Communicating To Get Along

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - May 30, 2007
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Ask and ye shall receive.

Last week’s column on the Hawaiian Rent-All signs generated a lot of e-mail. If you missed the column, it was a discussion about the content of the marquee atop the building.

First sign: “Don’t kill your wife, let our machines do the dirty work.” Days later, the owner Paul Gibfried changed it to this: “Don’t kill your man, let our machines do the dirty work.”

The first prompted some calls and e-mails from people concerned about the perceived message of violence against women. Gibfried says people just didn’t get the joke, but changed it to see what would happen. The second generated no calls at all.

Here are some excerpts: * I pass by there every morning on my way to work and the “kill you wife” didn’t sit well with me either, NOR does the “kill your man.” I am hoping that BOTH will be gone VERY soon. - Ana Char

* I’ve just read your column. Personally it didn’t get any rise from me. I “got” it right away and if someone doesn’t “get it” maybe their sense of humor or intellect isn’t fully developed?? I know this is a PC world now and it’s too bad ... really a shame. - Kathy

* When I first saw the photo of the “wife” sign in your column, I really didn’t think anything of it. However, after reading your column I can understand why it would create such a stir. Similarly then, the second sign is equally objectionable because it can imply an overbearing wife who overworks her husband, or even a woman who is plotting to kill a man with the use of machines. ... The problem here is the use of “kill” in conjunction with a particular group, sex, or class of people who could be offended by the statement. - Lloyd Nakata

* I saw a different feel to each sign and then asked my husband what he thought. He interpreted it exactly the same way I did!

Wife sign - don’t commit the murder. Let our machines do it (and, oh, what a bloody mess it would be).

Man sign - he works oh-so hard, let’s give him a break from working even harder during his off time ... fork out the dough for the machines to ease his heavy workload (poor fella) ...

* “I think there are a lot of jokes out there about the nagging wife we’d all love to strangle, and then the inbred sympathies we (Americans?) have for how overworked husbands are that they surely deserve a breather from working on his weekend as well.” - :O) ALOHA!

* “I completely missed the joke with the “don’t kill your wife” sign, seeing only the un-p.c. meaning. But I think the new sign is hilarious! It implies that through men’s typical curiosity and fascination with machines that they will kill themselves. This shows wit and slightly dark humor, but it’s the first time that sign has made me laugh out loud!” - Rayce Inamine (a guy)

Many of the people who responded pointed out that whether you find something humorous or not depends on experience and context, including societal context.

The e-mail excerpt below is from a professor at HPU who teaches linguistics in programs that train students to become teachers of English as a second language.

“I think if he had originally written ‘don’t kill yourself,‘you (and I) would have first thought of the ‘don’t work too hard,‘meaning for ‘don’t kill yourself,’ and not even thought of the spousal abuse interpretation - especially since only one person would be involved. I suspect that for some of us (including me), the ‘don’t work too hard’ interpretation is limited to the reflexive (-self) use of ‘kill.’

“Once you put ‘wife’or ‘man’after ‘kill,’ you don’t think of the ‘don’t (make someone) work too hard’interpretation until someone explains it to you that way. Instead, you immediately think of the spousal abuse interpretation, especially if the object of ‘kill’ is ‘wife.’

“Spousal abuse doesn’t usually involve the wife beating up the husband (although there are cases in which the wife grabs a knife and stabs - maybe even kills - the husband while he is beating her).”

And finally, a reader named Dara Carlin summed it up this way: “What you did is what we’re ALL supposed to do, day in and day out, but we don’t; instead we do ridiculous things like get offended and walk away, or ‘hold our tongue’and then sit and stew, or take things at face value, get hurt then slink away to lick our wounds - all unnecessary if each of us were to inquire and explore when we hear, read or understand something we feel to be ‘off,‘offensive or not quite right.”

And that is the point I was trying to make originally.

We need to talk these issues out rather than let them tear us apart.

Common ground isn’t impossible, it just takes some work.

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