Friday, March 4, 2016

Everybody's different

The first big revelation I ever had in my life was that other people are like me.  When I was little, of course, I thought in terms of two spheres, inside me and outside me.  Everyone outside me was a part of my life, a character in my story.  I didn't really think of their internal states much, except insofar as they affected me. 

Gradually I started realizing that they saw themselves just as I saw myself -- that their feelings were as intense, their interests as important, their troubles as devastating as mine were to me.  And to them, I was simply a character in their drama -- they weren't obsessing over me either positively or negatively, because most of the time they weren't thinking about me at all.  It follows that, just as their interior experience was equal to mine, their importance was equal to mine.  I shouldn't be too quick to make myself the center of things or lay claim to things I want, because other people's desire for these things is as strong as mine and their claim just as valid.

In short, I learned that other people are just like me -- that, just as Mr. Rogers always used to say, we may look different on the outside, but inside we're all the same.  I suppose every person has to have this revelation as a part of growing up, or remain selfish and emotionally immature. 

But this past year or two, I've been having another revelation, slowly becoming more explicit as I see more and more proof of it: other people are, in fact, not so much like me at all.

Oh, I was right in thinking that other people have feelings the way I do, of course.  But in empathizing, trying to put myself in other people's shoes, I've had a habit of projecting a little too much.  I imagine what I would do in their situation, but they go and do something entirely different from what I would have done.  They reveal thoughts that I would never have thought, or have feelings I would never have expected.

For instance, I tend to assume that other people tell the truth, because I never lie.  Most of us never lie, not substantially.  But some people lie all the time, and it always throws me when I discover it.  Urban legends have to be made up by somebody, and the reason they spread is because people who hear them assume that no one would just lie.  But some people do.  There are people who aren't shy, or who don't care who people think of them.  I can't imagine what it would be like to be one of those people.

I'm not talking about differing opinions, so much.  It's unsurprising to find that people are wrong about things; I've been wrong about lots of things.  I tend to assume that more information and argument will change either my mind or theirs.  And yet, that often doesn't happen, because other people don't always disagree with me for rational reasons.  Sometimes, they just want different things to begin with.  I can talk them back to, "But if we did this, we'd have no liberty!" and their answer is, "So?"  It's one of those core values you can't argue about because they're part of someone's nature, what they're drawn to, what they are and aren't repelled by.

And the differences only get greater when I move outside my immediate social networks, when I talk to people from a different region, class, political persuasion, or nation.  I'm constantly being startled to find that, for instance, my brother-in-law thinks being brainy is a bad thing; or that liberals think Hillary Clinton is far too apt to compromise with Republicans; or that Italians think Americans are weird for standing in line.  Things I take for granted, things I think are obviously true, turn out to be simply a part of my culture, and I didn't know it because my friends have the same assumptions I have.

The Trump phenomenon drives this home more than anything.  I can't wrap my head around why a person would listen to ten minutes of Trumpian verbal diarrhea and think, "Huh, that sounds like someone I'd like running the country."  What would that feel like?  What thoughts are going through that person's head?  And why don't they feel all the feelings I feel?  I'm incapable of putting myself in that person's shoes, because you can psychoanalyze all day long and explain to me their motivations, and I still won't understand because I'm not that sort of person.

I read a lot of books and I imagine that I'm really inside the head of the characters, that I'm getting a peek at what it's like to be someone else.  But in reality, I can never know.  There's so much a person thinks and feels in just a single day, life experiences that have marked them, ideas they have, things I know that they don't and things they know that I don't.  Their actions seem obvious, instinctive to them, even when I shut the book and say, "No one would really act like that."

They say that our visual experience of color is so ineffable that it is impossible to say if we all see the same color when we look at something red.  I've always been of the opinion that human brains are similar enough that we're probably all seeing something we'd agree is red.  But more and more it's occurring to me that it might not be that simple.  There is huge variation in how people think and feel, and I'm never going to understand what it's like to be even one other person, let alone all the other people.

I guess it's one of those lifelong lessons, finding out what parts of my experience are common human things and which are specific to myself.  It would be a much shorter job if I could do what I've always dreamed of doing, and hop behind someone else's eyes for five minutes.  What would I see?


Belfry Bat said...

Just to amuse you (as another example of people being different) I cannot remember either realizing my selfness, nor the inner lives of others; not that either of these things was self-evident to me, it's just that they seem to have crept up on me without making any sudden impression.

I remember being about three, in pre-school, singing out "be careful!", because I'd heard that the school would be moving, and I thought that meant They would be moving the whole building, perhaps with us in it. It sounded unsettling. But I can't remember if I was actually being solicitous for my fellows, really moved by care, or just echoing the sort of thing my parents would say.

