I posted this as an assertion on Twitter, and I suspect that it is true… In fact, at the moment it seems so obvious that it must be true that I have trouble imagining that it might not be true.
But I do wonder… is it really true, or is it just convenient for us to be able to deflect criticism by mentally “lumping” it in with the unreasonable people?
Are we able to filter out The Cranks — those people who complain so often about so much that we don’t even expect that anything will make them happy?
If so, then it would seem like “reasonable” (or, at least, “less unreasonable”) criticism would then be easier to spot, the same way it’s easier to spot the difference between a child politely asking for something for something that they really, really want (even if it’s not something they “need”) and another child throwing a tantrum?
Something I have noticed a lot lately is that people who are bombarded with a lot of nonsense/unreasonable feedback seem to have a really difficult time hearing the difference when someone is at least trying to make a point that isn’t so unreasonable.
[Note: the instances that I’m talking about are not Tumblr-related, so don’t waste time trying to figure out if this is about you.]
[[Even the ones of you who think that I only said that to make you think I’m not talking about you.]]
The next question is this: given that each of us probably have some amount of Cranks in our personal and/or professional lives, how well do we do discerning the difference between then?
And by “we/our” I mean “me/my”. But maybe that’s a question that applies to you too.
[Although the point of this wasn’t to get you to think about this, it’s an exercise of me thinking about this.]
Dr. Wife? Daniel? (or anyone else?) — Are you aware of any studies out there on the topic of how people deal with feedback when so much of it needs to be “filtered” (or, perhaps more importantly, how we get better at it?)?
Alarm goes off: “I am so tired, I didn’t get enough sleep, why didn’t I go to bed earlier I’m such an idiot, I will totally just take 10 more minutes and go through this all over again then.”
3-5 snooze cycles later: “Why didn’t I get up when it went off or just set it later, I’m so damn tired this sucks, I am totally taking a nap later, I don’t care, I just need all the sleep, ugh.”
Later: “I’m not going to nap now because I don’t want to screw up my going to sleep tonight, so I’ll just tough it out.”
Many sleepy hours later: “ok I’m really getting ready for bed now, right to sleep early tonight.”
4:30 a.m. “gnawed dammit why am I still awake? Ugh tomorrow is going to suck.”
Ok I didn’t mean “gnawed dammit” but now I kind of like that more, so I’m leaving it, but still, mornings suck and I hate them. Almost as much as I hate the fact that this happens 5-7 nights a week.
That phrase popped itself into my head last night just before I finally fell asleep. I barely had time to safe it as a draft.
Someone feel free to work that into your next novel.
But some days that’s just the way it is.
I remember Anne Lamott (in Traveling Mercies, I believe) talk about her struggle with an obsessive/addictive relationship with food. She said (paraphrased) that the worst part was that she had been addicted to drugs or alcohol, she could have tried to quit them “cold turkey” but you can’t do that with food because you need food to live.
There are days that I wish I could quit my brain cold turkey.
I’m trying to decide if I’m up late or early, which determines whether I have cereal or a drink.
I think 5am is the tipping point.
Cereal it is.
As the boy and I were walking back from school to my office yesterday, we heard a man yelling. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but the tone was one you would expect when someone was angry at a child.
No, not angry.
I couldn’t see him at first, but I could tell he was nearby. Up ahead, on the left. We were crossing through the parking lot of a bank, and a row of cars blocked him from view.
As we came to the end of the row, I looked in the direction of the noise. I’m still not sure if that was a mistake or not.
He was alone.
No cell phone. No earpiece. Nothing in his hands. Jacket open. Walking towards our general direction.
He’s still ranting.
I still can’t make out exactly what he’s saying.
Then he saw my eyes. I wasn’t looking at his eyes, though. I was still looking at him.
Outside pockets of his coat seem empty. Mid 50s. Hours later the word I was searching for in that moment would occur to me: Ragged.
"You got something to say?" he asked.
He’s not reaching for anything.
I’m between him and my son. He’s far enough away that he’d have to make some effort to get in my face. Go for the nose, if he starts something.
Respond or don’t respond? Respond. He’s get worse if he thinks I’m blowing him off. Disrespectful.
Respond hard to try to warn him off? No, he’s itching for a fight. He’s mad at someone and we’re right here.
Will I seem like a coward if I don’t meet his challenge? Don’t care. Just want to disengage as quickly as possible. Don’t fuel the fire.
"Nope," I said, shaking my head slightly and looking back towards where we were walking, "Nothin’ at all." It was my best attempt at seeming casual, although I can’t vouch for how convincing it was from the outside.
"Alright," he said.
I realized that we were about to walk down the side of the bank building which has almost no windows from the bank, and a fence on the other side. Not much we could do about it now, but assuming he kept walking, he was going to be behind us.
I didn’t want him behind us.
I tend to walk fairly quickly, especially with the weather turning colder, and we hadn’t broken stride. If he kept his pace we’d be about half-way down the driveway by the time he turned the corner to follow. He was walking steadily, but slower than we were. I still didn’t want him behind us, but the only other option now was to go towards him.
