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(emotional congruency being the thing I talked about in my last substantive post, for anyone reading this in the future who didn't also see the previous one)

In one of those strange 'the universe is paying attention to me' moments, two of the people I read recently posted on topics that touch on the need for emotional congruency. One about how when someone close to them died unexpectedly, they think it might have been a comfort to them if there had been the kind of mass grief and hysteria involved as there was for people like Princess Diana. The other about how a lot of fans have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that the thing they love may not be loved by others and may in fact have problematic aspects and that this doesn't in any way diminish their capacity to love it anyway, rather than feeling the need to start a flamewar every time someone implies that they don't like the thing enough.

A third related phenomenon is outrage-blogging, where the point (besides generating traffic) is to get validation by writing inflammatory posts about things that bother you. Once you get sufficiently good at this, your audience will consist of 90% people who violently agree with you and enjoy the shared outrage, and 10% people who violently disagree with you, who get their own outrage-fix by fighting against the 90% in the comments section. And yet another related phenomenon is the 'release the winged monkeys' effect, where bloggers who have enough popularity have to be careful about how they share outrage, because if they're not careful a certain portion of their audience will swoop over to the source of the outrage and attempt to bury them in hate/counterarguments/etc. And if the source of the outrage has their own sufficiently large audience... well. But the relevant point here is that even if the blogger is not habitually an outrage-blogger and their audience is fairly reasonable, there's something about someone you respect expressing outrage that seems to incite other people to start feeling the same way and to jump to their defense.

I'm still mulling this over way too much to have a coherent mini-essay here about the common points and what it all means and all that, so instead here are some disjointed thoughts on the topic:
  1. There seem to be a couple of magic ingredients here: strength of emotion, and level of status/respect
  2. The stronger the emotion, the more unacceptable it feels for other people not to share that emotion
  3. And when witnessing strong emotion in someone else, the higher their perceived status (to you, the witness) the more likely you'll hop on their emotional bandwagon
  4. It follows from points 2 and 3 that if you feel a strong emotion and other people don't validate it, you must have low status. Now you have two problems: you're upset *and* you're not important enough to have your emotions respected, which is going to feed into your upsetness
  5. I'm tempted to draw some kind of line from low self-esteem or relatively weak personal identity to the desire for emotional congruency, because feeling temporarily disrespected is only a major problem if you feel it implies certain things about you in the grand scheme of things
  6. I'm also tempted to draw a line from extroversion to the desire for emotional congruency, because my experience suggests that the more extroverted you are the more passionate you tend to get about things in general, which would correlate to the 'strength of emotion' part (NB: my subject pool has a major confound in that almost all the introverts I know are NT types on the MBTI)
  7. There's a psych concept called 'locus of control', where if you perceive it as being outside yourself then you're going to feel helpless and like you have no control over your life and if you perceive it as being internal then you feel like you have agency and so forth. I'm going to guess that there's a similar sort of 'locus of identity' concept, where if your sense of self is anchored on a small number of external things like 'is a good parent' or 'Star Trek fan' then you're going to feel massively threatened if one of those things is challenged in some way, such as getting into a fight with your adult child or hearing someone talk about why Star Trek kind of sucks in some ways. Whereas if your identity is more diffuse (parent + fan + athlete + writer +...) or you happen to be one of those lucky people who don't need any kind of external validation at all, then a threat to one of the things you like isn't going to faze you so much.
  8. And obviously the more threatened you feel the stronger your emotional reaction to the threat and the more important it becomes to you that other people at the very least acknowledge your emotions
  9. But none of this fully explains to me why there's the split between belief-congruency and emotional-congruency verbal fight styles. I'm fairly neurotic so it's not like I haven't had my share of strong negative emotions. So why haven't I ever had the urge to start saying hurtful things to get a rise out of the other person?
erratio: (Default)
A while back I read this post. Short version: When people get into verbal fights, their styles can be roughly split into truth-shouters, who say the truths that they would normally hold back or find themselves unable to express, versus cutlery-loaders, who say all kinds of things that may or may not be true in order to blow off steam and get a reaction out of the other person* - in effect they just load whatever's handy into their cannons and then fire that off, hence the term. I think there might be a more useful way to reframe the concepts: Truth-shouters are aiming to make people know/believe the same things as them. Which is why when things get stressful, the uncomfortable facts start coming out. Cutlery-loaders on the other hand are aiming to make people feel the same things as them. Which is why when they're angry/upset, they'll say whatever they think will cause the other person to feel a similar emotion and often get even more upset if the other person doesn't take the bait, because it makes them feel like their emotions are being treated as invalid or overreaction.**

I can't help wondering whether these are more general interaction styles and are just a lot more obvious during arguments because those tendencies get blown up to several times their usual size.

