Monday, January 26, 2009

The One Where I Pretend My Mind Hasn't Gone To Mush And Talk About Theories And Whatnot

Nearly 9 years ago when I met J, he gave me a book to read called Leadership and Self Deception. It's a fairly quick read and a really great book. It's a book I think everyone should read. Well, I was eager to discuss it's contents with J, but he was nowhere to be found. I think when we first met I had some old-fashioned idea that I wouldn't ever call boys. But this book made me desperate and I called him somewhere between 22 and 53 times in the next 5 days.

When we finally did talk, I had questions about the premise of us choosing how to react to a stimuli. It seems somewhat obvious to me now, but I am a mature, self-actualized, brilliant woman in my 30's now. I remember specifically wondering how it was that someone "chooses" anger when something happens to them that would obviously cause one to be angry.

And he explained with an example. You come out to your car that is parked on the street and find it completely bashed in. You are immediately angry. Bashed in cars can generally evoke anger. And you are angry at whoever bashed in your car. And you are justified. And then you learn that it was a meteor that hit your car. It couldn't have been helped and no one did it to you. The situation hasn't changed, but your emotions most likely will. And most likely you aren't/can't be angry anymore. And there you are, choosing what you feel.

Well, recently something happened that got me all worked up and angry. I was justified because it involved people being stupid. And I was mad and ready to sit down and vent and really go to town on my blog. I was going to describe the stupidity in such articulate detail, the readers would feel my pain, I would be the poor little victim, and it was gonna be good.

And literally as I was sitting down to write, I learned a new bit of information pertaining to the sitchee-ashun and suddenly I had no cause. It changed everything. This information totally took the wind out of my sails.

Well, writing for me is like a good little legal drug. It's cathartic and I love the feeling when I have a finished "story" in front of me. So I had the anticipation of that catharsis and the feeling of completion, just like a nice hot brownie with a scoop of French Vanilla on top. But suddenly I had nothing to write. No brownie to eat. No bowl to lick. No cathar to sis.

This was a very loud realization for me.

No one had changed, nothing had changed. Just my perception. And suddenly I wasn't in any way "justified" to be angry or to vent. Or to be a victim.

To be perfectly honest, this was a little depressing.

Later I was thinking about how when I'm driving, every car on the road is stupid except me. I can't stand tailgaters. I can't stand those people who speed up and pass you and quickly cut in front of you because you are being a decent driver and not tailgating. I can't stand people who think I should turn faster on a yield green than I do. I can't stand people who drive down turn lanes. Run red lights. Stop at yellow lights. Talk on their phones. Almost hit me. Sit at 4-ways waiting for Godot....etc, etc, etc.

And I have never done a single one of these things to anyone else.

Here's where my very valuable and relatively expensive college degree comes in.

In my social psych class we learned about an element of the attribution theory that is called "Fundamental Attribution Error."

You can look up what it means, but it will probably be shrouded in lots of unnecessary words because psychology doesn't take too kindly to being called "soft" and makes up for it with lots of extra unnecessary words.

Or you could keep reading and I'll tell you. It basically describes how when we are speeding down the road in our cars, we are late for work, or our spouse is in the care with a cut off limb and we're racing them to the hospital, or our brakes don't work. And we are completely justified in speeding down the road. But on another day, we see someone else speeding down the road and we think, "Jerk! Slow down! What? Does he want to kill someone driving that fast? What's wrong with people these days..." And we don't ever stop to think maybe his wife is in labor in the front seat, or he just got word that his child is in the emergency room, or his own finger is hanging by a thread. We know our own situations and we are justified. But we make snap judgments on people without ever considering their situation.

This knowledge I obtained in my early twenties---haunts me. I can't just get road rage and good-girl swear at people anymore. I can't act appalled and shake my head in disgust when I see moms yelling at their kids at stores. Just last week at Hobby Lobby I was the crazy hissing lady in aisle 8 threatening to spank my little princess all the way to the car.

No I wasn't, I was just kidding about that. In the same way that Avee is "just kidding" when she talks back. It totally happened, I'm just going to say I was kidding in hopes that you'll forget. Or think I'm cute and not care..

When I have moments like the above---when I'm about to vent and elicit sympathy and be totally justified, and suddenly it's taken away, not by the events changing, but by my information changing---I'm ashamed.

I'm ashamed that as an educated, fairly open-minded, well-rounded in more ways than one, decent human being---I am guilty of being a jerk. A judgmental jerk. And I think how much happier my life would be, if I didn't let myself be guilty of the FAE. Fundamental Attribution Error. FAE is what we call it around here.

And I can't help but think how much happier most of us would be if we didn't get sucked into it.

