Thursday, August 10, 2017

Expecting Damaged People to Self-Repair to Accommodate You

Here's one of the hardest lessons: When people treat you poorly, there's one critical question to ask yourself before taking offense: do they treat themselves any better?

A plumber friend vented to me one night. He'd gone to the house of a mutual acquaintance to investigate some emergency in his basement. And the basement was a shocking killing field of cat feces and other random, fetid garbage. It was Silence-of-the-Lambs bad. He cringed as he told the story.

The plumber couldn't fathom how the guy could have expected him to walk through all that. Clean it up first! Grab a broom! Show some consideration! He felt, more than anything, disrespected.

I pointed out that the guy lives there. His kids live there. This is how they live! If he were together enough to clean stuff up and make things nice, he and his family would be living in vastly different conditions. If he had it in him to take care of stuff properly, his life would be vastly better. You can't expect him to show more consideration, diligence and effort for his plumber than he does for himself and his loved ones!

My plumber friend won't be back, but he quickly dropped his feeling of offense.

This flip of perspective doesn't come easily to me, even though I'm more conscious of it than most people. I still have to process every single situation through this filter. Most of all, I'm shocked by the frequency. This result isn't exceptional, it's the rule.

We're clearly seeing the world with a skewed perspective, not to notice this more. I think it's that we presume - against all evidence! - most people to be essentially reasonable, capable, and competent. So we punish them when their defects impact us, figuring they've lowered standards out of thoughtless disregard.

An irrational person I know lives a fairly desperate life. When she recently managed to needlessly damage a situation vitally important to me, I flashed with anger. Why couldn't she be reasonable?!? Well...if she could get out of her own way and be reasonable, she'd do so for reasons far more profound than obliging my needs.

Narcissists take note (and I've met very few non-narcissistic humans): it's unreasonable to expect damaged people to self-repair to accommodate you*. Expressed this way it sounds completely self-evident; hardly needing to be stated. But I dare you to actually internalize it over time without heroic effort.

* - ...and very many people are profoundly damaged, whether they reveal - or even self-recognize - it or not.


This is all really just an offshoot of Leff's Fourth Law (which, as I later conceded, was expressed way better way earlier by Napoleon).

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