Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I have always had a low opinion

of people who say "Now how would you feel if someone did that to you?"

I've written on this topic before because I've had several friends in the past who liked to recite my minor sins back to me, always ending with that dumbass question. I've heard it applied to, among other sins, "kissing your ex at a party," "needing to work on the college newspaper when you have yet another boyfriend drama" and "poorly disgusing that I didn't like the romantic surprise you painstakingly prepared for me because you didn't know me very well and assumed I would love something I actually found mildly traumatic.*"

I always feel like responding "I would feel like a melodramatic, self-important idiot if I made a fuss about it." (Ok, I genuinely felt really bad about the romantic surprise at the time, though in retrospect, I don't have a lot of sympathy for planning romantic surprises for people one doesn't know very well.)

Anwyay, I'm sure with "how would YOU feel if..." the idea is that I will have a sudden, shocking revelation:

"Oh my gosh! If I had plans with a friend and they had to cancel a few days before because of a work crisis, I would feel...bad! How horribly I must have wounded you!"

(Cue dramatic, un-CC-like sobbing, wailing, moaning and begging of forgiveness,)

I think I've written before that my total disgust for anybody who uses this phrase dates back to a clingy, in retrospect completely mental college friend who used it constantly. Since, then, I've regarded it as a red flag that the person I'm dealing with might be a self-important pain-in-the-ass.

I'm fairly certain that for most of us, considering the "how would *I* feel" point is pretty much a reflex when we're about to do something that someone else will likely find unpleasant. For me it is always factored in to the cost benefit analysis I go through when making a choice about whether to, say, report someone who is giving me bad customer service, to say nothing of when I'm about to do something than might annoy a friend. So to me, there's something inherently quite insulting about asking someone to consider how they would feel in the same situation.

Anway, I've written all that before, though it has been a couple of years. Yet I find myself revisiting the idea today, because I've several times recently encoutered people who can't deal with having their own logic applied to themselves and actually haven't considered this point, and are in some cases in total denial. (Well, yeah, when you do the same thing I did, it's much worse, because of these minor distinctions that don't make much sense...)

And I am totally flummoxed by the mere existance of these people.

I've discussed this and similar issues with an admittedly snotty close friend who says that if you're going to argue with stupid people, you need to prepare yourself with the sort of logic that appeals to stupid people. This logic includes several variations on Pascal's wager, any political logic that fits on a bumper sticker, and yes, my least favorite question. But that's for winning an argument.

Usually I don't even bother to try to show stupid people they've wronged me and get an apology. It's always more work than it is worth.

So that's what I'm thinking about today. Suggestions?


*This was not theCSO. TheCSO would never ask me that question. He's way too smart and way to aware that he and I think differently.


Joel Monka said...

I've come to call the mentality you describe "R.E. Syndrome". Be that as it may, I've long held that logic and rhetoric should be taught beginning in grade school, not college. (assuming any college still requires that or Western Civ.) Merely being intelligent doesn't mean you can think any more than being hungry means you can cook.

No matter how well trained, however, we all have blind spots that kink the chain of logic at one point or another; I've seen it occur in my own life. So I would accept your snotty friend's advice, just replacing "stupid" with "blind on that subject". Putting it any other way leads one to say things like "Conservatives can memorize and parrot, but they cannot really think", or "Liberals don't think, they just feel".

Stephanie said...

Yes, I associate that phrase with elementary aged talk since it seems like a version of the Golden Rule, just simplified.

Anonymous said...

What on earth did your Romeo do to traumatize you?

LinguistFriend said...

I suspect that the Golden Rule should really be known as "Hillel's Rule", after the rabbinic predecessor of Jesus (died about 10 AD) from whom it seems to be paraphrased in positive form from Hillel's negative version ("Do not do unto others that which is hateful to you"). But that misses the attempt at triangulation which comes into CC's issue.

Chalicechick said...

Put a blindfold on me, held my hand and walked me to and halfway across a very large and beautiful bridge, stopped in the middle, took the blindfold off and made a big romantic speech.

This bridge also had cars. Cars that were on the other side of a guardrail that I didn’t knew existed and I could hear the cars and trucks as they rushed by. I was in sexy platform shoes because I hadn’t known my surprise would involve walking. The entire time, I was convinced that if I turned my ankle or something, I would fall in to traffic and die. I dropped many, many hints of my mortal terror that were ignored and/or not picked up on.

By the time the speech was going on, I was a frightened basket case and remained so for several days. This was deeply wounding and insensitive of me, and I was informed several times over the subsequent dinner that I would be terribly hurt if I had gone to that much effort to plan a romantic surprise and the person I was trying to impress had been so callous as to be look traumatized throughout the speech.

If that happened now, I would stop, take off the blindfold and say “sorry, the blindfold was awesome, but I’m just going to have to be a little less surprised because this isn’t working for me.”

But I was younger and stupider and very much wanted to be the fun adventurous, exciting person that the romantic surprise called for.

I hope the whole thing went over better with the next Juliet.

Unfun, unadventurous, unexciting person who now refuses to go anywhere blindfolded.

PG said...

Speaking of college, ever since I had to read this for a philsophy course on contemporary ethics, I think of putting oneself in another's shoes as the most basic form of moral imagination, and am skeptical of the ability of people who cannot do it -- cannot do what we urge 5-year-olds who pinch their brothers or grab another kid's toys to do with their newly developed cognitive abilities -- to engage in any more complex feats of moral imagination. With such people, therefore, you may have to apply the morality we use for 3-year-olds, to wit: "Why did you do that when you should know it's against the rules?"

The 3-year-old isn't easily able to make the jump of thinking himself into another person's shoes, but he is able to recognize the concept of rules that must be followed even if he doesn't understand the logic behind them. The *rule* is that you don't pinch your brother, just as you don't play with the stove burners. That one harms another person, while the second poses its most immediate harm to the person doing it, isn't really a relevant point for a 3-year-old; the main thing is to institute a respect for rules until such time as the child is able to comprehend the logic behind them.

A concept of "rules of etiquette" actually is based to some extent on this 3-year-old's mentality; for people who can't be trusted to come to the correct conclusion on their own of what is appropriate, we have printed guides to help them understand that it's "against the rules" to fail to respond to a written invitation. And so with the people you encounter who wrong you and don't seem to realize that they acted badly, you may just have to point out how they have broken some social rule and try to induce an apology that way. If the wrongdoer doesn't recognize that such a social rule (e.g. "Notify people if you are going to be late by more than a few minutes") exists, don't bother trying any further.