This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.
Years ago, the Norwegian Artist and I stumbled into a Trivial Pursuit game with a fanatic. I don’t remember which of us had the misfortune to be on her team, but I do remember her picking out a card, squinting at the writing, and saying,
“Good God – this question is so easy that only an idiot wouldn’t know it!”
I can’t tell you whether either one of us knew the answer or not, but I assure you that we both felt like idiots, even before we heard the question.
We’re older now, wiser, more irascible, and attuned to words like “only,” “just,” “of course,” and “little,” not to mention “idiot,” all of which drastically change the meaning of a sentence:
1) The workshop costs (only) $2995 for three days, excluding food, lodging, travel, supplies, and insurance.
2) It’s (just) $250 per month to rent a 3 x 10 space in Vanity Fair Gallery.
Personally, I find it offensive to put “only” or “just” in front of any dollar amount, unless we’re talking only $50 for an original Van Gogh, in which case I suggest you do some major, significant research.
3) (Of course) an artist posting decent sales thinks about flying in a Lear jet.
4) The time investment to be part of this co-op is (a minimal) 25 hours per week.
5) What an amazing (little) sculpture! Did you do it yourself?
Individual words are subtle, harmless looking things with the potential to convey big meaning, and it is no accident when unscrupulous people apply pressure by a specific turn of phrase.
Check it out: go back to the first sentence, about the workshop, and read it twice – the first time without the “only,” the second time with. Does it convey a different feeling?
Do the same thing with the remaining four sentences.
Frankly, all five sentences are offensive, with or without the parenthetical additions, but that’s the point: words like “only,” “just,” “of course,” etc. mask the distasteful nature of the statement by putting the listener on the spot, and if you’re not attuned to their cacophonous sound, you’ll be feeling like an idiot because you don’t know the answer to some trifling question about Humphrey Bogart’s shoe size.
Not all people do this because they’re trying to sell us something that isn’t worth it; sometimes it slips out as a buried arrogance that masks insecurity. I know a normally generous, kind person who has the disturbing tendency to lapse into phrases like,
All those losers in coach class will never sit up front with someone like me!
I know this person’s roots, and they’re humble, and while I have no problem with this, apparently he does. So I overlook it, because we’re friends, but I don’t forget it, when he gives advice.
I’ve said it before, in an earlier article (If Something Sounds Wrong, It Usually Is), but it bears repeating, simply because there’s a whole lot of scheming going on out there, and if it weren’t working, then the schemers wouldn’t be succeeding the way they are:
If someone or something makes you feel stupid, inadequate, lacking, or inferior, then don’t tacitly accept the compliment – especially if they are offering you a “solution” at the same time.
Stop. Reflect. Think about what’s just been said to you and analyze why it’s deflating. Discuss it with a trusted confidante and get an outsider’s view. Look for the “only” and “just” words, and be aware that they may be hidden or implied.
Trust your gut. You’re a grown up, and you didn’t get here in a bubble.
Money isn’t easy to come by. Success doesn’t come overnight. There are no secrets that only you don’t know. Hard work is hard – that’s why we call it that.
Common sense isn’t dead . . . yet.