July 5, 2011

Sappy Sapperson

You know when you were preparing for your first interview? And one of the questions that your career counselor at university told you to expect was:

What are your weaknesses?

And then you were told that it's a trick question and you should pick something that is actually a strength but make it sound like a weakness. And one of the most corny answers to this clich├ęd question is:

I'm a perfectionist.

And then you shoot the bull about how you just can't rest until you do your work perfectly and even the smallest detail is in place.

If you're wondering about the 'shoot the bull' phrase, um.. Yea.
I am reading the Catcher in the Rye. For the first time in my life.
After sixty years of it having been published.
You're real sharp, ya know that? A real sharp guy. I mean it  too. I really do.

I love the way Holden Caulfield talks.
It's so cool.

Anyway. The interview question.
It's so ridiculous. I'm not even sure what the point of the question is.
No, I don't want to find out.

You really want the guy to tell you the reasons why you shouldn't hire him? Or are you stupid enough to think that the guy is going to be honest enough to tell you his weakness?
Yeah, uh, I suck at my work. I, uh, never complete anything I start. I'm only here because I, uh, need a job. Because my, uh, girlfriend said so. And, uh, the extra dough wouldn't hurt.

I think the 'perfectionist' answer really does this cornball of a question justice.
Stupid question, lame answer.
And the universe is in balance again.

Maybe not perfectionism, but I think there are 'weaknesses' that aren't all bad.
A lot of 'weaknesses' are only considered useless, because of social reinforcement of certain qualities (confidence, assertiveness etc.) as strengths, thereby labeling all others as weaknesses. I have one such weakness.

I want everyone to like me, the first time I meet them.
It's like really really important to me that everyone likes me.
At least the first time they meet me.
And it's not something I consciously pursue.

I, subconsciously adapt everything about me according to the other person in front of me. I talk about the things that I think they'd like to talk about. I joke about the things that I think will make them laugh.

And if all else fails, one foolproof way to make them like me is to say something really weird. That's as good an ice-breaker as any.
I've been known to say stuff like:
You have really pretty toes.
Your teeth are really straight.
Did you have braces when you were younger?
Your nostrils are so shapely.

The above are examples of my proprietary social mingling technique that I like to call 'Ambiguous-illiant compliment-ation'.

This brilliant technique involves saying something that just screams for a response. Even if they don't want a clarification, they have to at least smile. Even if it's in an uncomfortable sort of way.

I've decided to strike the first one off my list though. Apparently, the proliferation of people with foot fetishes in recent times has lead to the unscrupulous use of the 'toes' statement. So, any allusion to the feet or any part of the feet may inadvertently lead to classification as a foot pervert. Which might be a little iffy. And I'm going for funny.
Not iffy.

You have to admit.
If you tell someone they have a great smile.
They'll say 'thanks' and forget about it in a few months.
You tell them, they got really straight teeth.
That's going to stick around forever.

Now, I'm not sure why it's so important to me that people like me.
I'm a pretty big supporter of rebellion against baseless societal expectations and I'm pro non-conformity. I think everyone should do what they like doing, and not care about what everyone else thinks of it. That's why I'm a brain paraglider.
But I've seen that for me, that's restricted to the career arena.

On a personal level, I'm a glutton for likability.
Believe it or not, that's a word!
I thought I was just making it up, but SpellCheck didn't point it out.
Blogging is seriously educative.

I'm not sure why that is.
Why I'm a glutton for likability.
Because I really don't need to worry.
I'm such a great person, without even trying.
I'm witty, funny, charming. Intelligent, awesome, pretty.

What? What was that?
I'm pretty sure you said something.
It sounded a lot like 'conceited'.
No? You sure?
Oh I see.
You said, you f-eee-l it.
Wow, thanks.
You feel it too, huh?

Well, right back at ya!

What's even more unbelievable is that this subconscious need to be liked often means that I avoid confrontations. So if the other person says something that I might not agree with- I don’t say anything. I'll try once, but if the person is adamant- I shut up.
Like the penguins in Madagascar (the movie):
Just smile and wave, boys.
Smile and wave.
Look cute and cuddly.

In my defense, it's been said:

A man who lives right and is right,
has more power in his silence than another has by his words.

We're not going to get into whether I'm right and wrong.
The point is that shutting-up isn't the worst thing in the world.
Moving on. 

Mine might be an extreme case, but let's face it. All of us like it when someone likes us. With or without trying. All of us like to be liked.
Not just romantically, but  by people we meet in day to day life.
We like it when someone says 'You're a swell guy!'
'It's so much fun hanging out with you!'
'You're cool'.
Unless they're being sarcastic.
It's annoying because it's hard to make out sometimes.

