I’m working with similes today. Trust me, this has a point.
Rocks on the Moon are a lot more jagged than most of the stones you find lying around here on Earth. This is primarily because of the constant movement of air and water over and around them, plus the added excitement of earthquakes, landslides, animals, plants, and people shaking them about. Exposure to the elements and other rocks combine to smooth stones over time, as their abrasive properties mutually cut down the rough edges that appear when the rocks are left to fracture on their own. If you’ve ever seen a rock tumbler, you know that you can apply these forces artificially to speed up the smoothing process.
On the Moon, rocks are jagged, right down to the powder level, to the point where breathing the dust can irritate the nasal passages of human astronauts and produce allergic reactions. In general, this is because lunar rocks don’t experience the daily smoothing from wind, water, and life that their Earth-based counterparts do. The most interaction lunar rocks get with the elements is the occasional collision with large or small meteorites crashing into the lunar surface. Such impacts are violent and infrequent, though they do add up over millions of years. The mountains on the Moon are not jagged peaks like they are on Earth; they’ve had their tops smoothed down (compared to Earth) by the unceasing rain of debris from around the inner solar system. But there’s no way around it: the Moon’s surface is one big blast zone, with craters upon craters piling up large stretches of shattered landscape.
To get an idea of what I’m talking about, look at lunar dust and particles of Earth sand under a microscope (lunar particles on top):
The Moon particles look like pieces of broken glass–the kind that cut. The Earth sand grains, while gritty under foot, look like marbles by comparison, thanks to all that time jostling about in the surf.
What on Earth (or Off of it) Does This Have to Do With Technical Writing?
I’m going to make a leap here and say that people can be like rocks, Earth-like or lunar. The more exposure we have to the elements and other rocks (people), the smoother our edges get because we have to adjust to their presence. Left along for long periods of time without a lot of interactions with others, the rough edges of our personality–bad moods, uncompromising attitudes, angry comments–can get and remain sharp.
For me, the pandemic has made social interactions akin to living on the Moon: they’re infrequent, and (given the tensions of the last year) occasionally unpleasant. I’m not as used to guarding my tongue or restraining the tone of my messages because there aren’t other people in close proximity pushing back and demanding that I tone down my rhetoric or attitude.
Now I’m getting to the point where I can be out among large crowds of people without restrictions such as those jaw corsets (masks) and getting back in touch with friends in person. My human interaction skills need refreshing. My patience with other people talking or correcting me isn’t quite as evident after months of quiet and doing things my own way.
So here’s a polite reminder–to myself and to you–as you return to the workplace and get reacquainted with facing people in public on a regular basis. We’ve all gotten a little rough around the edges. We need to slow down, return to more polite habits, and learn to get along with others again. The social rock tumbler awaits.