Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"It's Not Personal" = Hogwash

Wow, I haven’t blogged in forever. I’m sorry, folks- not that I think any of you actually missed me, but y’know. Things in my life kept kind of hitting the fan, and I had higher priorities, like not being homeless, like keeping my dog safe, like not missing my car payment(s), moving across the country…


I can kind of breathe again,  though, so I figured I’d go on a little rant that’s been sitting in my chest.

I love You’ve Got Mail. I know I should see the original, The Shop Around the Corner (Jimmy Stewart! Also, the first movie is actually based on a play, and there's also a musical starring Judy F***ing Garland!,) but if you put aside the out-datedness of AOL (including suspending your disbelief at the movie’s very title…), it’s just perfect*. One  of the scenes that sticks out the most for me, that hit home like a certain Norse god’s/ comic character’s hammer, was one where Meg Ryan’s character is talking about how her shop was closed. She bashes the, “It’s not personal, it’s business,” excuse with,

“All that means is it wasn’t personal to you. Well, it was personal to me.”

I feel like that  so much in life. I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I do, I take things personal probably more frequently than I should. But at the same time, she has a point. “It’s not personal,” is a way that people who are knowingly hurting someone make themselves feel better. And it’s sometimes way obvious, too, that the person is trying to excuse whatever incorrigible behavior they’ve just exhibited.

I mean, I’m sure the  woman that kicked me out of her apartment last summer thought it “wasn’t personal” because her excuse was her dog allergy. But it most certainly was personal to me and my dog. We were almost homeless, more than once, because of her. Of course I’m going to take it personal- I thought she was my friend, and she was willing to throw me and River out on the street (after getting over a grand out of me, ‘natch). I don’t care if she said it “[had] nothing to do with [me]” and that it was “[her] allergies that [were] the problem.” It had EVERYTHING to do with me, I was being kicked out.

And I find it quite hard to believe the customer at the clothing store I work  at didn’t mean it to be personal when she said, somewhat hostilely, “You don’t look big enough to shop here, how come  you work  here?” The way her eyes were boring into me as she glared, like she was hoping I would just keel over and die, there’s no way she hadn’t intended to insult me. Yet she prefaced it with, “Now, don’t take  this personal, but…” So of course I took it personal. The fat shaming I’ve experienced aside (because the “I don’t fit in/ will never be attractive in any context” button was certainly pushed), why should my body type really matter if I’m good at picking out cute  pieces for the women that walk into my store? I mean sure, I’ve had skinny friends not “get it” and shove stuff that I couldn’t even get over The Girls into my hands before, but you’d think the fact that I was working there would be proof I wasn’t going to do that. I felt even uglier and smaller (in the metaphysical sense) when she said that to me- yes, I took it personal.

(Sidenote: I also have gals ask me when my baby is due. So some people think I'm too skinny to work at my store, others think I'm preggars. I can't win. Seriously.)

I take it personal when customers at either store start complaining (read: screaming) about something I have no control over, like the cost of something, or a particular policy. Especially when they keep using the word "you" when expressing their anger. I don't care how profusely you apologize after a tirade (and honestly, it's usually half-assed, at best) and tell me it's "not [me], [you're] just frustrated," the damage has been done. You have attacked me by taking that frustration out on me. That shit's personal. 

I take it personal when a really flaky person flakes out again. I should know it’s their behavior, their pattern, but I still feel hurt. They had promised they’d go to the thing, do the whatever with me, and bailed. Friends don’t do that. Or at least, they shouldn't. And if a "friend" keeps flaking on me, I'm going to start thinking they don't actually care about me. Because if they did, they should think I'm worth following through for. 

“It’s not personal,” is a lot like  the, “It’s not you, it’s me,” line,  which is a lot like the, “You’re great, but I’m just not attracted to you,” line speech. I don’t know how a man can tell me all of the great things about me while rejecting me, then expect me not to take it personal (and also think there’s something else he’s not telling me,  some criteria  I don’t meet or aspect of me that makes me not good  enough for them). Of course I’m taking it  personal, asshole, you’re telling me you don’t want me! Me, as in the person, me. The person right in front  of you (that’s probably crying). You’re telling me you don’t see yourself ever being attracted to me.**

When someone is saying something they did or said wasn’t personal, it’s because they know someone has been hurt. They have victimized that other person, and are trying to cover their tracks. And in the case that they say it wasn’t personal in earnest, they’re speaking from a place of privilege, even if somewhat weird or theoretical. Because if A has hurt B, A is in a position of power. This is especially evident with the people that use the little disclaimer, the, “Now don’t take  this personal, but…”- it’s like saying, “I don’t mean to be racist, but…” You say  it because you know it’s hurtful, that the person will take  it personally, because it ends up being a personal attack or having a  direct (negative) impact.

When you come back and proclaim  something wasn’t personal, that, say, you were looking out for yourself, all you’re doing is saying you didn’t take the way your actions would affect the now hurt party into consideration. You were thinking about you, not how your decisions and/or actions would affect anyone else. 