I think this will be one of my goals this year. I've already harnessed the empowering attitude of thinking everyone thinks I'm amazing and awesome and wants to be like me, so now I'm going to work on harnessing the, "don't be a schmuck, give people a break" attitude.

Who's in?


Lisa said...

Just today I read a forwarded email. I know Gasp! I don't normally, but something caught my eye, so I read. It was totally about this judgemental attitude or lack of acceptance we all have had experience with.

It's a good message, Nobody.

And BTW, I love to point out how my husband is driving like the "idiot" he just complained about. I'm a good wife.

Heffalump said...

Now I'm going to be haunted too.
I may still call people stupid when I am driving though, because now it is an ingrained behavior that I will have to fight to overcome.
This post also made me totally understand the attitude of my autistic 8 year old better. Somehow he CAN'T process how other people might feel about things, so his point of view is all about him and nobody else.
Thanks...this one will have me thinking about it for a long time.

Beckie said...

I'm in....and super guilty. What an inspiring post!

Klin said...

You are totally justified about the lady driving slowly while talking on her cell phone and totally pissing you off. (Is that swearing the way I said it? Sorry if it.)

I totally understand what you are saying. I am a good wife, too. I remind my husband that he just did what he is cussing at the other driver for doing.

I learned that I don't know what I thought I did.

Love your post.

No Cool Story said...

SO what I am reading is that I don't get to know all the juicy, scandalous details on that post you were going to write.


No Cool Story said...

"I was justified because it involved people being stupid"


No Cool Story said...

I keed.
This is an excellent and just one of the many reason why I like to clal you: Because you have a good head on your shoulders :)

I have tried to do that, when I see someone driving too slow I think that maybe they have a pot full of chili and they can't go any faster, as it will spill. Or yes, maybe they have an emergency and whatnot.
It makes it for an easier day.

Sarah said...

So do we either choose to be completly understanding and assume there is something we don't know about with someone, or do we choose to not be understanding and get immediately angry? That is a hard decision. Can you ever really be both?

Howertons in Iowa said...

and whatnot.

I'm in. Totally inspired to not be stupid or look stupid or act like the crazy lady on isle 8 and whatnot.

and for what it's worth, I think you are amazing, awesome, and I want to be just like you! :)

Emily and Stephen said...

Thanks for the post! It reminded me that I am chaotic and insensitive and I need to cut more people some slcak, especially those closest to me. Thanks!

omar said...

Most people just would have said, "I had something good to blog about, but then I changed my mind." That's like 1000 words less than your version.

omar said...

Ha, I kid.

I've already placed a hold on that book at the library. You're so old and wise, Nobo. I wanna be like you when I grow up. Except that I'm done having kids.

InkMom said...

OH, I am the queen of, "Who does he think he is?!?"

Now that I think about it, it's not a very fun place to be queen of.

So I'm in.

And good on Big J for seeing through the desperation to the beautiful soul within his phone stalker.

CoconutKate said...

I'm in. I have already been trying to keep my mouth shut in the car since my 4 year old has now taken over the job of yelling at everyone on the road. She is, however, very good at pointing out my husband's mistakes. "You're supposed to STOP at the red light!" I have been working on trying to see the other points of view and will renew my efforts! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

How does Omar do that every.single.time. LOL

Anyhow I do not know if you know this about me, but I am 100% already like this. Which gets me in equal amount of trouble as others that are not like this????? Anyhow you know what I mean even if everyone else doesn't. Anyhow maybe we can chat on the phone about this one:)

But I am grateful for the book title, cuz I have been trying to teach this to Leon without any luck. A crushed car is a crushed car.

Code Yellow said...

I really really really really want to be in, but I still so very much like to think everyone is stupider than me. Except Nobody, of course. ;)

No, really. This post is awesome. I'm going to try. The rough thing is when no information changes and you have to choose not to be angry even when everyone involved is still an idiot. But I'm learning, too, that that doesn't happen as frequently as I was raised to think it does. :)

P.S. "no cathar to sis" and "waiting for Godot" are going down in "my best lines ever" book.

Barnecked Lady said...

I'll have to wait until I'm done gestating to join you.

Tori :) said...

I'm with you Nobo!! Can we still talk bad about the REALLY stupid people or not?

Elizabeth-W said...

My "pass" for bad drivers is that they are having major, major intestinal distress at that very moment. They're doing well to not have an accident in their car.
When I see them in that pathetic and humble light, I happily want them to have the whole freeway to themselves. :)

Sarah Tilley said...

ooh, i get that all the time. that's why i never have anything cool to blog about. i always tell ben he has a persecution complex because he's certain that every time he gets in the car people drive bad just to annoy and inconvenience him. i just have to learn to keep my mouth shut while driving because i always feel like such a jerk (because i am). it's good to stop and reflect on the fact that we can decide how to react to situations. thanks for bringing that up.

