4 Social Situations No One Ever Gets Right
Have you ever misjudged a social situation so badly that the ensuing shame makes you want to disappear underground and erase any trace of the events by fire-bombing the area lest the stain of your hopelessness leave a permanent blemish on the face of the planet? Sure you have. That shit happens to everybody, and the lucky fact that very few people habitually carry shovels and Molotov cocktails is the only reason humanity didn't burn away in a blaze of shamefire centuries ago.
Pictured: The correct way to handle the situation when you say "thank you"
to a stranger when you meant to say "you're welcome."
Our penchant for abstract thinking might be what cemented our status as the apex predator of the planet, but the complex web of hows and whys that our brains constantly weave can make it damn difficult to communicate with each other. As such, trying to fine-tune our behavior to the situation in a way that doesn't make us look like Hulk Hogan in a Bolshoi Ballet production can get borderline impossible. We're hopelessly clumsy fuckers when it comes to social interaction, is what I'm saying.
Remember the last time you managed to fuck up the very concept of ... ?
Let's say you're a doctor, running through the city in a mad dash because a series of increasingly unlikely events has crashed all other means of transportation, and you need to deliver this liver to the hospital before little Timmy dies on the operating table, dammit! Racing against time, you buy yourself precious seconds by running up an escalator. Of course, this is easier said than done: no one has ever managed to walk the length of an escalator without bumping into some assbutt who has somehow remained oblivious to the whole "walking side/standing side" concept.
The inevitable human garbage blocking the stairs turns out to be a particularly obnoxious-looking businessman. The dude is the concept of assholishness personified: enamored with his brand-new Vladimir Putin iPhone, and determined to make sure that everyone will damn well see it, he's standing in the middle of the step, wielding his gadget in that weird, cartoonishly buff melons-under-armpits pose some people adapt to maximize the space they're occupying and thus taking from actual humans. In his head, he's this:
"I shall conquer this escalator with you, iSword!"
While, from your busy, rapidly approaching viewpoint, he's this:
So you do what anyone would do in your position. "Move, you unholy turdwaffle," you bark, as you forcefully shoulder him aside and continue your journey. The onlookers are greeted with the sight of the gilded face of Vladimir Putin flying through the air, hitting the space between the escalators just right, skidding into the abyss below.
A twist: that escalator is the world, and you two just demonstrated how hard it is to respect your fellow man.
Sure, you feel you were in the right, there. You were busy, so you showed a yuppie dick-turd how the world rolls. Hell, it probably took all the restraint of the other passengers to not burst into spontaneous applause. But what if he wasn't a dick at all? What if he was just some guy who wore the suit only because he's fresh off his first job interview in ages and got a little carried away checking out the cool new phone he was going to give as a birthday gift to his leukemia-ridden sister (she collects weird phones, don't discriminate)? And then, suddenly, some creepy little hemorrhoid farmer (that's you!) starts screaming insults at him and attacks him from behind. The phone falls, and with it, the joy from his sister's life forever. From his point of view, you were the monster all along.
"Well, this is awkward."
We see variations of this theme wherever we go, whatever we do. People inconvenience each other in some trivial manner and the first reaction is inevitably to mentally label the other as a temporary enemy. This is not about manners; people who routinely dine with four types of forks and use the words "please" and "sir" in place of punctuation can be just as catty as everyone else, and often more.
As multiple rap artists have pointed out, this is because people don't give others their due respect. We're not all inherently evil or anything, and we don't (or at least shouldn't) automatically turn into mindless gruntbeasts whenever we encounter someone outside our Monkeysphere. Tons of us just have no idea how to gauge where our default respect level should be toward fellow human beings.
What We Should Do About It:
It's actually kind of weird, because respect should be literally the easiest thing in the world to get right: give everyone you don't know an equal measure, regardless of the person's race or gender or what-the-hell-ever. If that doesn't work out for you, there's a fair chance that the horrible fucker in the situation is ... well, let's just say it might not be the other guy.
