Draft”, and perhaps that signals the use of “raw thoughts” published without the benefit of an editor or a grammarian. But this is the New York Times, not some words scrawled into a reporter’s notebook.