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A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM UPWORTHY
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Imagine you're getting ready to drop some bad news on someone. Say, breaking off a months-long relationship.

"I'm not sure how to say this," you start. "This has been really great. Dating you has been a lot of fun. You're really wonderful. And—" You roll out a string of platitudes and compliments, dreading and delaying the part that comes next, when you finally say "It's over."

You think you're being nice. Protecting their feelings. You don't want to be coldhearted, right?


Science, however, says there might be a better way.

A study from 2017 finds that, in most cases, a much smaller "buffer" before the bad news is actually preferable. According to the people who matter most.

Alan Manning, a professor of linguistics at Brigham Young University, and Nicole Amare, his research partner, were interested in what he calls the "information design" of giving bad news. Quite literally, how much stuff should you say or write before just getting on with it?

The procedure was simple: 145 volunteers were shown two similar but differently worded versions of the same message, side by side, and asked to choose which they found the least objectionable. (Stuff in the vein of, "Your car is being recalled" all the way to "Let's break up" or "You're fired.")

Manning says, in most cases, there was a clear preference for the more concise message.

Participants also mostly responded that clarity and directness were more important than how considerate the message was.

The findings contradict a lot of the previous research, Manning says, which stressed buffers and positivity and silver linings. He says when you just talk to people, you get a different story: "When you ask people if they want the bad news straight-up, they almost always say yes."

If bad-news recipients just want it straight, why do we tend to draw it out?

Manning says it's because we're looking out for ourselves. It's easier and makes us feel better to beat around the bush a little bit.

Photo by Joanna Nix-Walkup on Unsplash

Turns out, the whole thing is a practical exercise in empathy.

"One of the great challenges of growing up and being a fully functioning adult is being fully aware of other people's needs around you and not just your own," he says.

He hopes the study will help people become better deliverers of bad news, and, ultimately, take better care of each other. He urges us to think critically about how sensitive the message we're delivering is and to respond appropriately. Don't be callous, he says, and blurt out "I'm breaking up with you," before even saying "Hi." But a smaller buffer is almost always appreciated by the recipient.

It's hard to break old habits. It's even harder to be direct. But getting and giving bad news is part of our daily lives. It'll be worth the effort to do it right.


This article originally appeared on 10.13.17

"I’m a very sad man now that she’s gone," Leroy explained. He'd been at his wife's side the moment she died of a heart attack. "I wish I could have saved her."

Leroy, a U.S. veteran, said he'd been doing well staying sober up until that tragedy struck a few months ago. Now he's back on the streets of New Orleans, once again battling alcoholism and homelessness.

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.


"I don’t have anything from her, no pictures, nothing," he said. "[Her] landlord set everything out on the sidewalk and thieves took it all."

Leroy's story is one of many featured by Fifty Sandwiches, a series documenting people experiencing homelessness across the country through stories and photos.

The project was created by Justin Doering, a recent college graduate from Idaho, who raised enough funds on Kickstarter last year to travel solo coast to coast in his van. 34 states and 14,000 miles later, Doering had photographed 78 homeless people and heard their stories.

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

While traveling, Doering found participants on the streets, in recovery programs, and staying in shelters. He shared meals with them, and in turn, they shared their stories.

Here are five people Doering spoke to during his travels:

1. Stephanie, a 25-year-old living in Texas, who simply wants to be understood.

"I became homeless when I lost my father in 2009 to cancer," she told him. "I was really close with him and that hurt a lot."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"[My dog] is for my Autism. I have high-functioning Autism on the Asperger’s side of the spectrum. It affects your socialization skills, but it affects me mostly emotionally.
***
I wish people would be more understanding to be able to help people like us. All they really say to us is to go get a job. That doesn’t help us. Most job places won’t give us work."

2. Lee, an artist in Venice Beach, California, who speaks out for social justice.

"If we continue to hate each other over skin color, the world will fucking crumble," Lee told Doering. "They say be the change that you want to see. That’s what I’m trying to do."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"People are like ‘I love your hair,’ ‘I love your outfit,' if that’s what you love then what do you really love? When people ask me how I am in the morning, do they really want to know?"