So it got me thinking.
Why do we like it when other people like us? Why is it important?
  • When people like us, it reinforces our belief in our goodness. That feels good.
It’s like a joke that you've made up and you're really proud of. It kills everyone every time. If you tell it to someone, and they don't laugh, chances are they have a weird sense of humor. And there's nothing wrong with your joke. But it still feels much better when they laugh because it boosts your confidence in the joke and your joke telling abilities.

  • It gratifies our pride. It's like a healing balm for our insecurities.
This is something I call the 'Pretty Girl syndrome'.  Most pretty girls have it. Duh.
When you're pretty, you spend your day listening to the fact that you're pretty. You derive every ounce of self-respect from the fact that you're pretty. So it's important to always look pretty, all the time. And if someone forgets to tell you you're pretty, that's the end of your world. What the hell is wrong with him? He's just jealous. He has to call me pretty. How dare he not call me pretty?

  • It's important that some people like us, if we need something from them. For example, at those 'networking' events. Everyone falls over themselves to make sure everyone likes them. So that when any opportunity crops up, you're the first person they think of. So, here, it's important that everyone likes you because your professional well-being depends on it.
For the record, I'm the worst at these networking events. I can't talk to a person knowing that I'm doing it because I want something from them. I want to, but the words don't come out.
It just doesn't happen.
I know. It is ironic.
The one place that my need for acceptance and 'ambiguousilliant complimentation' system might come in handy, and my mouth stops working.  

If it wasn't obvious already, I need no reinforcement of my belief in my awesomeness. And I'm as insecure as Antarctica is hot.

So I figure, I just want people to like me because I'm a bit of a sap.
A soft, lily livered, spineless, weakling.
The kind that doesn't have a spine.
And is weak.
And has a lily for a liver.

I have no real personality so I just borrow that of the person I'm talking to. I don't have too many opinions and beliefs and the ones I have, I don't care enough to defend. I'm a flaky, under-confident nitwit who sleepwalks her way through life in a daze- perplexed, spaced out and bewildered.

Just because I want people to like me when they meet me.
Just because I make myself say weird things to make them like me.
Just because I do everything in my power to make it impossible not to like me.

For those of you who don't think that's true, you can stick around and watch yourself be proven right.
High five.
You're on the winning team.

The rest of you.
Ooooh, you're in trouble.
Big, Big trouble.
And now, I'm going to burst your bubble.
I'm a poet and I didn't even know it.
So I'm going to go on, till the break of dawn.

Okay. Fine.
I'll stop.
For now.

You ought to go read my last post about NOT judging people without knowing the context. Because that, my friend, is what you've done.
You've judged me before knowing my whole story.
By the way, I hate it when people use 'my friend' in their conversation.
I don’t know why I just did that.
What are we in 1929?!?

So here's the story.
I've been a shy person, in my earlier life.
Or wait, I mean, earlier in my life.
Not earlier life, like previous life.
In my previous life, I was an elephant.

In high school, I was one of the sidekicks of the more popular, pretty girls.
So I'd never really talk much. All the talking would be done by the pretty girls.
I was just there to …
To… uh….
I'm not sure why.
Maybe to make the popular girls look popular.
And, well, be funny.
I was always funny.

So my shyness meant that meeting new people was quite scary for me.
A scary proposition indeed.
Wow. I really need to get out of 1929.

I wouldn't know what to talk about. There'd be too much pressure on me to make conversation. Too much pressure to make sure the other person wouldn't get bored. Too much pressure to keep up the reputation of my popular, pretty girl friends. I'd stutter sometimes. My mouth would go dry. And when I'd try to say something funny under all that pressure, I'd end up saying something that wouldn't make any sense.

In this one instance, I remember, the most popular guy in high school was talking to my friend, the most popular girl in high school.

He'd said: I'm thinking of cutting my hair real short, what do you think?

While the pretty girl was contemplating and weighing the pros and cons of this critical decision that would alter the history of all mankind for eternity, I put my two cents in.
I said: I don’t know. I really think you should go to a professional for something like that.
You don't get it?
I was trying to play on the fact that he didn't say, I'm thinking of getting  my hair cut real short.
He said, cutting  my hair real … never mind.

I buckled under pressure.
Fell like a pack of cards. Sank like a sunken cake.
Talked like a brainless twit.
I became jello.

And I remember the torture all too well. Although I never blamed anyone else for this, it's not like they helped. And this is where I come in.
I behave the way I do because I want to help.
I want to help others not be scared.
I know it's a little presumptuous of me because there's no reason for me to assume that the other person's afraid of me. But come on, if someone uses the 'toe' line on you, you'd be a little scared.

When I first moved from Dubai to New Delhi for my graduate degree, I met people from really diverse backgrounds. I met girls who had worked their whole lives to come to Delhi to study. They fought with their families for a chance to graduate. They came from indiscreet little villages in the interiors of India.