* Obviously this is a bit of a simplification. Lots of people are not purely one or the other, there are probably styles that don't allow neat categorisations, etc. But I think it's still a useful abstraction

** It's probably obvious from my explanations that I'm a truth-shouter, hence my less-than-charitable description of cutlery-loaders.

The insight for this post came from a Facebook argument where I ended up being accused of acting as if the other person wasn't entitled to their emotions (which was my own fault really - I didn't share their outrage and instead jumped to objecting to part of the factual content of their post). During the ensuing exchange they then expressed a view that can be summarised as '[bad thing] happened to me, and I hope it starts happening to others so that the situation will be addressed before [worse thing] happens to me". After applying the principle of charity, this reads to me as "[bad thing] has caused me to worry about [worse thing], and I wish other people felt the same way as me because then they would take action to help avert the chances of [worse thing] happening". But on first reading, boy did that sentiment get my hackles up.

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Humans have a set weight point, right? Which varies from person to person. And different caloric and nutritional needs, and different metabolisms. All of which is basically a long way to say that if you see someone who looks over- or underweight, you can't necessarily assume anything about their diet or overall health.

But somehow, when it comes to pets, there's a weight range that they're 'supposed' to be, and if they're above or below those numbers you are perfectly justified, nay urged, to put them on a special diet to get their weight within that range.

What's the difference? If I'm healthier weighing differently than my BMI says I'm supposed to, might that not also be the case for a pet? Or if we take the corollary of 'it's okay to put your pet on a special diet', would that imply that it's our duty to put people, especially children, on diets too?

I'm currently catsitting for my housemates, which is almost identical to what I usually do except that now I'm also taking care of his food and water and litter for a week. He's currently on a diet because last time he went to the vet he was about a pound and a half over the maximum healthy weight for his breed. And one of the things that stood out while Male Housemate was explaining to me how much food and water to give to the cat was his mentioning that the cat is drinking more water than he used to. And the thought that passed through my mind was 'isn't that what people on diets do to make themselves less hungry?'. I dunno. Maybe the extra pound and a half is associated with drastically higher rates of Bad Things, but if it causes him to be hungry all the time there's a quality of life argument there.
erratio: (Default)
People like to say that if aliens exist they most likely do it in a form that is in no way similar to ours, and to believe otherwise is grossly anthropocentric. But then what if we have contact with aliens and they *are* humanoid? Will it in fact prove that humanity/humanoids really are the superior race? And then there'll be another race that was 'created in God's image', so it would be fascinating listening to what the various religious institutions had to say about it. Even more outlandish would be if we got Star Trek style aliens who are identical to humans except for silly brow ridges and stuff, and who use language in the same manner we do. That would really be stacking the odds though.

These days when I get on a bus I sometimes like to check out my fellow passengers. Generally there's a few types: There's the daydreamer, who stares out the window and steadfastly refuses to admit to the reality of his existence on public transpot. Then there's the business-like approach of the starer, who just sits there and stares straight ahead. No doubt they're lost in their own little world even more than the daydreamer. Then there's the inevitable person or two who spends the entire trip on their mobile. Then there are the couples who can't keep their hands off eachother, the schoolkids who think no one else in the world matters, the crazies who'll talk to anyone who'll listen (and frequently to the air if no one else will), and many many elderly.

I want to create but I'm having trouble staying focussed on anything long enough to develop it past, oh.. 50% of an initial draft? Possibly less even. I'll start out with an interesting idea and then lose steam within a paragraph or two of the outline. I probably shouldn't force it but it's not like I have anything else to do during these holidays... *shrug* They weren't such great ideas after all.

