On being ... unspoken

By Ingrid Sapona

The word “innuendo” is lyrical sounding to me. Maybe it’s the meter – four sing-songy syllables: inn-u-en-do. Or maybe I like it because it sounds like it has something to do with music – it rhymes with crescendo, after all. But, for all the charm the word holds to my ears, I’ve become very wary whenever I hear something that smacks of innuendo. In fact, I’m on a campaign to raise awareness of the insidious nature of innuendo.

The easiest way for me to explain my concern is to give an example of how innuendo came up in a situation I was involved in recently. (Of course, just as I change the names of friends I mention in On being…, I’ve altered a few facts to ensure anonymity in this matter.) I’m on a committee that’s charged with choosing a service provider on behalf of an organization. The committee has narrowed the choice to two service providers – I’ll call them A and B. Some committee members are familiar with A’s work and some are familiar with B’s work. As is always the case, there are pluses, minuses, and unknowns related to both choices. 

I believe the committee members are all well intentioned and have the best interests of the organization at heart. Because we were entrusted by the organization with the task of finding and hiring a service provider, we all agreed that the ability to speak openly and candidly was important. In the process of narrowing the choice, the discussions were just that.

Eventually we narrowed the choice to the two and asked A and B to present their qualifications to the committee. They both did so, providing us with written information and meeting with us in person. After the presentations, we met to discuss the candidates.

I don’t mind admitting I was surprised at how very differently some committee members saw the candidates’ credentials from how I saw them. This was especially true when it came to assessing the written information. For example, at one point a committee member (Francis) said it was obvious Candidate B was not qualified. I couldn’t believe the statement, as there were numerous items in Candidate B’s written submission that showed that B had the requisite experience. It was almost as though we were looking at different documents.

I then pointed out some specific examples of B’s experiences, but Francis insisted that just because B had done those things it didn’t mean B was qualified. Interesting conclusion, I thought, but I felt that by at least drawing their attention to B’s experiences, other committee members would be in a better position to weigh for themselves the facts versus Francis’ conclusion.      

Eventually the discussion moved from examples of each candidate’s demonstrable skills to a discussion of interactions various committee members have had with one or the other candidates. In other words, to personal impressions people have of the candidates. While I think it’s perfectly appropriate for the committee to consider intangible opinions about the candidates’ personalities with a view toward considering how they’ll get along with members of the organization and how effective they’ll be, I think we also have a duty to attempt to explore the validity of these impressions – as they are just that: impressions.

As you probably guessed, it was during this phase of the discussion that innuendo reared its ugly head. First was Terry’s comment that she had a “concern” about Candidate A. On hearing this, Chris piped up with, “me too”. Uncomfortable with the vagueness of Terry’s comment, I asked her to explain the nature of her concern. Rather surprised to be asked such a direct question, she hesitated and said she heard of a situation where someone asked A to do something and A didn’t do it.

Then Chris obliquely said, “I had a similar experience”. Looks of concern flashed across different committee members’ faces. Then the committee chair said, “well, if two people are concerned, that’s concerning to me”. Neither Terry nor Chris gave details regarding what A had been asked to do. Even assuming the allegations of A’s failure to act were true, without any specifics, there was no way of telling if the requests were reasonable, or whether there might have been a simple reason Candidate A didn’t do it. Furthermore, when we were interviewing the candidates, neither Terry nor Chris asked A anything that would have given A the opportunity to explain or even respond to these alleged concerns.

As I mentioned, I do think it was appropriate for everyone to freely voice their opinions and for committee members to take these opinions into account as they cast their ballot, but when folks use innuendo to imply that their opinion is based on something real that they aren’t telling you, my suspicions are raised. When someone uses innuendo, I think they’re trying to sway others by implying there’s something substantive behind their opinion. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t – without specifics, how can you tell?

What people say about others can be harmful, but when something is spoken, at least it can be countered. Innuendo, by its nature, can have power beyond words and for this reason I think it’s important to guard against using it and against letting others get away with it.

