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17 March 2015


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" I stand by my statement that it is an instance of othering, at least unconscious, and frequently the othering is deliberate and conscious though it be without conscious malice ("you are special"). I think magical thinking is part of it sometimes (you are different from me and that reassures me that I will never be in your situation) and desire not to be challenged is part of it sometimes (I could never) and part of it is sheer tribalism (you're nuts, lady)"

A succinct description of the problem with the phrase and why the recipient often feels like a zoo animal on display.

Melanie B

I think if I were to make it to daily Mass more than once in a blue moon I'd need to have an 8 am Mass available somewhere close by. Because 9 am, while easier to get to, would eat too much into the school day. I'd have to figure out how to get the kids to squeeze their school work in before lunch, in other words starting almost from scratch in developing new habits for the whole family. And I'd have to fight the temptation to stay and socialize after Mass. There might be other things I'd have to tweak too. Right now it's really hard for me to imagine making it work given my constraints and I'm generally bemused at how other mothers who seem to be in a situation that is analogous to mine manage to make it work. My shorthand for that has been, "I don't know how they do it."

I do follow the logic of your argument as to why the phrase is alienating, but I still find it springing to mind when confronted with something like the above example because, like most people, I tend to think and speak in stock phrases. I suspect the phrase is here to stay precisely because it is a shorthand for a much more complex statement, for a more complex thought process that I don't always feel up to engaging in. People like conversational shortcuts, even when they are imprecise. Otherwise why does the guy passing me on the street say, "How's it going?" when he has zero interest in stopping to have an actual conversation about how my day is going?

I guess I have always taken "I don't know how you do it" as the same kind of annoying conversational tick. It's the default filler to stand in for the mental work of having a conversation about "how you do it" especially when people are just trying to make small talk and don't really want to have an actual moment of connection. So that leads to another question: does every conversational exchange have to lead to connection? Is it ever ok to just say, I'm tired and I don't feel like trying to find something creative to toss into the conversational ring? Ok I probably shouldn't be leaving this comment now because I am feeling tired and a bit cranky. But this is why I find small talk draining, having to analyze everything I say to try to determine how it will come across. So often its easier to just sit back and let everyone else do the talking. When I open my mouth I stick my foot in it so why bother anyway? Who knows what other conversational gambits are in someone else's pet peeve file.

I suppose my take away is that we should try to avoid the expression in our own speech, but to give people who use it the benefit of the doubt rather than to be hurt or annoyed. To me, though, it goes in the same category as the ubiquitous, "You've got your hands full," and "Are they all yours" which in my experience have never been meant as anything but sympathetic but which always feel othering. But then I guess I'm trying to resign myself to the fact that simply by having five kids I am "other" to most people I meet outside of Catholic circles. And even in our parish we are the definite outlier when I can hear people talking about being "done" after two kids while I 'm standing in the church entrance.


I really love this post, and the last one. Thank you! And, particularly, as I'm heading into the dark days of Holy Week, it's an interesting lens as I think about Jesus. He is the ultimate Other. I would never have done it the way he did it. I don't know how or why he does what he does, although I constantly struggle to try.


Anne: Great point!

I'm loving your blog (Preventing Grace) since I recently was introduced to it, by the way. I keep accidentally typing two g's in the URL though :-)

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