Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Paying Attention to Crazy People, i.e. People

If I had it all to do over again, I'd change one thing: I'd pay way less attention to crazy people.

I've felt a burning curiosity about the thinking and perspective of crazy people, which has driven me to pay them far too much attention, and listen way too deeply. I've worked tirelessly to find resonance with their worldview so I can see things as they see them (you can't really understand someone unless you resonate with them in some way).

At this point, I get it. Immediately. I see their perspective - I can inhabit it - and, really, I'd rather not. It turns out that's not such a good skill to have. Knowing isn't helpful.

I've had more crazy people in my life than most people, but running Chowhound, with its inevitable psycho load (scale's a bitch), was a few steps beyond. As I wrote years ago:
One of Chowhound's moderators is a psychologist who's spent years treating indigent addicts in the South Bronx. After just a few weeks working with us, she declared that she'd been shocked to observe vastly more twisted and demented behavior in a given week of moderating Chowhound than she ever had at her day job. Helping to manage Chowhound amounts to what she describes as "a post-graduate course in aberrational psychology".
The larger problem is that everyone's at least a little nuts - and often more than a little. I know this because I can spot and understand the cray-cray so easily. So if I were to lose my understanding and empathy for them, that would mean less comprehension of humanity, generally.

But that would be fine. Too much understanding of people (which should be the subtitle of this Slog) is as troublesome as any other excess.

When I was a kid, I had no understanding of people whatsoever. All I knew was that these mysterious, irrational entities kept blocking me from doing the stuff I was into doing (which rarely affected them). They were needy, aggressive, and deluded, and one couldn't talk sense with them.

Rather than shrugging dismissively and blithely turning back to my interests, I pivoted, spending years exploring the mystery - unknotting the irrationality, accounting for the neediness, explaining the aggression, and discounting the delusions.

Mission accomplished, but I should have trusted my childhood instincts - always better than I'd realized - and plowed ahead with my stuff. I've gotten very little out of this detour. I can offer insights here on the Slog, but, as I said in my previous posting, understanding people doesn't help. There's not much practical application for empathy, which I suppose is why it's so rare.

Maybe if I wanted to manipulate people, this sort of knowledge would have been useful. But a firm prohibition against that sort of thing is one of several childhood creeds I continue to respect and obey.

BTW, I hope you've enjoyed my bitter post-holidy mumblings. For my previous burst of misanthropy, see this posting composed immediately after a jaunt to Trader Joe's at peak shopping time.


Display Name said...

I have been very much enjoying your posts Jim. As a child adults were these stupid giants. I was baffled when one asked me what my favorite season was. It was the dumbest question ever. How could I choose? They were all wonderful.

Jim Leff said...

What always perplexed me was that they tended to use this idiotic, juvenile tone of voice when addressing me. I figured something was wrong with them, and tried to humor them as best I could.

The stupid questions (ala favorite season) were just more of the same. Not too smart to begin with, they all turned into absolute idiots when speakiing to me, for reasons I couldn't fathom.

Display Name said...

Heh, the whole alcoholic thing with my family kept things interesting but excessive alcohol is not known for making people smarter. Always trying to get back to the all seasons are wonderful mindset. A worthy goal I think.

Blog Archive