I didn't need to stretch my imagination too much to think about how overwhelming that would have been for them. I lived with some of them. They were timid, quiet girls who'd sit on their desks all day, studying. The opportunity that they had been given was too big for them to pass up and waste away having fun and socializing.

'Empathy is a stunning act of imaginative derring-do, the ultimate virtual reality- climbing into another's mind to experience the world from that person's perspective.'
-Daniel Pink
  A Whole New Mind
So I started doing what I do.
I tried to make them laugh. And since I had nothing common with, say, a girl from a small village in Jharkhand, I made fun of myself.
I'd say something random.
I'd say something weird.
And it worked. They'd laugh. And they'd talk to me.
It made me feel like I helped, in a small way.
It was awesome.
Since then, I've been hooked.

I figure, by doing what I do, and saying funny things, I'm subconsciously trying to somehow pass on the message that, 'I'm normal and there's no need to be afraid of me'.
I know. I know. Chances are that no one is afraid.
Unless I've just used the 'toe' statement on them.
But it's clear that the early childhood trauma makes me think what I think.
And it conditions my behavior. Subconsciously.

And I ask you, what's the harm?
Those people who think they're better than normal, and they don't want anything to do with a self-deprecating commoner like me, they're welcome to leave. I hate such people anyway. So it would only make me happy.
And the rest? They end up smiling.
Or at the very least, they end up thinking:
'I gotta be more normal than her! So I got nothing to worry about'.
And that makes me happy.

I noticed that I do this 'ultimate virtual reality' thing quite often in my day to day life, without even knowing it.

For example, I know how annoying it is, when people pick stuff out of the food that I cook for them.
Like they'll leave out the tomatoes, or they'll leave the gravy behind. Because they don't like it.
It annoys me, because I put in a lot of effort to cook the food I cook and a clean and empty plate tells me, it was worth it. A plate with stuff picked out tells me, 'thanks but it wasn't my kind of food'.
I'd hate that.

So I make it  a point to clean everything off my plate. Every time I go to someone's house to eat. Even if it wasn't my kind of food.

It's empathy for the guy who has to do the dishes later.
It's the most disgusting thing in the world to pick the residual waste food out of the drain, after the dishes are done. I'm sure you'll agree.

If you don't, well, you've never done dishes in your life.
You lucky, lucky… person.

And, it's empathy for the chef.
I can imagine how they'd feel.

Maybe the fact that I'm a sap helps me imagine.
I'm a sap. A big sap.
I cry for everything.

I cried like a madwoman when the kid in 'The Kite Runner' was treated unfairly.
Seriously, wept. The guy sitting behind me asked if I was okay.

I cried when I saw the trailer of the new 'Soul Surfer' movie.
I couldn't even watch the whole trailer.

I cried for Pretty Woman. I cried for Ice Age, the first part. I cried for Hachiko.
I cry for the Google Chrome advert where the dad sends his baby girl an email everyday to share her childhood with her.
Every time they show it. I cry.
And then I took this test.
It measures your 'empathy quotient'. That confirmed it.
Out of a total of 60, I scored 58.
I'm the sappiest sap there could be.
I'm Sappy Sapperson. 

And, I'm not ashamed of it anymore.

Apparently, this 'sap' business is going to be all the rage this century.

Empathy is (more than) a vocational skill necessary for surviving twenty first century labor markets. It's an ethic for living. Empathy makes us human.
-Daniel Pink
  A Whole New Mind

So treat this post as a warning to stop classifying people like me as soft, lily-livered weaklings and start classifying the others as snooty, arrogant, snobs. Emotionally deficient and lacking in the basic human instinct of empathy. Those who feel the need to assert their personalities from the 'get go'. Those who mistake themselves to be so self aware that they don't notice the nuances in anyone else's personalities. Did I say they were snooty, arrogant snobs?

If I didn't, I'll tell you now, they're snooty, arrogant snobs.
I can say it again, for those who didn't hear. They're snooty, arrogant snobs.
I could go on all day. I never get tired of it.
Snooty, arrogant snobs.
Snooty, arrogant snobs.

Snooty, arrogant snobs.
And they're dumber than door knobs.
They think they're so smart, as sharp as a dart.
But actually they're dumb, like a wad of chewing gum.
And if you ever have to meet one of them, make sure it's after 8 pm.

You try to find a word that rhymes with 'them'.
'Them' is a really hard word to rhyme anything with.
And, I really didn't want to talk about phlegm.

I think you're right.
I'll never make it as a poet.
I should just stick to being a brain paragliding bloggist.

But I'm keeping my lily liver.
Wouldn't exchange it for anything in the world.
Except, maybe, a dinner date with George Clooney.
And a gazillion million dollars.

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The Pious Hippie by Ms. Pious Hippie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.