Friday, 17 May 2013

People Are Nuts, Frankly

I think you know, if you've been paying attention, I'm a people-watcher. Some people-watchers become psycho-analysts or variations on that theme, but I have never wanted to do it professionally, for a variety of reasons. I am more into studying humans and then stealing their personalities to create characters for stories.

People are fascinating mostly because they are weird. And the weirdest people are the ones who think they are "normal". Nobody has ever defined normal, and probably can't, nevertheless a lot of people consider themselves normal, and they are the ones whose behaviour fascinates me the most.

Sometimes, of course, their behaviour shocks or even horrifies me. They are ruder, more thoughtless, more selfish, more ignorant than should be possible, and I find myself wide-eyed and speechless.

What crops up even more often though, is that they just confuse me. The more I watch, the more I learn, the more confused I get. By now, you see, after decades of people-watching there are a few things I should "get", which I don't, and obviously it's because of my own personality quirks. Nobody ever said I was normal, after all. I tend to take people as I find them. I don't search for innuendo and layers of meaning. I assume that what you say to me is the truth, and that you are in full control of your executive functions, because....I am. Pardon my honesty, as it were.

I've  blogged about all of these before, but I'm going to put them together. Together it shows just how confusing people are.

1. People who change their minds. Or, at least at the start, people who can't make their minds up at all. That is - people who dither. As a story writer, I am well aware that quite often there would be no story if this didn't happen, and some of the greatest stories ever written revolve around a "change of heart". It's not quite the same thing. A person who is presented with a brand new set of data who them corrects his view in the light of it, is not a problem. He's just wise.

No, the ones who drive me batty are just those who "have slept on it", and come up with a new version, without any new data. They even confuse me when I much prefer the second version. Why? How? OK, yes, it's great - I like your new decision, but couldn't you have come up with that to begin with? Or, defer the whole thing until you'd had however long it takes you to make a decision.

Because what this tells me is that your ability to think on your feet is lacking. That scares me a bit. But at least I would prefer it if you said "this is a toughie, let me go away and mull that over" rather than some knee-jerk reaction you're either going to have to apologize for later, or confuse everyone completely by doing a u-turn on your thoughts. Because it could happen again now, couldn't it? Just how reliable are you?

2. Similar to this, and probably connected, but with a more severe effect are people who talk rubbish. Typically women are accused of this, but in my experience men do it more. Maybe I just surround myself with rational women and irrational men.

The last time I did a blog on this topic I was very harshly criticized for my stance. That was quite a while ago, and I have tried really hard to go easy on the rubbish-talkers, but no, I'm sorry, they do too much harm. Demanding leniency is more victim-blaming, and I'm not having it.

When you open your mouth, or increasingly in today's world, when you type with your fingers, you are 100% responsible for what you say. Oh, I well know some of it is said in the heat of the moment, but it's still said. May I respectfully suggest that you count to ten before uttering a word.

Because the person it is said to does not have any responsibility at all to interpret it. None. The most that can be asked of them is that they don't smack you in the mouth.

"I didn't mean it" just won't wash, and "Oh, you knew what I meant" is even worse. Get a grip. Say what you mean, and mean what you say, and then people will understand you.

3. While we're on the subject of decision-making I'd like to offer another great example of confusion, and that is people who transfer their rights of decision making to you, and then don't like your choice.

I think we've all had a boss like this at some point, they insist on you making the decision, but they are never satisfied with the decision that you make. You know this in advance, but it doesn't help, because they are too irrational and unpredictable.

I've experienced it in recent years with customers. People lack imagination, so they ask the designer to choose something. Most people are then satisfied with that choice, but every so often you run up against one who is not just disappointed, but furious with your choice. As they are such a minority it's not a big deal, but it is very confusing indeed.

It can happen with those much closer to you, which is why choosing expensive things, like vacations or homes, should always be done by full agreement, and not "oh, you decide", because the resentment possibilities later are endless.

My point is, if you don't know what you want, at least say what you don't want. Make it VERY clear. Or STFU when you don't get what you want.

4. The most confusing people of all are those who react differently on different days of the week. Or because  the wind is in a different direction. Or because they have a red shirt other words, there must be a reason why sometimes you get pleasantness and sometimes you get wild anger, and the response to a question can vary not just in tone but in content - but I have never figured out what it is.

Again, obviously my own personality affects my ability to understand. If you ask me a question at any time of day or night, on any day, in any situation, I may have more time to offer you at certain times, but my response will be much the same. Whereas with many people, it is well-known that you have to choose your moment. With some people it's a complete crap shoot.

Sometimes people do all four of these. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you discover that quickly, and never really get too friendly. Sometimes you get stuck with them. I know a few people with parents like that.

The most common situation though, is a person on the periphery. A friend of a friend, or an in-law. Somebody who you wouldn't actually invite to dinner, but you can never quite avoid completely, and who you may even try to be nice to. But it never goes well because....well.....frankly, they're hard to handle, bordering on the unstable.

I suppose I should say at this point before anyone chimes in with "oh come on, we all do that sometimes". Yes, of course, that's not it. For some it is habitual, regular, part of their character. Well, noticing it and pointing it out is part of my character.


  1. Those are all examples that would fit under passive -aggressive problems. Everything you wrote brought to mind one name for me.

    1. Like I said, if you get all four, regularly, in one person, woah. That's not somebody I would choose to be around.

  2. #1 - I'm a classic. I even have my own Bible verse (James 1:6 in case you're curious). Now that I'm older I'm a "I need to think about it" person, particularly with issues.

    #2 I agree.

    #3 YES! YES! YES! This!

    #4 Sometimes...maybe - (refer to # 1)

    I'm trying to teach my kids (rather undo their learning) how to speak plainly. My daughter said, "It's so hot in my room" and she was throwing a fit with her brother. I told her, "Oh, your room is hot. That's too bad." She wanted him to leave his door open for cross ventilation. "Did you tell your brother to leave his door open and why?"

    See, Mel, you're right!

    1. I looked that up.

      James 1:6
      New International Version (NIV)
      6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

      And it didn't actually make any sense at all, until I saw the previous verse. I'm not sure I can address that, as a non-believer. I have a number of thoughts there, but they are probably not relevant.

  3. Many years ago I read a story which involved a television personality who was really nothing more than a government mouthpiece, telling people what to think on any given subject. The hypnotized television-watching public could flip-flop their thinking because this character presented "his" opinions and ideas in such a persuasive way.

    But you do find people who can do it without even realizing they are contradicting themselves from week to week! The only suggestion I offer in their defence is that none of us is quite the unified personality we fondly imagine; all of us are a committee of personalities ideally working together in balance, but not always.

    1. I think it's normal/understandable to contradict yourself in little ways, for example this whole trend for smoothies is completely lost on me, and the only explanation I can give is that I don't like to drink my food. But I like soup. I think (?) it's because I use a spoon that makes it different, but friends tell me it's a contradiction, and it probably is.

      But that's petty stuff, it's "bigger" issues that get confusing, and I've heard people excuse it (when challenged) with "Oh well, I was just playing devil's advocate". Maybe they could hold up a sign when they do that, so that we know . The sign should say "I'm wasting your time arguing for a position I don't actually hold, just to be an arsehole".