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Disclaimer: This rant is not directed toward anyone, nor is it in response to any particular situation, conversation, or action. These thoughts have just been bouncing around my head for a long time now, and today's a slow day so I finally have an opportunity to get this written up.

Dear Mankind,

I don't get you people. Really, I don't. Call me a robot if you like (goodness knows I take no offense at the term!), but many of the subtle nuances of human interaction are lost on me. I just doesn't pick up on things that are often obvious to others.

For the most part this isn't really a big deal. My friends and loved ones are patient folk (with the possible exception of one or two cold, unfeeling monsters in my circle of friends, but they tend to share the same basic problem so it's all good ;-) ) and are willing to explain things to me "in captain dummy talk".

Additionally (and most importantly for the purposes of this post), I've developed a few basic coping strategies that allow me to enjoy interactions with people even when I can't quite grasp why they feel certain ways about certain things. One of these has, I think, given me a bit of an outsider's perspective on human interpersonal conflict, and I'd like to share it with you all in the hope that you'll either gain a bit of insight or show me where I'm dead-ass wrong and naive.

I don't make assumptions about people's hidden intentions based on gut instinct. No, that's not quite right. Generally, I can't make assumptions about people's hidden intentions based on gut instinct, 'cuz it's simply not there. To compensate, I've tried to come up with some rules to apply to situations which are unclear.

Have you heard of Occam's Razor? It's an idea that roughly boils down to "when trying to explain a phenomenon, don't go with an unnecessarily complex explanation when a simpler one will suffice." I'd like to introduce a corollary for interpersonal conflict- "when trying to understand someone's motivation, don't assume any more malice or evil than is absolutely necessary." Am I being naive? I don't think so. This axiom has worked well for me. Actually, it has worked really, amazingly well. Off the top of my head I can't think of a single situation where it has proven to be wrong. Conversely, I have been hurt by falling into that trap. Sometimes badly.

The greatest shortcoming of mankind is unclear communication. The second greatest is the assumption of malice.

This isn't to say that we're all saints. Obviously we aren't. This isn't to say that there isn't true evil in the world. There probably is (no, I'm not willing to go so far as to say definitely). Sometimes we're inconsiderate, insecure, or greedy. But I'll bet you diamonds to dollars that more suffering is visited upon humanity by miscommunication, false assumption, or simple ignorance than outright evil or malice could ever hope to cause. So why do we seem to jump to the conclusion that "so-and-so did X because they're an asshole"? Maybe because it's easier to form a mental model of someone's bad behavior by filling in the gaps with "X is a bitch" or "X is a thief" or "X is trying to steal my boyfriend" or "X is psycho" than it is to find out what their actual thought process is. They're probably not an asshole, at least not most of the time. They're probably just stupid. The distinction between the two is important. Ignorance can usually be cured.

One nice thing about this axiom is that while it relates most specifically to interpersonal relationships it can often be scaled up.
Pop quiz: President Bush is opposed to educating school kids about condoms, for fear that it'll encourage pre-marital sex. Based only on this information, is he
A) An asshole
B) An ignoramus?
If you guessed 'B' then you're right. If you guessed 'A' then you may very well still be right, but you missed the part about "based only on this information". :-)

What's funny is that this seems to be a particularly human behavior. Ever accidentally step on a dog's tail? Unless the dog has been badly abused, their immediate response doesn't indicate that the dog thinks that you're a sadistic bastard- he assumes that he's done something to piss you off, but upon reassurance seems relieved and forgets it ever happened. Hell, this seems to hold true for cats as well, and they're notoriously unforgiving! Every watch two domestic animals accidentally annoy each other? The dog accidentally steps on the cat or the cat's tail keeps swishing in the dog's face, preventing him from sleeping? I see this kind of thing happen all the time with Trogdor and Reina (zensidhe and redheadlass's dog and cat, in case you didn't know). Trogdor thinks that Reina is the greatest toy on the planet, but for the most part Reina seems to view Trogdor as an aggressive, clumsy irritation. (Granted, she does seem to miss him when he's not around to make her life interesting.) Reina wigs when Trogdor chases her, but if his wagging tail is knocking her in the head she patiently puts up with it, even though she's already predisposed to not liking him. Why is this such a difficult thing for people to do?

Okay, so much for the assumption of malice. I do want to say one quick thing about unclear communication. Clear, direct communication between two people can be enormously difficult, especially when there's a lot of emotion involved. Throw a third person into the mix as a relay and you can forget about getting any signal with your noise, especially if that third person has any kind of bias whatsoever.

"I hate A because B told me they heard A say that he likes to rape kittens!"
Did you hear A say that he likes to rape kittens?
"No, but B is a reliable person who would never lie to me."
Very good- you're learning! I applaud your refusal to jump to the conclusion that B is speaking out of malice! Now why else might there be a disconnect here? If you can't think of a half-dozen possibilities off the top of your head then you're not trying.

"I think that A is a two-faced turd because they're nice to me in person but I've heard that they talk shit about me to other people."
Somebody is talking shit in this scenario, but it isn't A. See the irony here?

Statements like this set off warning bells for me, usually relating more to the person speaking than to the person being spoken about. These statements create what I call the Dramasphere (made up the term myself!). Again, they're usually not a sign of malice. Just misunderstanding gone horribly wrong. I've seen entire social communities torn apart by the Dramasphere. I've seen people alienate good friends simply because they refused to question the completeness and accuracy of their data.