We went down the driveway.
"I’m sorry about your kid," he yelled.
Is he talking to me, or has he picked up the ‘conversation’ he was having before? Sorry about what? Sorry that he heard you yelling? The tone wasn’t very apologetic.
Nope, just let it go.
We reached the end of the driveway and turned right.
He seemed to drift off behind us. Maybe he went the other way.
"He’s either A) drunk, or B) on drugs," offered The Boy.
"Yup," I said, "Or crazy. Or more than one of those."
"D, all of the above."
"Could be. Best plan with someone like that is to not give them anything to go on, nothing that will make them angrier."
"Yeah," he replied.
Silence for a moment.
"What’s the best fight?" I asked.
"The one you don’t have?" he suggested.
"Exactly. If you don’t have a choice, then you go in with everything you have. But if you don’t have to, then don’t."
We reached the intersection where the light had just changed. We turned and crossed the street.
From the corner of my eye, I saw the man round the corner. He was coming down the street. I couldn’t hear him, so I assumed he was no longer ranting, but the way he carried himself showed he was still wound up. He made no indication that he either saw us, was looking for us, or cared about us.
Fine with me. Moving on.
Looking back on it now, I’m amazed how many thoughts went through my head in what must have been only a few seconds’ time. I’ve spent a lot of years sizing people up as potential threats. Not sure if that’s the result of growing up as a fat kid who was always an easy target if someone was looking for one, or just the way that my mind works.
When can remember when I was in 7th grade, a bunch of us got into a fight with a bunch of other kids from another school. I think it’s the only time I’ve ever been in a real fight.
It did not go well.
I can remember many fights I backed away from because I didn’t think I could win.
I can remember one time I lost it completely and might have done something rash if a teacher had not come into the room to see me holding down my 6’4” bully on one of the tables in the science lab, screaming into his face.
God, I wish I had a picture of that moment. What an asshole that guy was. Fortunately he was such an obvious, stereotypical high school dumb-jock who does nothing but make other people’s lives miserable that everyone knew it. I can still see how completely shocked and maybe even scared he was. Hell, I was pretty shocked myself. I don’t remember a single thing that was said in the conversation that followed. He remained an asshole, but he left me alone more often after that. I’m pretty sure the teacher never told anyone what happened, or if he did, nothing ever came of it. Still, a picture would be awesome.
I can remember one fight I still wish I had gotten into, although I suspect I would have gotten my ass kicked.
I can remember one time I gave very serious consideration to smashing in the head of one of my classmates with an aluminum baseball bat I had in my hand.
(I was on the baseball team at the time. I’m not that crazy. We were on a bus, headed back from a game. Or to a game, maybe. Doesn’t matter.)
Another teammate must have seen what was going through my mind, because he very casually reached over and moved the bat from my hand into his, without saying a word or drawing any attention to himself.
But that’s another story, and not one I wish to retell.
(Trust me, though, if I did, you’d want to swing the bat too.)
What surprises me the most about today is that part of my brain that keeps trying to tell me that it was cowardice not to engage him more directly, not to push back, not to throw out something witty and antagonistic. At the same point the more rational side of my brain is saying, "What? Don’t be stupid. What would that have accomplished?"
I didn’t run away in fear.
I didn’t make a potentially bad situation worse.
I know I could do that, but I’m going to do this instead.
"Yeah, but you could have done this or you could have said that."
Why are you still talking? There’s no outcome that’s better than ‘The crazy, drunk, or drugged guy went his way, and I went mine.’
"Yeah, but what if—"
Oh just shut up already.
Brain: "HEY! HOW YA DOIN’!?"
Me: "Good… really good… thanks…"
Brain: "YAY, ME TOO, I’M AWESOME!"
Me: "I’m glad to hear that… I mean, I know it’s been awhile and things have been kind of stressful…"
Brain: "NO DENYING THAT, CHIEF!"
Brain: "YEAH, I WENT WITH CHIEF, SO? WHATDYA RACIST?"
Me: "NO! I just… never mind… Anyway, I was just noticing the time…"
Brain: "I KNOW! AWESOME, RIGHT?! IT’S LIKE ALL THESE OTHER STUPID PEOPLE ARE WASTING THE ENTIRE NIGHT SLEEPING AND WE’RE HERE TOGETHER TAKING ADVANTAGE OF IT!"
Me: "Um… yeah… that’s definitely… words… but I was wondering… you know… if maybe… maybe we could… you know…"
Brain: "WHAT? THAT DIDN’T EVEN MAKE ANY SENSE TO ME…”
Me: "I wondered if we could…"
Brain: "KILL A HOBO?"
Me: "No! Stop suggesting that, that’s never going to be what I’m wondering!"
Brain: "IF YOU SAY SO, CHIEF…
Me: "I was wondering if you could… you know… sleep”**
Brain: "WHAT? NOW?! BUT IT WAS SUCH A GOOD NIGHT!"