3. Ian from Oregon, who's fighting to get past a turbulent childhood and a family that hadn't accepted him.

"I had a home but I was worried because I was insecure with my own sexuality," Ian said. "I had an idea in my head that there was pressure on me to have a wife and kids. I realized I was homosexual when I was younger but I suppressed a lot of it."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"In my Christian family, I was raised with this idea that I was bad, morally wrong, and that lead me to think I had something seriously wrong with me psychologically. What is so wrong [with] me and why didn’t I think like the rest of my family?"

4. Sheila from Sacramento, who was motivated to turn her life around after living through the devastating death of her dog.

"As we drove to the river and I saw where the smoke was, I already knew," she said. "It was my [homeless] camp. It was my [dog] JJ. Two years of being on the river, and the only days I tie him up there is a fire."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"It had to take my dogs death to realize I didn’t want to be homeless anymore. Cause it could’ve been me.
***
At Saint John’s, I’m six months and eight days clean and sober. It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s an amazing feeling. ... When I move on from here, I’m going to the pound and getting another rescue dog too."

5. Wendell in Atlanta, Georgia, who's learning how to live with a mental illness.

"I have a history of bipolar depression," Wendell explained. "I can’t use that as an excuse [for abusing drugs], I can’t blame anything. ... Bipolar depression is like being down in the pits and there’s no way to get out."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"I had an abusive childhood. I grew up without a father and guys around the neighborhood knew that and took advantage of it. I was beaten up. I was molested. That was just what ‘growing up’ was for me. ... I’ve been clean six months now. I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m back in my own family again, I’m speaking with my kids. That gives me a lot of encouragement."

"Each interview left me in awe of their story," Doering says, a reminder why every individual voice matters.

Having been interested in the issue for years, the 22-year-old thought he understood the complexities of homelessness relatively well. But after speaking to dozens of folks from a wide variety of backgrounds and reasons for ending up without a home, he realized he couldn't possibly "capture a collective face to homelessness" from just one trip across the country.

"Each story was far too distinct from one another to categorize as an entire subset of the culture," he says. And that's the whole point: People experiencing homelessness can't be boxed into a few stereotypes; they're as diverse and deserving of our love and support as anyone else.

He hopes Fifty Sandwiches helps close "the gap between the perception and the reality of homelessness." After all, no one should be defined by their housing situation, and most of the people he talked to didn't start out homeless. "I felt it would be important to share their stories and give a voice to a population whose cries often go unheard," Doering says.

"I ended every single interview asking the question, 'If you could give any advice to the public in their treatment of homeless people, what would it be?'" Doering explains. "The overwhelming response was along the lines of, 'Treat us like we are people.'"

You can read more stories and learn about Fifty Sandwiches on the project's website.

Kandis Mak is a successful Canadian actress working in Los Angeles. She's been on "Workaholics," "True Blood," and "Rush Hour" to name a few, but the questions she hears when she meets someone usually go something like this:

"So ... where is your mother from?"  

"Montreal."


"Oh, then where are you from?"

"Los Angeles."

"No, no, where are you from from?"

Photo via Kandis Mak, used with permission.

For ethnically ambiguous people, this "where are you from from" question is typically accompanied by a slight cock of the head and squint of the eyes as people try to understand what category to place them in.

If we must, how do we define "ethnically ambiguous"?

It's someone who looks like multiple races and cultures. They can have a slight darkness to their skin or maybe "non-traditional features" (historically defined by Europeans for the last 800 years).

130 million people in America are classified as non-white, and more than 9 million people consider themselves multiracial. That means close to half of the country can be classified as ethnically ambiguous or a melding of many cultures, races, and nationalities. National Geographic went so far as to say that within the next 40 years, everyone will look this way.

Yet despite the growing number of people defining themselves as ethnically ambiguous, individuals still face daily questions and uncomfortable conversations about their identity. Here are some of them:

1. "Do you speak a foreign language?"

"I've had multiple people just be very confused as to what my background is," says Raajik Shah, an Indian producer. "They'll come up and ask, 'Are you Indian? Are you French? Pakistani? Black?' I've gotten Mexican out here, I've gotten them all."

Photo via Raajik Shah, used with permission.

Even when someone correctly identifies Shah's Indian heritage, they often take it a step further and end up asking another silly question.