© 2012 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... an unintended consequence

By Ingrid Sapona

I’ve been a subscriber to a local theatre company for about 15 years. This year, however, I’ve decided not to re-subscribe. I think I made the right decision, but I’m a bit embarrassed by what ultimately drove my decision.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that one of the reasons has to do with wanting to watch my discretionary spending these days. Mind you, as entertainment spending goes, the theatre tickets are quite reasonable. On a per-ticket basis, last year each ticket cost me just $17. But, the ticket price isn’t the only out-of-pocket expense related to going to the theatre. There’s parking (or the cost of public transport to/from the theatre), and I usually grab a bite before the show with my girlfriend who shares the subscription with me. So the cost does have a way of creeping higher.
Another reason has to do with the fact that I also have a subscription to a documentary series, which has monthly screenings. Depending on when the theatre performances fall, occasionally I end up going to a play and a documentary on back-to-back nights, which makes for a busy week. (If I had my druthers, the theatre and documentaries would be more evenly spaced throughout the winter months.)
Both those have been issues I’ve weighed in the past, but they haven’t stopped me from re-subscribing. (Over the years I have scaled back my theatre subscription, going from seeing all the productions – they have a main stage and a black box theatre – to just seeing those on the main stage.) So, why the change of heart? The only way to understand is to consider the reasons I subscribed all these years.
First, and foremost, I love live theatre. It’s one of my favourite forms of entertainment. And the theatre company made it easy to be a subscriber. Besides the healthy discount from the per ticket price, they have a very liberal exchange policy for subscribers (so long as you phone more than 24 hours before the performance). It’s much easier to commit to specific performances months in advance if you know that if something comes up and you can’t go on the date of your tickets, you’re not going to have to miss the show altogether or be penalized if you need to change the tickets.
But one of the most important reasons I subscribed was because it meant I’d definitely get out and see some plays. There’s lots of theatre going on in Toronto and I try to keep up with the reviews. But by the time I hear about an interesting-sounding play, invariably the run is almost over, or tickets are hard to come by (or expensive), or I can’t find anyone to join me on short notice. When you have a subscription, you go. Also, with a subscription I’m more likely to see plays that I might otherwise not see, based on their subject matter or review. Sure, there have been some plays that, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have minded not seeing, but when that’s happened I chalk it up to expanding my cultural horizons – stretching, if you will.
In years past, I re-subscribed as soon as I got the first renewal notice. This year, for no particular reason, I put off renewing. Then, in late August the theatre e-mailed about a special deal: buy one, get one at half price. I couldn’t tell if the deal was for subscriptions or for tickets for separate shows. I went on-line to see if I could figure it out, but I couldn’t.
A couple weeks later I got a call from the theater company asking me to renew. I took the opportunity to ask about the buy one, get one at half price deal. Price-wise, the final cost of that deal was similar to the discount on two tickets by subscription, but the sales person explained that only subscribers get the benefit of the ticket exchange policy. I told her I’d think about it.
Last week they called again. This time they told me about a new deal they’re offering returning subscribers. If I buy a four- or six-show package they’ll throw in an extra show. With the season about to start, I knew I couldn’t put it off much longer and I said, “Fine – we’ll take the four show package for the same night and same seats we had last year”. The sales person was pleased and then asked which shows we want. I said we want the main stage shows, which is what we’ve had for the past few years.
He then explained that the multi-show packages are “completely flexible” and so subscribers get to choose the shows they want. He also mentioned that they’ve added more shows to the main stage and some of them have shorter runs, so we’d have to pick specific nights for each show. He seemed excited about all the options and choices available. He suggested I check out the descriptions on-line and choose the shows I want.
But that’s just it. I don’t want to have to pick and choose different shows and coordinate with my girlfriend determining the dates for different plays. I don’t want to work that hard. If I wanted to pick and choose, I’d wait until each show premiers and is reviewed, and then I’d decide if it’s something that sounds interesting enough to go to.
So, there you have it. I’ve decided not to re-subscribe because I can’t be bothered to choose. I suspect the theatre company has decided to give subscribers “complete flexibility” because they think that will appeal to folks. I wonder, however, if they considered there might be some of us who don’t want to have to make so many decisions and who decide, instead, to make just one decision – the decision not to renew. 
© 2012 Ingrid Sapona