I used to say that first-hand information is reliable, second-hand is questionable, third-hand is fiction. Nowadays I think that's being generous.

For Zogg's sake, Mankind! Is it too much to ask that you assume good intentions and insist on going straight to the source and being upfront to get information? I don't understand you people, but I do like you people! You're really much nicer than you give yourself credit for. It's a pity that it takes a brain damaged automaton like me to see the good in you.




( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 27th, 2006 02:17 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 27th, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
They're probably just stupid. The distinction between the two is important. Ignorance can usually be cured.

I draw a distinct line between stupid and ignorant. You're right, ignorance can be fixed....but stupid is forever. ;)
Apr. 27th, 2006 05:02 pm (UTC)
Very good point. Often ignorance masquerades as stupidity though, so I'm loathe to give up on anyone solely on the basis of an apparent lack of synaptic activity.

Likewise with communication skills. Everyone has room to improve, and most of us are capable of doing so once we become aware of the need to do so.
Apr. 27th, 2006 06:33 pm (UTC)
What do you mean by that?! ;)
Apr. 27th, 2006 04:40 pm (UTC)
A rant of my own in response
I think that most of my distaste for humanity is abject hatred of stupidity. Culturally, that's our own fault. We teach to the lowest common denominator instead of forcing children to aspire for more. We value Paris Hilton more than third grade teachers. We don't teach logic and philosophy in high school (about the age that our Founding Fathers learned such stuff), and instead turn out generations of quasi-illiterates who never read a book after they turn in their last book report. Most of our college graduates never even have to write a research paper. And God forbid they have to take calculus!

And of course another class of these idiots is about to be released on the world in the form of my own law school class. We grow idiots on trees.

Apr. 27th, 2006 05:25 pm (UTC)
Re: A rant of my own in response
As someone who made a habit out of failing Calculus I still agree with your point. :-)

See my above comment to Kevin. I think that the important part of your comment is that the problem is more a matter of cultural emphasis, rather than actual intellectual capacity. For all her faults, Paris Hilton is a damn sight easier on the eyes than my third grade teacher was. Our society is so crowded with shiny things that it's a real challenge to focus on the nuts and bolts (boy do I know that!).

I think that our educational techniques are partly to blame as well, though frankly I don't have any suggestions for improvement that wouldn't be wildly expensive. Schools focus primarily on loading data into our heads by rote rather than sparking genuine interest. If a student's interest can be ignited then the learning takes care of itself.

One thing about idiots growing on trees. When considering the intelligence level of "the average person", I think that we have a tendency to look at the very bottom of the barrel and assume that they represent the average. I'm not saying that that's what you're doing. I just wanted to make that point somewhere and this seemed like as good a place as any. :-)

Apr. 28th, 2006 05:23 am (UTC)
Re: A rant of my own in response
I agree, absolutely. Our schools are supposed to teach to the average student in the classroom, but they teach as though the average kid is a complete idiot. And so we turn average kids into undereducated ones and unleash them on the world. That's just unacceptable.

Don't even get me started on the FCAT.
Apr. 28th, 2006 08:13 am (UTC)
Re: A rant of my own in response
Public schools have no funding. Their rules are no longer designed to allow them to effectively "teach". Teachers do not get paid enough to "care" if the kids are actually learning how to function in the real world. The good ones spend their own money and that gets old after a while. FCAT is a waste of time.

I put my son in private school and will closely monitor his education. If more parents took an active role in education, well, you know. Ignorance breeds ignorance. Education is only as important as you are raised to believe it to be.
Apr. 28th, 2006 10:58 am (UTC)
Re: A rant of my own in response
So every year that they raise my taxes for education, where is that money going? Why did Pinellas lay off teachers last month, and have a surplus of money last year?
* These to questions have had my blood boiling for the last few months.

And while I'm at it: Why if you owe the IRS money they charge interest, yet if they owe me I don't see a cent of interest?

Makes me wanna burn the mother f$%ker down!

Apr. 28th, 2006 01:13 pm (UTC)
Re: A rant of my own in response
I agree. I think since they got rid of corporal punishment and took away the schools ability to discipline, it weakened their ability to teach and do what they are being paid (by all of us) to do. Their is no accountability. Many parents do not take responsibility for their kids behavior and do not make sure they are getting their money's worth.

Taxes and the "lottery" money, too are supposed to be going to the schools. Very valid question as to where it all goes. So, yeah, I pay for the public school and pay for the private one, too. I thought I heard one time Florida is one of the lowest paid states. I think Georgia is one of the higher ones. Don't quote that hearsay though.
Apr. 28th, 2006 05:25 am (UTC)
Re: A rant of my own in response
Oh, and I just want to say: Zogg is love.
Apr. 28th, 2006 08:15 am (UTC)
"The greatest shortcoming of mankind is unclear communication. The second greatest is the assumption of malice."


I usually have the speak before I think disease! LOL Most of the time, once you have said it, it is too late to take it back.
Apr. 28th, 2006 08:39 am (UTC)
i may be cold and unfeeling but i dont think ive quite made the jump into monsterhood yet, or mayb ei have, i might be a little close to the problem to tell :)
Apr. 28th, 2006 01:15 pm (UTC)
look deep into yourself, grasshopper.... LOL
Apr. 28th, 2006 02:02 pm (UTC)
dont wanna, you cant make me
Apr. 28th, 2006 02:11 pm (UTC)
I could think of fun ways to try. Mwahahahahaha
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )