Thursday, July 10, 2014

Gaucherie

One of my standout characteristics is a certain (un?)appealing social gaucherie. I may not have risen to the height of being pointed out by parents with the commentary, "Do exactly the opposite of what he does and you cannot go wrong", but that is about the only height that I have not conquered in this area.

Rest assured that I am not about to talk about how my dress puts to shame a vagabond greeting the morning from the gutter; or about how that 'Srrrr' noise heralds that fact that I have not merely put the cup of tea to my lips without imbibing the fluid; or the fact that I think of the forks and knives as being put in place by the restaurant merely to provide obstacles to resting my elbows on the table and getting to work with my hands, and finishing off by licking my fingers clean; or...well, you get the picture. Oh! No! No! No! I do not mean that I do not DO all these things. I only mean that I do not intend talking about them now.

Gaucherie is apparently 'unsophisticated', 'awkward' or 'tactless'. To me, it has always meant that the way I do things is not the accepted way of doing things. I mean, once upon a time, it was quite all right to eat with your hands and lick them clean right up to the elbows. No-one would have considered it any of those three words above. Then!

Of all the ways in which I deviate from 'accepted' behavior, I think that the most injurious to my reputation is the fact that I never really learnt the right way to give praise OR negative criticism. The problem is, as usual, because I failed to understand that some lessons are just meant to be preached but never practiced. So, I took 'Reprimand in private; Praise in public' too literally.

What? You say that THAT is correct? That the chap who tells you in the middle of all your guests that your roti is underdone, follows you to the kitchen, gets his mouth as close to your ear-wax as he can, and whispers in dulcet tones, "The aloo-mutter was lip-smackingly good" is NOT your favorite guest? Really? As I have had occasion to mention before in this blog, who is the guy for whom you will take the most pains the next time - the guy who praised your food in public OR the one who criticized? (Ah! Do not tell me that the latter guy will never get an invitation again. You do not keep and discard people only on the basis of how they act as guests.)

In any case, it is not ONLY the cook's reaction that determines the social respect. All those admiring guests around will be only too impressed with the guy's discerning tongue. "He is a man who knows his food", they probably say, as they wend their way home. Or "A man who knows his music" or "A man who knows his movies" or whatever he has been critical about. And the chap who praised your aloo-mutter in public and told you in the kitchen that the roti was underdone? Is he the acknowledged guru of cooking? Fat chance.

So, one lesson wrongly learnt and I lost my chance of social respect. Of course, I compounded the error further by the WAY in which I gave praise and negative criticism, as well.

"Wow! That was a wonderful aloo-mutter." is the way I used to communicate my praise. Quite the wrong thing to do. Even the hostess only simpers and takes it for her due and you for a fan. If you want social respect, the last thing you need is to be counted a fan. If you HAVE to give praise in public, the better way to put it would be, "Hmm! All things considered, the aloo and..hmm...the mutter too were well-cooked. The sauteing too was, perhaps, quite acceptable. Overall, a very decent aloo-mutter." There you go, you are the discerning critic. In short, it does not do to be too enthusiastic when you hand out praise.

Comes to criticism, I again make a mistake. "Maybe if you had cooked the roti a couple of seconds more...just a teeny bit more...it would have been perfect. At least, so it seemed to me." is the way I tend to put it, if I have to be critical in public. Quite wimpy and not at all the picture of a man who knows what he is talking about. The best way to do it is, "This roti is totally inedible. It is very much under-cooked." There is the man who knows what he is talking about.

In short, Praise should be grudgingly given and in private. Criticism should be unstintingly given and in public. You doubt my lessons? Let me ask you one question. If there is a person who says, "That was a good movie" what is the probability that someone says, "You liked THAT?" AND what is the probability that the first one will defensively explain, "No actually...the hero did a decent job...the story, of course, could have been better..." etc.? On the other hand, if someone said, "That was ONE shitty movie", how many would dare say,"WHAT? I loved it." and, if you found one such brave soul, what are the odds that the first one will retort, "Well! If you choose to watch such shit, be my guest"? You see, it takes less courage to blame than to praise. After all, you WANT to be looked up to as a person of taste and you can hardly get there unless you dislike far more than you like - in public, at least.

