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Friday's roundup: Empathy & Rhetoric Edition

Posted by Robin Abrahams  March 1, 2013 06:46 AM

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I'm tired and angry this week. It's a strange time to be a woman in the U.S. All of a sudden, every other week some politician is saying something of grotesque moral and biological inaccuracy about women's bodies. And then, you know, this happened. Lindy West speaks for me.

And I have had people try to explain to me why it was really funny. How I was misinterpreting everything. How it was "easier to be offended" (this, most painfully, from a woman) than to "think what the message really is."

I have an extensive background in both the theory and practice of rhetoric. I have been a stand-up comic. For money. I wrote a dissertation on the psychology of literary genre. I have studied acting modern, Shakespearean, and improvisational. I have written and been paid to write as an academic researcher, humorist, advice columnist, reporter, reviewer, and blogger. I have been actively engaged with the performing arts for the past 30 years. I've done performance art, preaching, and poetry slams. I've studied effective business communication for the past 15 years.

In other words, if I say something is offensive and unfunny, there's a really good freaking chance I know what I'm talking about. And while I do not expect automatic agreement, I do expect to be shown, at least to my face, as much respect and deference as is being granted to The Boob Who Saw. I have bloody well earned it.

So, that. In other news, this article from Slate on what it's like to be a toddler was absolutely fantastic. Why do they have horrible tantrums about nothing in particular? Because life is hard! Those poor little monkeys:

A semi-functional frontal lobe also means that toddlers have practically no sense of time and patience and therefore "experience wanting as needing," Lieberman says--i.e., when they want a chicken nugget, they really, really need it NOW! They can also have a skewed sense of cause-and-effect, developing a paralyzing fear of the bathtub because what if they go down the drain, too? Finally, let's not forget the importance of experience when it comes to handling challenges appropriately, says developmental psychologist Claire Kopp, co-author of Socioemotional Development in the Toddler Years. The 2-year-old, she says, simply doesn't have any experiences to draw from.

If it sounds like I'm characterizing your beautiful, special, way-above-average toddler as animal-like, that's because I am. Pediatrician Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block, calls toddlers "little cavemen."... 

The caveman analogy helps to explain yet another issue plaguing toddlers, Karp says: They are very under-stimulated. Little cavemen (and here I'm talking about the real ones) spent their days very differently than kids do today. "It was a sensory-rich environment: smells, the fresh air, shadows, birds, grass under your feet. Today, we put our little kids in houses and apartments with flat floors, flat walls, ceilings, and not too many chickens, and we think that's normal," Karp explains. "It is hard to spend all day with a two-year-old, and they don't really want to spend all day with you anyway."

Speaking of spending time with kids, thank you all for the civil discussion regarding Sunday's column. Rereading it, I realize one key piece of information was cut from the question--the bride was all in with having the Matron of Honor and her newborn join the party. Which means that it's really not the bridesmaid's place to object, even if it is a bad idea.

Do you know what is good? Dogs. Snuggling with dogs in the sunlight is good.


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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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