Reader opens floodgates with theory on 'self-involved' people
Adapted from a recent online discussion: People weigh in on D.C.'s theory from Monday, that people without spouses or children are "very self-involved."
Consider the floodgates open: Why must some people seek affirmation for their own life choices by denigrating the people who did not make those same choices? I am married, so married people are better. I am single, so single people are better. Don't even get me started on the beleaguered, broke single people who have been extorted to death at bridal showers, engagement parties, weddings, baby showers, graduations and so on.
Carolyn: Indeed. I also didn't get into the related issue of introverts and extroverts, but it does apply, since personality type often determines people's involvement with others in ways that can get attributed, mistakenly, to quality of character. When Monday's question originally appeared online in August, I fielded enough responses to fill columns well into next week, but I'll let "Floodgates" speak for all of them and move on.
Anonymous: Re: Floodgates: I don't agree with D.C., but I can understand how the friends likely got there. They probably noticed a bit of a pattern amongst their friends and decided the pattern was a really strong theme, and then every single thing they noticed thereafter just served to reinforce this great theme they discovered.
I catch myself doing this, too, and usually it's innocuous, but if it's, say, "Oh my gosh, that co-worker is a self-absorbed jerk!" then it just builds and I get angrier and angrier when that person is probably no more self-absorbed than anyone else. I'm trying to stop this pile-on thinking, but even once I realize it, sometimes the damage has been done.
Carolyn: You're so right that this happens. I believe the antidote has two parts — recognizing you're doing it, then forcing yourself to find charitable ways to regard the person (or group) in question.
The charitable thinking can be in whatever form happens to stick. You can imagine what the person's home life had to have been like to produce this kind of behavior; you can imagine the current circumstances of this person, given that s/he probably alienates a lot more people than just you. You can imagine the person doing mundane things, like buying shampoo and socks, thus supplying yourself with a visual of your common humanity. Again, whatever generates sympathy toward an erstwhile intolerable person, use it.
Also, try to think of what you gain from vilifying this person. If it's a self-absorbed colleague, for example, then you might be gaining a sense of professional superiority. Parents scoff at other parents to reassure themselves they're doing it "right," etc. It's an intellectually dishonest way of praising ourselves. If you can spot your culpability, then you're more likely to soften your disapproving stance.
And, finally, consider adjusting your proximity. If you're too close to the person, then stepping back might help you think more abstractly about him or her. If you're too remote, then your distance might be allowing you to dehumanize the person. Step in just close enough to see something, anything resembling a common experience.
Had D.C. and her friend put their energy into proving themselves wrong, vs. right, I doubt their theory would have lasted a day.