There is this difference between knowledge and wisdom, in my opinion. You dredge knowledge up and check up its applicability, getting confused about it all the while, and use it rarely. When you are wise, you act instinctively on what you have learnt. Unfortunately for me, what I have outlined above is only knowledge for me. Maybe because I also never learnt that "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was another of those preach-but-not-practice lessons.

I put this out in the hope that some of you will convert this to wisdom.

P.S: I would prefer, of course, that someone changed the mores of acceptable behavior so that I can become 'sophisticated' without any effort on my part but that is too much to ask, I suppose!

32 comments:

  1. This was...hmm...how to put it....quite a decent post, Suresh! Your examples were....well...quite acceptable and...hmmm...yes, somewhat helped make your point....so I would say....lets see....overall a reasonably well written post ;)

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  2. Suresh, Once again you've wrapped the shoe in velvet before letting lose with it on people's heads.

    Forgive me for that literal translation from a Hindi saying. I couldn't find anything half as delectable in English.

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    1. I know - Each language has the mot juste that may not have equally good options in others :)

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  3. I agree with your points & arguments, Sureshji! :)

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    1. Comes from a lot of observation, Anita! People always are more defensive about the praise they have given and more confident about the criticism they have handed out :)

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  4. Ah ! That's why there are so many critics around but no 'praisers' :) Its just become so uncool to praise..you just end up sounding naive and impressionable I guess, but its just cool to smirk and criticize. Sad are the times we live in.

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  5. Suresh while i agree with your points, i think praise and criticism can be given irrespective of private or public provide criticism is constructive and not to ridicule or to put down. Also the movie example the criticism was upfront as it was someone third's work that was criticised. And to face it all can all take criticism positively is still a question, most carry a grudge after that....nicely written article.

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    1. Ah! First I would say that most people would be happier if the criticism, even if constructive, comes in private. In public, the criticizer AND the criticized may be aware that the criticism is constructive but there is always the likelihood that some few in the audience will react as if it were ridicule and, some may even use it to put down the person. So THAT is always hurtful. If YOU cannot be sure of the reactions of the entire audience to your criticism, then it is better to criticize in private and if you say that you are, I may criticize your over-confidence :)

      The movie example was NOT about 'criticizer' and 'criticized' - it was about the fact that we are more prone to retract our praise than our criticism. There seems to be a tendency to think that it is uncool to praise and cool to criticize as mentioned in the comment above.

      Well - how many of the people who criticize can take ANY criticism of their criticism positively? The one being criticized has put in an effort to produce something and, if that is criticized, there is expectation that such a person should be open to criticism. The person who only criticized has not even produced anything except a comment AND criticism of even that comment cannot be taken positively by that person. In a world where people mouth off readily on anything, without any knowledge of what they are talking about and merely to create an impression, how much of criticism turns out to be valid, even if genuinely given? AND, if it is not given in proper words and with no attempt to avoid causing hurt, how is one to be sure that it is not meant as ridicule or as an attempt to put down?

      You see, there is a tacit assumption that the one being criticized has the onus of bending over backwards and understanding everything in the 'right spirit'. I feel that if the one who criticizes wants to be taken in the right spirit, the onus lies on him as well to know when, where and how to give criticism. Failing that, he is as much to blame for the other person carrying a grudge.

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  6. Next time I host anyone for a meal, I am going to keep my ears open for the criticism and the praise and then analyze it as per this :P Time you took on some practical life coaching classes eh? ;)

    P.S- one more to add to the types of 'man' above- someone who writes a review or two -"Oh he knows his books: ;-)

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    1. Well - I wanted to write a post on how niggardly we are with praise and how free with negative criticism. Also, how diffident we are about sticking to our own words of praise and how strongly we stand by our words of blame. Everything that spreads happiness are things we do scarcely and everything that gives unhappiness we are quite generous with :)

      Had nothing whatsoever to do with criticism or praise of my own book BUT referring to book criticism would have made it seem like it was specifically meant for that purpose. Which is why I scrupulously avoided books in the post :)