"The one that's the best is when they ask, hesitantly, 'Do you speak Indian?' Which is hilarious because ... that's not a language, and then I feel like I have to explain it in a way that won't be insulting," Shah says.

2. "How about those Arabic people, right?"

"Sometimes people will talk about my culture, not in the nicest way, without realizing I'm Arabic," says Jessica Sherif, who is of Arabic descent, which of course leads to some inevitable awkwardness when they do find out she is part of the same culture they're joking about or insulting.

Photo via Jessica Sherif, used with permission.

"People have a really hard time pinpointing me down," she explains. "It feels as if not knowing is some weird instability and the conversation can't keep moving forward."

3. "Why are you pretending you don't understand me?"

"When you're ethnically vague, people assume that you are what they are," says Gabrielle Kessler, whose family is from Colombia. "If you're talking to someone Dominican, they think you're Dominican; if you're talking to somebody Puerto Rican, they think you're Puerto Rican. If you're talking to someone Italian — I'm from the east coast — everybody automatically assumes that you're Italian."

Photo via Gabrielle Kessler, used with permission.

She's noticed people assume she's different races depending on where she is in America.

"When I moved out to California, I'd get Persian, all the time, people speaking Farsi to me, literally trying to convince me I'm Persian. And the Armenians would exclaim, 'Oh, you're so Armenian!' It's so confusing because some people want you to be like them and others need to identify you one way or another."

4. "But you don't look [insert culture/race here]."

Mak, Sherif, Kessler, and Shah are of Cantonese, Arabic, Colombian, and Indian descent respectively. On any given day, they are asked if they are French, Pakistani, Afghan, Mexican, African, Persian, Armenian, Korean, Hawaiian, Malaysian, Philippine, Japanese, Italian, Dominican, Brazilian, Spanish, Puerto-Rican, Chinese, Venezuelan, Moroccan, Lebanese, Egyptian, and many more. Daily.

The situation seems to be binary. Either you have been preselected by another minority group as one of their proud members or everyone else is desperately trying to get to the bottom of your DNA. Then when they do, sometimes they don't believe you.

So, is there a way to eliminate these kinds of interactions?

It's not always malicious intent that provokes these uncomfortable interactions of course, but they still happen.

The closer we get to just seeing people for what they have to offer, what they think, and what they say and not the molecular breakdown of their DNA, the better off we'll be as a human race. We'll be more united as a people rather than us being a people solely defined by our race — a historically massive obstacle to true unity.

"Once we realize that we're just a part of humanity and stop trying to classify we'll be in a better place ... though it will take a long time before we get there," says Mak.

It hasn't been a great year for tolerance. But Daianna Karaian has a plan.

As an American living abroad in the U.K., Karaian has was hit hard emotionally by both the Brexit referendum and the U.S. election.

"Tears have definitely been shed but quickly replaced by a resolve to do something," she says. "If ever there was a time for people to make things better, this is it."


Her solution? Little paper cards, hidden in stores, coffee shops, train cars, or wherever. The cards say "A Place For" followed by a blank space.

Immigrants. Muslims. Cat lovers. Anything goes.

Photo by Robbie Dale, used with permission.

Folded inside, finders get instructions for how and why they can print their own cards.

Photo by Robbie Dale, used with permission.

It's a simple way to show others that no matter what's going on in the world, there are people who accept them. At the very least, it's a small injection of joy in a stranger's day.

Karaian is calling it a "guerrilla campaign for tolerance," and now, others are joining in.

First in London and then all over the world, people have been using these cards and marking places for the brave...

...for friendly rivalry...

...for sharing and kindness...

...for students...

...or even just for a quiet moment.

Karaian has placed many of the cards herself, and she says her favorite part is watching people find them.

She says they pick up the cards curiously, cautiously at first, like they're passing notes in math class. Then, when they read the card, there's usually a big smile.

And just like that, phase one (brightening their day) is done. From there, Karaian hopes they'll pass the kind notion along.

"There's this sense that this past year has been hell-bent on dividing us," she says. "It's nice to be reminded ... that most of us just want to love and be loved, no matter who you voted for and what you think or what color your skin is or what religion you practice."