Enbrethiliel said...


Guess what? I like Trump. =)

Happily for our friendship, I'm not an American--and even if I were, I don't think I'd change my mind about voting just to vote for him.

I have two close friends who support Trump and are Americans. One of them has been complaining for over ten years about illegal immigration bringing down wages and raising crime, and US companies not having to pay tariffs for goods produced in other countries. When Trump talks about the same, he's only a little more bombastic than my first friend. You think, "verbal diarrhea," and I think, "last Thursday's e-mail." My second friend's support of Trump surprised me a little more. He thinks Trump is the most anti-war candidate among the remaining choices, which I myself don't see. But he has the same views on immigration, labour, and economics as my first friend. I wonder if most people in the trades do.

Anyway, I came to like Trump for totally non-political reasons. It started with his show The Apprentice. For all his bluster and bombast, Trump was a genuinely good mentor to the contestants--and the sort of mentor I would have liked in what was then my own field of teaching/tutoring. I seriously considered doing a blog series on The Apprentice, before deciding to stick with SF (Sliders) and Fantasy (Early Edition).

I even read his book The Art of the Deal, hoping to find insights that I, who am decidedly non-entrepreneurial, could use. All I can remember was: "Dress as well as you can afford" and "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." (The job I want? You mean housewife? =P) I even read his daughter Ivanka's book, and almost had a Reading Diary entry on it. At the time, my main impression was that the Trumps were "wheelers and dealers" and I wasn't, so there wasn't much I could take away from their successes; but now that they seem to be making gains in politics, which is totally different from real estate, I'm tempted to give the books another try, just in case I overlooked something.

And it's not just because they're in the news a lot. Independently of that, it has dawned on me that if I don't make my children endure the school system, they'll have to be entrepreneurs and deal-makers in order to survive as adults. (Well, that or farmers. ;-) But I have not yet, since the day I blogged about planting some spinach, been able to eat a single thing I've grown myself. And even successful farmers have to make deals with each other on occasion.)

If I had to explain Trump's appeal in a single word, it would be: "Father." I'm honestly impressed at how his children have turned out and that they've been so eager to go into the family business. As for those of us who are not his children, I wouldn't be surprised if his paternal manner with the Apprentice contestants extended to all his employees: he certainly has many loyal ones. I think that if you are a member of Trump's extended "family," you can count on him to have your back. No question about it. On the other hand, if you are on the opposite team, well, he will pulverise you ten times over and not be sorry. So you might as well join him. ROFL! Seriously, I think this is why his campaign has been so successful: it's as if his ego is one big umbrella that he wants people to take shelter under and that people enjoy being under.

These are all impressions I had before he launched his campaign that have been reinforced because of the campaign. I totally get why some people are over the moon and why others are truly appalled. I also rationally see why the ego-as-umbrella thing can be dangerous. In itself, it's not what we might call a sustainable system. And we have many examples of men with monstrous egos who have held power. But gosh darn it, I like Trump.

Belfry Bat said...

Now, if they had broadcast The Apprentice without the Dramatic Music, I might have been able to sit through at least one of the board-room-table scenes, but as it is...

And I tried to listen to one of his campaign rally speeches, but the most I could make out was him telling stories of how clever he can be. I mean, cleverness is a fine thing, but sometimes it's cleverer to talk about something else.

In the strictest sense, it should not be surprising that Trump is popular, at the very least because he is a practised salesman with a product he is intent on selling.

There are about three arguments I've heard against the man: that he seems to be racist, that he speaks incoherently, and that he seems to be a bad salesman. The first I can't speak to, and might well be the most serious charge. The second (so I'm told) is actually part of his salesman technique (if you can't tell that a Thought has been Conclusively Expressed, you'll keep listening just to try to understand), and so there is tension there with the third point; and the third point itself is argued with useless evidence; specifically, I've seen it pointed out that some great number of his business ventures have failed.

But, Gosh Darn It if he hasn't failed in more businesses than I've tried! And he still seems to be obscenely wealthy. So, he must be doing something effective, I figure.

And I think all these arguments miss what is the most clear and inescapable argument against the fellow as Candidate is: He is a salesman. Some folk do get close and accuse him of being a Con Man, but I don't think we need be so hyperbolic (wonder: would that be Libelous, in England?); the Presidency should not be for sale, but right now the Trump Presidency is clearly open for sale, even before the product is on the shelf.

Sheila said...

I can't say I'm surprised, Enbrethiliel. The social scientists tell us people with an authoritarian mindset mostly love Trump, and I think (?) that you'd agree that this describes you. I just ... again, I don't know what that would feel like, although your description helps.