I find it interesting to try to guess what people are saying from context alone. Mise en scene my Year 10 English teacher called it, I think. One of my Bangladeshi coworkers seems to find it equally amusing to speak to me entirely in Hindi and see how I respond (since it's a very controlled context my response is usually fairly accurate). People are always so surprised to find out that despite not understanding any of the words the context, body language and tone of voice gives away nearly as much as the words themselves. But then online one can do more or less the same thing by analysing people's grammar, spelling and word choices. Get all that extra meaning that is, not understand foreign languages :P The textual equivalent of body language?
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Firstly, I'd like to dedicate this post to my job for waking me up at 4:30am on a non-work day so that I had time to do some uni work and write this post. I appreciate it, really. Much more so than the two and a half hours of sleep I could have been getting instead.

Today I'd like to talk about leading, and to a lesser extent teaching. Any position where you have authority over other people I guess. There's so many reasons why people end up in these positions and so many people I've seen in leadership positions are quite frankly crap at their jobs. So here's the general trends I've noticed in people who end up in positions of authority. Most people seem to be a combination of two of the categories.

The Megalomaniac: This is the person who enjoys having the power for the sake of power. They're the ones who often hand out overly harsh punishments and then refuse to recant without extensive begging, or not at all. They're also the ones who seem to make arbitrary decisions for the sake of seeing their peons run to carry out their orders. The odd thing is, Megalomaniacs can often make good leaders despite their need to inflate their own egos. I think it's partly because at least their colossal arrogance stops others from challenging their authority too much. Also, provided that the arrogance is paired with intelligence everyone may hate the Megalomaniac but simultaneously need to concede that they do their job effectively.

Everyone's Friend: This person is the opposite of the Megalomaniac. They're in the position because they want to help other people. The most important factor to them isn't whether their orders get carried out or whether they're doing their job correctly but rather how much people approve of what they're doing. Basically, they're leading because they want to be liked. They tend to not be the best leaders because they care too much about what others will think, and leadership means having to make unpopular decisions some of the time and then having the ruthlessness to enforce them. They tend to be popular but not respected.

The Workaholic: For this person the job is everything. It's not about the power trip of ordering other people around or of being popular but about how the power of the position allows you to carry out your job more effectively. Their main strength is that they're not as driven by their emotions (be it the need to stroke your own ego, or the need to stroke everyone else's) as the Megalomaniac or Everyone's Friend. Their main weakness is that they tend to be fairly detached, seeing the people under them as tools to get the job done rather than as real people who need to be interacted with. They tend to be respected for their work ethic but not very popular.

The Visionary: This is the person who wants to lead because being on top means that you get to introduce new ideas rather than carry out other people's ideas. They tend to suffer from the same detachment as the Workaholic, seeing everyone else as either obstacles in their path to the future or tools to implement their ideas. However if their ideas are valuable and they remember to come back down to Earth once in a while they can also be immensely popular, since they tend to have the boundless energy and enthusiasm that comes with being an innovator. Of course, if their ideas aren't so great then they can be responsible for wasting huge amounts of everyone's time and energy.

The Accidental: This is the person who becomes a leader because there just isn't anyone else available for the job. Sometimes they end up in the position because they were the assistant whatsis when the head guy disappeared, sometimes they're an underling whose sense of responsibility won't let the helm go unfilled, and sometimes they're just the unpopular guy who everyone else voted in because they sure as heck didn't want the job. The Accidental usually feels overwhelmed by the demands of a job they never wanted, but soon enough they'll morph into one of the other types, albeit with a lingering sense of resentment for being forced into the position in the first place. Accidentals are often the worst leaders of all because at the end of the day they have the tailor-made excuse of "But I didn't ask for this!" to fall back on. Everyone else tends to give it their all because they deliberately put themselves into the position, but for the Accidental giving up if it gets too hard is always going to look like a tempting option, and who's going to blame them for it?

Regardless of the categories, the most effective leaders I've seen tend to be the ones with lots of personal charisma. Charisma makes the Megalomaniac charming/funny rather than authoritarian, it makes Everyone's Friend seem as if they know what they're doing even as they spend endless hours in private agonising over how to make people happy, and it gives the Workaholic and the Visionary that human touch they're otherwise missing.

I wish I had some witty coda to put here, some concluding statement to tie it all together, but really I don't. These are just my observations. Ooh wait there's always the question to the audience, isn't there? Which type(s) are you? +10 points to anyone who truthfully admits to being part Megalomaniac given my unflattering description of it :p


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