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the fork

 
steward
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Once upon a time, I was 20 years old.   I shared an apartment with a lovely woman who was even more of a slob than me.  

It seems that she required me to do half the cleaning, but I thought that I did a fair bit of cleaning as I went along, and that I didn't make as much mess.  

Did I mention I was 20?

To emphasize my point, once the kitchen was clean, I decided to stay out of the kitchen entirely until the kitchen was too unusable - even for her.  In a few weeks the kitchen was trashed and she said "it is time for us to clean the kitchen!"  I then revealed my evil plot and told her that then entire mess was hers!   And she pointed to a fork - naming the time, date and what I used it for.   She was right.   I had slipped.   It was, indeed, "our" mess.

As the years passed and I would work with people, I found a lot of people where an agreement was struck and they would fall short on their end.   I knew that I had to be absolutely perfect on my end or else they would find a fork and use that fork as license for 5000 forks worth of falling short on their end.  

That's the end of this story.   There have just been several times recently where I needed to talk about the fork.


 
pollinator
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You done forked up, Paul.
 
paul wheaton
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I tell the story of the fork to expand my personal vocabulary.   "The fork" is a reference for a communication tool.   For me to express that my behavior, with an agreement, must be flawless - because if there is even one fork, then then other party then assumes the right to trash the whole deal, or to assume license to fall short in ways far greater than the fork.

 
paul wheaton
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There was some discussion of division of cleaning.   I moved that discussion to this thread.
 
pollinator
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There may be something to be learned from pondering the letter of an agreement versus the spirit of the same.
 
pollinator
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Back in college, I had two roommates, one who was neat and tidy, and another who was more like me... willing to to put off washing the breakfast and lunch dishes until after dinner, and maybe a second day, which often meant having to wash something to be able to use it again every now and then.
After a few weeks, roommate #1 is frustrated about both sinks filled with dishes, and demands one sink be left empty at all times. He also stakes a claim on one cabinet, solely for himself, to store his two place settings, a pot, and a skillet.
The deal is: we leave his stuff and one sink alone, and he leaves us and our stuff alone. (with the occasional nudge that maybe 3 days is too many dishes)
We agree and things went smoothly for the rest of the year, and the empty sink worked to all our favor.

Addressing the issue early on and setting reasonable and clear expectations, rather than let the resentment build or continue, saved the situation.

Roommate #2 and I, couldn't be bothered to keep track of whose turn it was to wash up, and just did it when it was obvious it needed doing.
 
master pollinator
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The advantage of living alone, with nobody else around, is that you are sure you made that mess all by yourself and you alone are the one to clean it ...
 
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The problem with your fork theory is that there is always something that can be found if the other person wishes so. You are not in a judge court after all.
Of course, precise definitions are very useful, especially with engineering or sciences, and legal stuff. These require that we first learn the dialect. When you say 'entropy' in physics, all physics know what you are talking about to a laser razor precision. But in a relationship that does not work. How can you be not responsible for the kitchen dirtiness if you ate the stuff that was produced in the kitchen? Yeah, the twenies excuse  

My arrangement for household care is that my wife and I have different assigned tasks. If one of us cooks that day, the other one cleans the dishes. I clean the dust, she does the laundry. I school the kid while she cleans the toilets. This way we specialize in some tasks, performing them rather well. I think it also helps that we think of us as a family, so we don't care to do some extra work to make life easier for the ones we love.
 
paul wheaton
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The point of the fork story is that some people cannot hear what you are saying unless you first remove the forks.

Not all people.

Not even these certain people all the time.

And you can argue that it is not fair or reasonable.  Not decent.  

And while it is true, some of these people "will always find a fork" - if you really need to get through to them, you will predict those forks too - or be prepared to explain those forks when trying to get your point across.


---

Two corollaries I just thought of:


Corollary 1:   If we are going to ask somebody to improve, perhaps we should improve ourselves so well, first, that not a fork can be found.


