Friday, June 2, 2017

On "Correcting" People about Who They Are

Scenario 1: Imagine that a friend told you that they felt like a failure - like every single thing they did turned out horribly wrong and they never made any choices that were smart or turned out well. To make your friend feel better about themself, you make an effort to point out all of the times that they do make good decisions. You give them compliments like, "That was a great idea!" "Very creative!" "I'm glad you thought of that!" "I'm glad you suggested doing this - it was really fun!" "Thanks for helping me - you're great at solving problems!"

Scenario 2: Now, imagine that you and a friend are listing traits that describe each of you, and your friend describes themself as hard-working. From then on, you make an effort to point out every time they do something that you think is not hardworking. You make comments like, "You didn't finish your homework yet? That's pretty lazy of you!" "You're just gonna leave your dishes in the sink and not wash them? You don't seem hard-working to me!"

I think most of us can agree that in Scenario 1, you are being nice to your friend, and in Scenario 2, you are being mean to your friend. The actions themselves are similar - your friend described themself in a particular way, and you point out all the times that they are not that way. The difference is that in Scenario 1, your friend felt bad about themself, so you tried to help them feel better about themself, while in Scenario 2, your friend felt good about themself, and your comments most likely made them feel bad about themself.

Assuming that you're not trying to be mean, assuming that you have the intention of making people feel better rather than worse, then whenever you "compliment" someone for not being the way they described themself, you are saying that the way they described themself was bad. (Like in Scenario 1, considering yourself to be a failure is bad, which is why it's good to convince someone that they are not a failure).

I've had people try to convince me that I'm not an introvert. I've had people point out the fact that I go to parties and host parties and like to have fun with friends and that I've performed onstage as a way of telling me that I don't seem like an introvert. When you say this to me, you may mean it as a compliment, but it's not. Because what you are communicating to me is that you think there is something wrong with being an introvert. Think about it: if you think it's a "nice" thing to tell me that I don't seem introverted to you, then you must think being introverted is bad, or at least not as good as being extroverted. Would you ever point out to someone all of the ways that they are not as outgoing as they claim to be? Would you think that was a nice thing to say or a mean thing to say? If you don't think it would be "nice" to point out how not-outgoing someone is, but you do think it's "nice" to point out how not-introverted someone is, then you are clearly saying that there is something wrong with being introverted, which makes what you're saying mean, not "nice" at all.

I've most commonly experienced this with being introverted, but it's happened with a lot of other traits as well - people have tried to convince me that I'm a responsible adult when I say that I'm not, or a positive person when I say I'm not. Unless someone makes it clear to you that they feel bad about something, you should not assume that it's something they feel bad about, you should not assume that they have any desire to be the opposite way, and don't think for a second that you're complimenting someone by putting down who they actually are.

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