Me: "You’re right! Totally… I just thought… you know… now that it’s over and I’m still sort of getting over this surgery thing, maybe we could…"
Brain: "YEAH BUT REALLY, THAT COULDN’T HAVE GONE MUCH BETTER, COULD IT? I MEAN, FIRST YOU REMEMBER TO CALL AAA IN PLENTY OF TIME TO GET THE CAR JUMPED AND MAKE IT TO THE MEETING ON TIME, AND THEN YOU HAVE PLENTY OF TIME FOR DINNER BEFORE THE MEETING, AND THEN THE MEETING GOES BETTER THAN EVEN I WOULD HAVE LET YOU IMAGINE, AND THE WHOLE THING WAS REALLY, REALLY POSITIVE!"
Me: "Agreed, 100%. No doubt. But, I mean, I guess I figured that if I hadn’t gone well, maybe then we would have needed to process it a bit—”
Brain: "OH, TOTALLY. MAN, I HAD A WHOLE THING LINED UP FOR YOU IF IT HADN’T GONE WELL. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MANY SPARE CYCLES I’VE BEEN USING UP TRYING TO CREATE POSSIBILITIES FOR THE VARIOUS NEGATIVE OUTCOMES."
Me: "Which it turns out we didn’t need…"
Brain: "RIGHT! ISN’T THAT AWESOME?!"
Me: "Definitely. I guess… I guess my question is… if we don’t need to be awake fixating on things that went well… then… um… why are we still up?"
Brain: "WELL, IT’S LIKE THIS… I ONLY HAD TIME TO MAKE SO MANY POTENTIAL SCENARIOS, AND IT JUST SEEMED INEVITABLE THAT THERE WOULD BE SOMETHING LEFT TO OBSESS OVER, SO I JUST… WELL… I TOLD THE SLEEP GUYS THEY COULD HAVE THE NIGHT OFF."
Me: "What? Why?"
Brain: "HEY, THOSE GUYS WORK REALLY HARD—"
Me: "It would be almost impossible to accurately depict how incorrect and untrue that statement is. Those guys only work a few hours a night on a few nights a week."
Brain: "WELL, THEY HAVE A GOOD UNION REP. ANYWAY, THEY HAD SOME ERRANDS THEY NEEDED TO RUN—"
Me: "So, just so I’m clear: if anything had gone wrong, you were set with a near infinite assortment of things to ponder and obsess over."
Brain: "OH YOU KNOW I HAD YOU COVERED. HAVE I EVER LET YOU DOWN BEFORE?!"
Me: "More than there are grains of sand in the beach. But now that there isn’t anything to obsess over, you’re still not thinking sleep is going to happen."
Brain: "WELL, IF THEY GET BACK EARLY FROM THOSE ERRANDS, MAYBE…"
Me: "When did they say—"
Brain: "THEY REALLY DIDN’T. THEY HAD A WHOLE LIST. SORRY, I WASN’T REALLY EVEN LISTENING."
Me: "Sure, no, I get it."
Brain: "STILL. IT’S NICE AND PEACEFUL RIGHT NOW, ISN’T IT?"
Me: "That’s pretty standard fare for 4 a.m., isn’t it? Not really remarkable."
Brain: "WELL, NO, I SUPPOSE NOT. BUT IT IS NICE."
Me: "So, think we ought to maybe try—"
Brain: "WHAT WAS THAT ONE THING THAT ONE PERSON SAID ABOUT HOW HE THINKS WE’VE ADDRESSED 99% OF ALL OF THE PROBLEMS AT ONE MEETING?!"
Me: "Right, he was saying how productive it had been and how positive the outcome of the meeting had been, I think—"
Brain: "YEAH, YEAH, I GOT THAT. I’M JUST CURIOUS… WHAT DO YOU SUPPOSE THAT 1% WAS THAT HE DIDN’T THINK WE HAD ADDRESSED?"
Brain: "I’M JUST ASKING."
Me: "He wasn’t even saying it that way. He was just saying ‘Wow, this was amazing…"
Brain: "BUT SOMEONE COULD HAVE SAID THAT TO SAY THAT THERE WAS STILL SOME BIG ISSUE THAT—"
Me: "That’s not how he said it at all! I was right there sitting next to him! He was thrilled! We talked one-on-one after the meeting and he was incredibly happy about things.”
Brain: "WELL, THAT’S WHAT HE SAID…”
Me: "I’m going to see if the doc can pull some of you out tomorrow along with the packing."
Brain: "YOU KNOW HE’LL ONLY GET THE PART THAT KEEPS YOU FROM PEEING YOURSELF. THE REST OF ME IS BURIED WAY DEEP IN THERE, SURROUNDED BY LAYER AFTER TASTY LAYER OF THIS GREY MUSHY STUFF."
Me: "I keep forgetting Brains Are Fucking Stupid.
Brain: "THAT’S JUST MEAN."
Me: "OH SHUT UP"
Brain: "OK, I’M JUST GOING TO SORT THROUGH THESE UNUSED THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT IN CASE WE NEED THEM LATER."
Brain: "OOH, I HAVEN’T SEEN THESE FOR AGES… I THOUGHT YOU’D THROWN THESE AWAY…"