Saturday, May 19, 2012

Not the Best

I want to be the best, in everything that I do. I try to always push myself, which is great, but this competitive spirit isn't always a good thing. I've been learning recently that an unbalanced competitive spirit can have a bunch of terrible side effects. It can cause:

  • Jealousy for the success of others.
  • A tendency to seek disadvantages for others.
  • Condescending behavior in order to discourage others.
  • Unnecessary frustration when you're not at your best.

All of these things can also lead to passive aggressive behavior. Passive aggression is a way of internalizing these effects, sinking deeper into them, while putting up a front of being above them. Passive aggressive behavior puts you on a pedestal, by acknowledging that you could sink to jealousy, or frustration, or anything else — but you're "better than that". If you can actually rise above these things, there is no need to explicitly acknowledge your progress.

A great example of passive aggressive behavior is providing positive sentiments after a negative statement. Telling someone you would appreciate it if they changed their behavior, and following it up with "thanks!" is one way of pushing the point that you're "better than that," and you're not "really frustrated," when in fact you're trying to mask your frustration. Better responses include: not saying anything and letting it go, or stating clearly, without any masking, how you feel. If it feels like you're exposed and your frustration is out in the open, you're probably doing it right.

An unbalanced desire to "be the best" can also cause an unwillingness towards empathic behavior. In order to have empathy for others, you need to join them where they are, and relate to their state of mind. This requires a loss of ego, and a loss of pride. Instead, the oposite behavior is chosen: the competitive person becomes sarcastic, or offers outlandish advice, or attempts to make the problem seem insignificant or trivial. I don't think I'm very sarcastic, but I regularly offer outlandish advice when people come to me with problems. Sometimes it's an effective for dealing with your own problems, but it doesn't always mean the same thing in the form of advice.

Sarcasm is maybe the most dangerous of these responses. When someone hears sarcasm, the first reaction is disbelief; that the statement sounds ridiculous. Then, they're forced into a reversal of their understanding, where they accept the true intention of the speaker. Sarcasm forces the person hearing it into the mindset of the person speaking it. This is key: sarcasm is a shield against empathy. With sarcasm, you reject the validity of another person's situation and instead force them to empathize with you.

I'm still learning these lessons, but right now they're informed by a healthy dose of criticism from a variety of open source software developers, and exactly one failed romance.


Jen said...

Very insightful. i struggle with a lot of these things on a daily basis.

zero reference said...

well said