“All that means is it wasn’t personal to you. Well, it was personal to me.”

I think a lot of the problems with privilege, and most especially why it's often so hard to get past, stem from how it blinds people from the experiences of others. It makes people less personable, problems less tangible, and (need for) solutions less comprehensible. This last part is a big reason why people do things like vote/speak out against policies that won’t affect them (or would in very minor ways) that would simultaneously be of a great benefit to others. The “why should I care?” method of political preference.

The big example I gave my students when I was teaching Poli Sci courses was education funding. People over the age of 50 are leaps and bounds more likely to support cuts in the education budget. Why? Because they (usually) have no kids in public school. So why should their money go into education? They don’t have anyone in the school system. They fail to consider that  there are hundreds, thousands, etc. of people affected by those cuts in negative ways.***

I can imagine a lot of old timers saying, “Don’t take  it personal, I just would rather see my money go into Suchandsucha Program,” if the parent of a ten-year-old called them on cutting education. Or, better yet, “It’s not personal, it’s politics."

People take  taxes as a personal affront from the government. They think it's personally invasive for Uncle Sam to have his hands on their  wallets. So it's a personal decision to be for or against a particular tax policy. But when programs are cut, people are affected. And those people likely aren't going to feel better knowing "it wasn't personal." And those same people that get personally offended if they have a tax hike are the same ones that would tell someone whining about a program being cut that "it wasn't personal." 

See where I'm going with this?

People use the "it's not personal" line when it (in their eyes) absolves them from guilt. But they would also be the first to call "foul" when something impacts them. It kind of pegs a person as a hypocrite in my eyes. 

And it's an easy lie we tell ourselves to keep real issues in the abstract. To distance ourselves. Maybe it's a way to cope with the harshness and fucked-up-ness of the world. But the very fact that we can say that is something we need to think about. Because it says we have the power and privilege to do so. Not everyone does. And I think we would do well to consider this more often. That what we're doing DOES have an impact. Not everyone has the resources to defend themselves or bounce back. Not everyone has the strength to. 

I guess one big point I want to make here is that saying something isn't "personal" is basically admitting you're being selfish or narcissistic. That what happens to someone else doesn't matter to you, or at least not enough for you to act otherwise. And you're taking agency from someone else in the process by implying they shouldn't feel the way they do. But feelings aren't objective- there's no "should" or "shouldn't" when it comes to feelings. Not really. Feelings just happen, just are. If there really was a "should" to feelings, I wouldn't have been single for so long, wouldn't have been hurt so many times by so many people in so many ways. Because they wouldn't have done it, or it wouldn't have mattered. But they did, it did. Feelings are by definition a personal thing, and if you're generating feelings in someone, it's personal. And no one has the right to dictate someone else's feelings. That's attempting an invasive sort of dominance over a person's very personhood. A lot of things define us as people, but our range of feelings and emotions is, I'd argue (yes, in a way that sounds a lot like a form of speciesism), one of the things that sets us apart as human  beings from the rest of the biological mass. Granted, other species experience emotion, too, but our range is unique.

I'm going summarize an idea from my favorite movie and book, The Last Unicorn. In the story, the Unicorn gets turned into a mortal human being, and the scene where she first realizes it is heartbreaking- she can feel the body dying and rotting, something she has never felt before and feels differently than a person born mortal. In the end, she's turned back into an immortal unicorn and moves on. And she becomes particularly unique and beautiful, even for a unicorn after this experience, not because she regains her immortality, but because of the mortal  traits she carries with her after having been human. Regret and a deeper kind of sorrow and loss than any unicorn ever had and ever will feel. And she's thankful for it, in the end. The contrast between the two feelings, her fear of mortality and then her loss when she's immortal again, send an important message about people. That we are precious, not unicorns. That we are wondrous and should take care of one another. That we experience the world in ways no other creature does or even can.

And so to stop myself before I get too tangential, that range of emotion is something we shouldn't try to repress in ourselves or suppress in others. Telling someone that something we did "wasn't personal" is pushing against their very humanity. And it shouldn't be done.

But all that is just my personal opinion.

*Also, fun fact, its website is still active, in all of its Flashplayer glory. You’re welcome.

**I should come clean and say, however, I'm in a pretty serious relationship with a man  that loves me for my flaws, not in spite of them, so whatever all those other guys didn't see in me, or harped on, he doesn't care, or sees past them, or doesn't even see them as flaws, or however else you want to put it. 

***This isn’t even touching on the fact that those children whose educations they refuse to fund shall likely be taking care of them when they’re back in diapers. 


  1. I missed you! :)

    Also, you should totally watch The Shop Around the Corner and In the Good Old Summertime. The first one is my favorite Christmas movie. Is it weird that I'm the exact opposite of you and have never seen You've Got Mail in its entirety?

  2. That's rough, yo. I'm sorry to hear about all of that messed-up biz going on in your life. I'll pray for ya. If you ever need someone to talk to, I'm game. (Best way to message me is actually my Fanfiction.net account - bdawgwarfear - I'm not often on my email nor this site)