Corollary 2:   An alternative strategy might be embrace the forks in our lives and ask for a bit of understanding in the point attempting to be made.






 
Kenneth Elwell
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paul wheaton wrote:The point of the fork story is that some people cannot hear what you are saying unless you first remove the forks.


Corollary 1:   If we are going to ask somebody to improve, perhaps we should improve ourselves so well, first, that not a fork can be found.



Yes, but, sometimes it isn't just the fork, it's where the fork is or when the fork was...
There's leading by example, and then there's having something to prove.
Trying to elevate yourself above it all is folly, you are setting such a high bar that you must meet, all because of what you perceive the other's expectations are. So you set yourself up for "well, isn't this your fork?" or "well, I never asked you to do that!".
Knowing the expectations to meet, and adjusting if it isn't working well seems much more positive. Your inclination to improve your actions to perfection doesn't improve the situation (fully), it removes you from coming to a solution as a group that works for the group.
The bar isn't "perfection" for most people, it's "pleasant" or "peaceful" or "fair", or some sort of compassionate give and take of "tolerable".
 
gardener
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Trying to be perfect would be quite a burden.  
In my family we always used the one about people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.  I think it's admirable to use your fork as a life lesson, but didn't you learn more with the fork, than if it hadn't ben there?  Just a thought.
 
Abraham Palma
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paul wheaton wrote:The point of the fork story is that some people cannot hear what you are saying unless you first remove the forks.

Not all people.

Not even these certain people all the time.

And you can argue that it is not fair or reasonable.  Not decent.  

And while it is true, some of these people "will always find a fork" - if you really need to get through to them, you will predict those forks too - or be prepared to explain those forks when trying to get your point across.



Let me tell you a family story:
My uncle is always finding excuses to not be at home, the coffee is always better at the coffee bar. And he complains that his wife is always looking for trouble.
Then I heard my aunt-in-law complaining that when she needed someone to shut out because she was in the mood and needed to release the stress, her husband was never there.

One should think that 'listen to her' is just offering an ear for her to complain about everything, but in some cases they just want a punching bag. Of course, they don't say clearly what they really want, they are expecting you to realise things for yourself by being attentive. In her view, if you HAD listened (reading between lines) you would have guessed it correctly, so in her view, your misunderstanding is a proof that you weren't listening. That you were never taught to listen like that is all your fault, as well as your refusal to even try to think in the same way she does just because you think it is craziness.

Relationships are made of this twisted logic.

That's why looking for the fork can't work in relationships. It's of no use to be right. It achieves nothing but fulfilling your ego. You can only accept that the logic of the other person is always going to be flawed and interested (that says something about your own logic, by the way), and negotiate.
Even if you manage to demonstrate that the other person was wrong, most of the time that only serves for a retaliation. The other person will find another excuse to make you pay for whatever wrong is thought to be committed.
 
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I agree with Abraham that often times seeking the fork is for retaliation, deflection, or defense. Could be conscious or subconscious, but either way it does nothing to address the actual issue being brought up. If there is an issue with the fork, then deal with it separately, not as ammunition in an attempt to delegitimize the initial complaint.

It's possible that both sides can concede that they aren't perfect. I don't believe one should need to achieve perfection before asking for improvement from another, though.
 
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Cam Lee wrote:It's possible that both sides can concede that they aren't perfect. I don't believe one should need to achieve perfection before asking for improvement from another, though.


Exactly.  I think Paul's original post was about a division of labor that was unfair to one party.  It was about promises made and not kept.  Whether this was from a failure to have a meeting of the minds, or poor character from one of the actors, it kills relationships along with the agreement.  One way to help with this is for as much as possible to be in writing.  It seems overkill at first to write out things that should be "understood," but it helps to be able to point to an infraction of the agreement rather than have the offending party feel attacked and get defensive.  I write this as one who wishes she would have been more specific with those moving into her household .
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