If you ask me, I’m primarily a big-picture person. If the bills are getting paid and the inhabitants are happy and healthy, I don’t care a ton about how long it’s been since the house has been dusted. Despite being a former editor, for the most part, if I understand what you mean, I try not to correct your grammar unless (a) you’ve asked me to (it happens, I swear it does) or (b) I think it damages how you come off.
I learned to let the nitpicky stuff go (for the most part) as an adolescent, when I picked up on social cues that said that people don’t admire you and think you’re smart when you correct them in public, they just think you’re a jerk who needs to make herself look smart at other people’s expense. As a teen, I learned to let things go, unless someone explicitly asked for clarification, and I got pretty good at it. As an adult, I’m confident that most people know I’m smart (I have other qualities that take longer to read off me, like that I’m friendly [because I’m so reserved] and can be fun [the reserved is strong in me. What can I say?]) But people don’t tend to mistake me for dumb, though there are absolutely smarter cookies than I am, in most of my regular spheres.
With all that said, I can mind the picky details when it’s part of a role I’ve been explicitly asked to fill. And for whatever reason, I get asked to do it professionally pretty often. When I was an editor, for example, I could give you a thoroughly argued and up-to-date status on the use of semicolons in our professional space. I don’t actually care about this and I don’t judge you if you also do not care about it, but if you pay me to care about it or I love you and am doing you a favor where I care about it, I make it my business to execute it competently, and I have a reasonable track-record of success.
I just got out of a conversation where I had to point out that we were doing some things that were not in keeping with our commitments. And because the commitment gets made over my signature, I feel honor-bound to at least discuss that before I sign and say that we are when I know we’re not and have no intention to. It’s a nitpicky commitment in a non-critical area, but I feel like we have to at least talk about what’s required, what we’re going to do, and the consequences for not aligning all that every time I’m put in the ethical dilemma, in this case, annually.
The waves of unadulterated hatred that come off the person who hired me to do it and put me in charge of it— oh my goodness. I knew it was a fight waiting to happen, went to my boss, brought him up to date about it, and asked him how he wanted me to handle it.
“We’re not in compliance, I can’t force us to be in compliance, and I’ve been told to say we are in compliance. What would you like me to do?”
He had me call a meeting. I got permission to bring it up in a regularly scheduled conversation where this person had plenty of allies. I brought it up. He attempted to strike a balance between our competing interests. He suspended the discussion about 10 minutes in, because he said he thought she’d explode if he didn’t.
Here are my questions: If you don’t want to be in compliance, wouldn’t an alternative be not to do this thing? It’s non-business-critical. If you feel strongly about having the benefits of being in compliance with this thing, wouldn’t it make sense to do what they require? Also, if you want someone who’s comfortable attesting to things they know not to be true, wouldn’t it make sense to put someone other than me in charge of it? It’s a small but uncomfortable job that I do annually and I’d happily hand it off to someone who doesn’t read the things he or she signs or lose sleep over stuff like this. I feel like hating me for doing a thing you put in my job description is punishing all of us.
By the way, this is the very definition of a double-bind, if you’ve seen me refer to that elsewhere in this blog. There is no way for me to win, including opting out entirely. I am required to do it, I’m promising to tell the truth or face consequences, and I’m literally not allowed to tell the truth.
How’s your week?