Let me give you two ways that you can hurt me bad, in case you’re ever inclined to.

The first is to accuse me of half-assing something. Of not trying my best.

You might not think that’s so offensive, but let me explain.


I remember being seven years old. It was Thanksgiving time, and we were making cornucopias out of little pieces of coloured paper. A harmless arts and crafts activity. Now, arts and crafts were never my thing growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the concept. I just wasn’t very good at it. “Awful” is probably a better word. Nevertheless, despite my impressive ineptitude, I was doing my best to make this cornucopia look good. Based on what happened next, I take it that my efforts weren’t particularly successful. For you see, When I handed my artwork to Mrs. Brandon, she accused me of not trying my best. She told me me I’d have to redo it during recess.

Of all the outrage!

Now, my this point in my academic career I knew very well what my strengths and weaknesses were. I had no illusions about becoming a great artist. But I also knew that I really had been giving it my best shot. Missing recess was annoying, but the true insult was Mrs. Brandon falsely accusing me of not trying my best. That I could not abide.

And so, with rage and tears welling up inside me I returned to my desk. And I made Mrs. Brandon the most godawful cornucopia she’d ever seen. This time I really half-assed it, to show her what it looks like when I half-ass my work. The result? Mrs. Brandon made me redo the project yet again. This time I produced something of quality somewhere between the first two and Mrs. Brandon finally accepted it, perhaps only to put the issue to bed.

It’s been sixteen years, and although I’ve forgotten every other insult heaved at me from grade two, I’ve never forgotten the indignation I felt from being accused of not giving something my best effort.


The reason that this insult is so effective on me is because of what it implies.

The first thing it implies is that my accuser doesn’t know me very well. If you telling me that I’m not trying, that’s a very clear signal that you don’t know me all that well. I either give things a full effort, or I don’t bother at all.  That’s why I dropped Japanese class last year – I realized that I couldn’t give the class my full effort, and given the choice between proceeding half-heartedly and not proceeding at all, I chose the latter. That’s why in Grade 12 I tried to drop out of DI. I realized that I’d bitten off more than I could chew, and that I was half-assing my way through the whole thing. So when you’re telling me I’m not giving something my best effort, you’re almost certainly spouting a lie directly to my face. And you’re spouting a lie when you have no idea what you’re talking about. That’s pretty infuriating. And if I’m hearing this from someone who I thought was a good friend, it undermines our entire friendship. So that’s painful.

It also implies that you have a very low opinion of me – you must, if you think I’m the sort of person who would be content just going through the motions.

In certain situations, it also implies a lack of appreciation for my efforts. I’ve been known to go to absurd lengths to make people happy, and it’s pretty disheartening if someone is dissatisfied with that.

Worst of all though is that it implies that I’m just not good enough. See, when you tell me that I’m not putting in a full effort when I know I am, you’re effectively saying that my best efforts look like half efforts, and that despite my best efforts I’m well short of your expectations. And when you say that, you’re no longer just being critical of my behaviour or my attitude. Instead, you’re striking at the very core of who I am. That’s what really hurts. Sure, it sucks to find out that a friend thinks less of you than you had imagined, and it sucks to hear that your efforts are unappreciated, but I can deal with those implications. What I can’t deal with is the notion that my best efforts are simply not good enough. That’s too much.

If you ever feel like sending a torpedo in my general direction, this is a very effective way of doing so.