Rebecca said...

I'm in.. I aways think when someone is mean.. man they must have a lot of bad stuff going on.. I always tell my kids that when there are mean kids at school, they usually have stuff going on at home that isn't fun!!

Mikelene said...

I lurk. I'll admit it. Your stories crack me up & your kids seem so dang cute. You had me at "Mud Puppies" & I've been coming back ever since.
Why am I just now commenting? B/C this post is awesome. My perspective changed nearly 2 yrs ago when my husband was diagnosed w/cancer. (He's ok now.) LOL at Elizabeth W's comment. And NCS's (pot of chili).We just don't know what other people are going thru & why they act the way they do. I still get angry at all of the crazy drivers out there. I just try to stay outta their way. And hope others do the same when I am in Momio Andretti mode! :)
Sorry that was so long.
Thanks for the great post!

Charlotte said...

I was just reading this same concept in a C.S. Lewis book. Sometimes I can do it, but other days I'm somehow not capable. I think it is easier with drivers and strangers in the checkout line than it is with my very own husband and children.

Charlotte said...

And I think you're cute so you can have a pass on the yelling in the store (besides that was me just today).

InkMom said...

But why shouldn't I be asking, "Who does he think he is?" Maybe, if I just change my tone, this could be a happy place to be queen. Because if I seriously ask the question, all kinds of possibilities emerge . . . like, "Who does he think he is? A heart surgeon?" Well, maybe. And if so, I'd better get out of the way, right? Or how about, "Who does she think she is? A mom driving around a potty-training toddler who's not wearing a pull-up and actually expressed the need to use the facilities?" Well, then! By all means, cut in front of me and shoot the gap, sister, because I feel your pain and you SHOULDN'T have to clean up a pee mess in your car just because there are laws in this world!

Man! That felt good!

My Diary said...

My man is totally about ripping on other drivers and being mr road rage. So as I like to debate and be the devils advocate I am always saying stuff like. Maybe they are having a baby and need to speed. Maybe she is sick and cant think straight that is why she cut you off. Maybe she is going through a divorce and is too busy thinking about that to remember to go when the light turned green. I want my husband to know that them there is real peeps and ya gotta have compassion if you want it in return.

Julia said...

The FISH books have a basic line about this- "choose your attitude." Unfortunatley, when PMS and hormones hit, all that is out the window for me!

I enjoy your blog, Nobody! Thanks for sharing your stories!

Sketchy said...

Because I am totally not above bragging (maybe that should be my goal to work on this year instead) I thought I'd tell you that my standard response to someone speeding is "Maybe his wife's in labor." So much so that now before Tom gripes about someone he feels compelled to forestall my comment by saying first "I didn't see a pregnant woman in the front seat."

Suzanne said...

This is a great post! Just the other day, there was this crazy SUV cutting people off like crazy. I was super ticked until I realized that they were going to the hospital. And who knows...maybe they were just being inconsiderate, but maybe someone was bleeding to death. I immediately felt bad that I was angry. I think I'm going to work harder on this too this year!

Adolescent Family said...

I guess I'm just perfect, cause this NEVER happens to me! ;)

I do however take pride in letting my husband know that what he just swore at that other driver for 2 seconds ago, he is now doing. :) Then he reminds me that he is "teaching him a lesson"

Vicious cycle. 12 years and counting.

Plain Jame said...

"Fundamental Attribution Error."

I've done this my whole life - it's my mothers fault! Heres my latest offense: I have this sagging skin that is getting disgustingly worse each baby I have. I am in pregnancy #3 and it's horrific. I have a deformed stomach and I want to have it fixed.
Yet I judge others for running to the plastic surgeons office with all their nip tucks - perhaps because I think I'm ok because I'd do it for the "right reasons" and they aren't...?

Whatever, I'm getting past it, I'm just a learning child. Dont judge me.

Mycurlyhairdays said...

Being a "blue" on the color scale thingy... one of the things that I have to keep in check is my Judgementality (that is my new word). R and I are both blues and we both fight it hard! We struggle everyday, but remember, "Knowing (there there is a problem) is half the battle!".

Mycurlyhairdays said...

PS I just wanted to tell you that R says "Whatnot". Just an FYI for you!

ucmama said...

I thought the Hobby Lobby "incident" (I actually did finger quotes for that) was quite tame. There were all kinds of torture, er I mean, craft items right at your fingertips! I'm proud of you that you didn't use pipe cleaners or Modge Podge in some ungodly manner.