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    2. Honestly I didnt think of that when I mentioned the books bit... I meant it in general esp. based on the reviews I come across by people who did it professionally.. oops... sorry about that :P

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    3. I didn't think you referred to that, Seeta! I was only saying why I did not refer to books :)

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    4. Got it, just wanted to clarify from my end as well :) But i get now why you didnt include it ;)

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  7. Such valid points, Suresh. In real life I see people following the same acceptable route of praising in public and censuring in private. But it is social media that has made us lose all our manners. Be it mailing lists or status updates, there is no dearth of criticism often brusque. But I have been observing quite the opposite with some people. They praise the mundane to the skies just because they may be 'friends' with the person. Friendship in blogging has boiled down to sucking up and going overboard with sugary sweetness.

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    1. In real life, too, Rachna I have seen the opposite but, yes, it is far more prevalent in the online world. The issue, I suppose, is that even the people who find themselves tongue-tied and/or apprehensive in real life find that they can WRITE caustically. This combination of relative anonymity and the absence of the dampening effect of the physical presence of others makes it easier for people to speak out. Unfortunately, it seems that what they want to speak out is, more often than not, negative :)

      And, yes, that sugary sweetness is always there :) I, though, actually prefer sugary sweetness to bitterness if both are going to be uninformed. Of course, the discerning person who praises ONLY when it is due; remains silent when it is not AND, if possible, tells me in private about what is, in her opinion, going wrong gets my vote every time :)

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  8. First of all congrats on the award.
    Coming to praise,i think many do not praise others because they think it will put them in rank--that is why the accompanying caveats.And yes criticizing makes them feel superior-even if they have a very shallow knowledge on the subject.
    Ah,society is teeming with them--this is part of my next post.
    Have a nice day :)

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    1. Award, Indu? You mean the Blogadda one?

      I think both the diffidence about praising as well as the manner of criticizing comes out of a deep lack of self-esteem. Praising seems to make themselves feel inferior and criticizing makes them feel them better about themselves :)

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  9. You again got an award ?? oh! man..let me think ...hmmmm.. I must criticize..hmm..:-P

    Well , seriously this post made me rethink about the behaviour of my guests when I display my culinary skills in front of them... :-D But you know , in real world people often criticize a good thing as they really " WANT to be looked up to as a person of taste and you can hardly get there unless you dislike far more than you like - in public, at least. "..this is so true ! similarly it's also a common thing that a mundane creation is overrated and overhyped just for the creator has a long list of fan following or her/his PR is of a great stature ..though this is likely to be seen more in the virtual world...

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    1. Award, recently? Not that I am aware of :) The Blogadda thing is pretty old.

      That over-rating thing happens in real life as well. Every 'superstar' has his fans :) My post was more addressed to and about mundane beings like me :)

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  10. I prefer criticism in private. Thank you.

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    1. As do I, Alka! As I think I have mentioned often enough in blogs and elsewhere :) Including this post :)

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  11. Most people follow:
    1. If you are wealthier and/or more powerful and/or better connected than the other person, and you are definitely unlikely to need his/her help in any way in the foreseeable future, then never praise him/her, whether in public or private, publicly criticise him/her at every available opportunity, and publicly question the sanity of any other person who happens to praise him/her, AND

    2. If the other person is wealthier and/or more powerful and/or better connected than you, then praise him/her in public, never criticise him/her, whether in public or private, and publicly criticise any person who dares to publicly or privately criticise him/her.

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    1. Ah! Those I very carefully avoided, as being obvious :) I dealt only with the interactions where the relative power positions are co-eval OR unknown :)

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  12. Yes I agree with you. It happens all the time but its just ignored!

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    1. Ah! I am not too sure that it is just ignored. Consciously or otherwise, people react as though the more critical person has better critical abilities :)

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  13. People want to be on the safe side. Call the critic an intellectual and one is with the crowd. 'I dont have an opinion. He does, y contradict?' attitude i suppose. Easier to join the crowd and support him rather than stand out and question his authority on the subject. As for people who praise its just an act of politeness like Thank you and Sorry .

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    1. Quite right but even genuine praise is diffidently given :)

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  14. Again a topic we have discussed often.

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    1. Yes! Something that I think of often too :)

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