It's true he is *less* obviously bellicose than the others, and yet he's been so vague about what his foreign policy would actually BE that it doesn't give me any confidence. For instance, he's said he'd be less interventionist, but he also said he'd go after terrorists' families. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. And he's got no experience or clear plan. I'd vote for a true non-interventionist, but he'd have to establish that's that what he actually is. Rand Paul would do, because I've agreed with his assessment of various situations for years, and he's voted and filibustered appropriately. Sanders too, because he was an anti-war activist and is one of the few in Congress who actually voted against the Iraq War. But Trump? He doesn't seem to care a whole lot one way or the other.

I see the point of the other arguments in favor of him, but I think he's scapegoating foreigners when they aren't really to blame. Wages are falling because of complicated crap going on in the Federal Reserve, not because immigrants are taking them. (Immigration is falling, too, probably due to falling wages.) And as for tariffs supposedly ending outsourcing -- do they realize they'd be the ones paying them, when they wanted to buy the cheap goods they're addicted to? I don't have a strong feeling about tariffs either way; it's complex and economics is full of unintended consequences, which I doubt Trump's supporters understand any better than I do. In fact I'm not sure they'd given it any thought before Trump started telling them they should care about these things.

Is he a great businessman? Well, all I know is, if he'd taken the money he inherited and invested it in the stock market, he'd be twice as rich as he is by now.

But the racism ... that's so obvious and horrible that it kind of rules out any of the other issues. I mean, that and the misogyny. And the oversensitivity, the way he threatens and tries to punish everyone who speaks out against him. That's not a guy I want in charge of anything; doesn't anybody remember Nixon? (LOL, obviously not me.)

I never minded him when he wasn't running for president -- I'd barely heard of him -- and he may be a fine guy at real estate or reality TV or anything else. But he doesn't appear to be a statesman, and a statesman is what I want.

Bat, I don't remember the moment I first realized other people were as complicated and important as myself; like you, it probably wasn't a moment. But I do remember reflecting on this gradual change, thinking, "When I was younger, I didn't realize my mother got upset when I yelled at her, and now I do. When I was younger, I was upset by other people crying because it made me feel sad; now, I care about them for their sake and not because they're making me feel bad." That sort of thing. I don't mean to overstate my own self-awareness. My mother certainly tells me it was something very gradual. But I've met adults who didn't seem to have this understanding, and I wonder if it's a lesson not learned, or something wrong with their brains.

Enbrethiliel said...


It occurs to me that my positive feelings about Trump are analogous to the positive feelings non-Catholics have toward Pope Francis.

With respect to foreign policy, my cynical opinion is best summed up by an editorial cartoon shared by yet another American friend of mine, who actually isn't behind Trump. The cartoon has several panels, captioned, "What Cruz will do," "What Rubio will do," "What Clinton will do," "What Sanders will do," and so on. And all of them have the exact same image: bombs falling from the sky. The US has had a lot of different presidents since 1898, and I can't see that any of them has been markedly different about the little brown brothers since then.

As for Trump's wealth, he has said that it is deal making that he loves, not money. For him, money is just a way to keep score. That's why he was happy to go bankrupt several times rather than go for a (boring) sure thing like the stock market. I think it's safe to bet that he wants to make deals with Putin, et. al. more than he wants to bomb them. This doesn't guarantee that he won't bomb them (or won't get the raw end of a deal or two), but it's a positive side of his character backed by history that I think he deserves a little more credit for.

Sugar Coater said...

At the risk of sounding like a crazy person... I agree with Embrethiliel in that I also like Trump. But the first things that made me like him were: 1. He's not a politician. He says, sometimes a bit extremely, what others really want to say, but are afraid. He doesn't care who likes him and who doesn't. I like that. 2. He doesn't have to kiss anybody's butt for money, like any of the big corporations that control the other politicos.

I guess I'm also one of those people who really doesn't care who likes me and who doesn't. I had enough of caring what people think of me, when they don't really think of me at all. :) I don't lose sleep over who doesn't like me, though I used to. It's very liberating when you finally can say, "hey, if you don't like what you see here, look somewhere else!" Or, if you don't like me, unfriend or block me, I'm not losing any sleep over it.

Yes I care what my family and close, close friends think. But we can respectfully agree to disagree on a lot of things *since I have some democrat/liberal family members!* :O yikes. OK I'm done. :D

SO said...

The awesome thing about the uniqueness of visual experience... is that science has a little to say on it:

Sheila said...

Synesthesia is another ... which I really wish I had.

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