Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stating the Obvious

There is a passage from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (by the esteemable and dearly departed Douglas Adams) that I hold dear. 

One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very obvious, as in It's a nice day, or You're very tall, or Oh dear you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you all right? 
I commiserate with Ford's frustration. 

From a very young age, I've had people saying to me, "You're tall!"

No, really? 

My belief is that if obvious statements, to the opposite extreme, would be hurtful, then it shouldn't be said. Example: 

"Hey, you're short!"

See what I mean? 

I am happy being tall; I love my height, I love being step-stool free, I love the fact that no one messes with me on the subway. It is not about that. 

A statement like "Wow, you're tall!" singles me out, and I'm not sure in what way. Is it good? Is it bad? Why is it even worth mentioning? 

The passage continues:

At first Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behavior. If human beings didn't keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths would probably seize up. After a few months' consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favor of a new one. If they don't keep exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working. 

Stating the obvious doesn't exactly reflect brilliance. 

"Waddya know, the sky is blue!"

It just gets old, man.


SternGrad said...

I have always liked that passage, too. Although I am not tall, I can relate- people say obvious things to me, too. My favorite is "Wow, you look tired!" Most of the times that people say that, I am not tired at all, so they think they are stating the obvious, but it is really not true. In which case it is just insulting. I guess some people just like to hear their own voice....

N said...

I hear. I'm 5"6 which in the Jewish world is very tall but I guess like anything else, it all depends on perspective...

It's like when people say "no offense but..." if you are saying "no offense" it means you prob will offend so don't say anything lol

So True said...

I know exactly what you mean. I'm 5'11'' and always hear: "you're so tall!/ how tall are you?" and "good luck finding a tall husband!". The last one bothers me the most. I never know how to react to people. When they ask me where my height comes from, I started telling people my parents fed me miracle grow when I was younger (I should probably stop saying that, but it's fun to see how people react :-)

Ish Yehudi said...

I often state truths myself. The obvious can be a way of connecting with someone.

Things like "that's frustrating" and other comments on a person's (emotional) state can show empathy.

Generally, though, I find that people respond based on how they feel. If someone's proud of their height, saying "you're tall!" is a compliment and respond accordingly. If they are uneasy or embarrassed by it, they may brush it off to take the comment as an insult. While facts may be neutral, they can be taken as either positive or negative by connotation.

silverycloud said...

The you're really tall and similar comments get really old, really fast. I'm 6'3 and female, so yeah, it's an expected reaction. You can think it, but I agree wholeheartedly that it's rude to say, and stems from a lack of intelligence. 'You're tall' is not even as bad as 'How tall are you'.
My responses have ranged from ignoring the person, to 'I never divulge this information to strangers' to 'tall enough' to 'really,really tall' and to the 'you're tall' one, I usually say 'you noticed, huh?' Basically you make them feel stupid, bc in my opinion it's a stupid and invasive comment.

PL said...

Ish - As I said, I LIKE my height. It's one of things that makes me, me.

But for someone else to make an unnecessary statement about it - that also shows THEIR issues. I have had people take my height personally - "You make me feel short!" Yes, that was my motivation. Centuries of DNA morphed and intertwined to create me to make YOU feel bad.

Comments like those show others' intelligence, insecurities, and manners very quickly.

harry-er than them all said...

..or like how little boys point out the fact that a truck/bus/police car just passed by. Mastering the obvious is hard for a lot of people

PL said...

But we aren't little boys anymore, are we?