Of course, that's not to say we should all kiss each others' asses from here to eternity -- just that we give them a chance before going for the throat. It's still perfectly fine to steamroll an Armani-clad asshole on the escalator if you first ask him politely to move and he replies with a middle finger and the bloodscream of the demon god G'raggash.
Unless you're one of big G's minions too, in which case you high-five and join forces to wreak havoc for the glory of your master.
Quick: Raise your hand if you consider yourself humble.
"Ooh, ooh! That's me! ... Oh, fuck you."
Sorry. That was awful, both as a joke and as a setup. Still, it serves to make the point: humility, be it real or feigned for necessity's sake (come on -- don't act like you've never slaved over some project overnight, only to say, "Oh, that's nothing, just something I made in 10 minutes," when someone compliments it), is a bitch to display in any way that doesn't immediately defeat itself. This is problematic, because humility happens to be a very peculiar flavor in the sundae of human interaction. We think we can generally call bullshit if someone's fronting, but if someone's genuine we probably either won't notice or automatically assume they're insincere.
If you want an easy example, watch any post-match interview of an athlete who scored the decisive goal/point/goat explosion. Cringe at the way their mouth says, "It was a team effort," while their eyes, still wide and sparkling from adrenaline, distinctly chant, "Everyone else is a weakling -- I am the sportsman that mounts the world!" over and over again. That's fake humility, right there, to an extent where it's actually kind of scary. Remove that guy from the deranged-by-default sports interview environment, and see if you wouldn't cross the street at the merest glance of that serial-killery motherfucker.
And don't even get me started on fucking humblebragging. Once my iron blimp is finished and I inevitably assume control of some medium-sized country, one of the first orders of business will be to make it legal to spin-kick any man who says he's so poor he can barely afford the brake fluid for his Maserati.
"All the gold in my bedroom is really depressing me."
What We Should Do About It:
The easy thing to say here would be "stop faking humility," but that wouldn't really solve the problem, would it? When it comes to petty things like the genuineness of another human being, people can be pretty suspicious motherfuckers. If Mother Theresa would begin her quest to help the poor today, within a week her Facebook fan page would be filled with snarky posts like: "Ooh, I'm a famous and influential nun who millions adore, look at me being all holy and humble and shit."
With that in mind, I'd like to redefine the stock advice: stop faking and stop listening to assholes.
Actually, now that I think of it, that probably applies to any and all aspects of life.
"But what if the assholes are faking?"
How long should a meeting last? A speech? Or, hell, a summer blockbuster movie? Apparently, no one on the entire planet knows the answer to this, despite the fact that we all agree that they should be way the fuck shorter than their current length, which is roughly 83.5 percent of an eternity.
Technically, we should know all about the values of keeping things simple and brief. We know that your average human has shit for an attention span, which makes things like long lectures very ineffective. the Internet and its countless allures aren't exactly helping things, either. Yet we're terrified that someone will call us out for the lack of content in whatever enterprise we're partaking in. So we either cram our meetings so full of content it takes a dog's year to go through every item on the list -- or we keep the content level where it is and drag the thing on and on and on and on and fucking on with useless bullshit and meaningless spreadsheets.
"Actually, we just get so coked-up for the meetings that we think we're looking at porn."
At the other end of the scale, some people actually prefer to go Spartan and keep things simple and streamlined. It's just that, when you go down that road, it's easy to take things way, way too far. In my day-to-day life, I sometimes struggle with taking brevity to the extreme; if left unattended, I can easily go for weeks using only the words "hm" and "dunno," and my emails have been known to be so brief I've actually had people email me back and ask if I accidentally pushed the "send" button before finishing the message. Sometimes, I don't even bother with email at all; I just catch a passing intern and glare at them until they guess my message and the intended recipient and deliver it via interpretative dancing.
"Why can't you people just guess it? His message is 'Dunno.' It's always 'Dunno.'"
What We Should Do About It:
When someone asks me what I feel are my proudest accomplishments, writing an article about fighting that led to this wonderfully insane comment section is invariably in my Top 5. Seriously, make some popcorn and go read some of those comments, they're magnificent. Such a congregation of Internet tough guys and the "Well, actually, I recently kicked no less than 20 asses with this new dropkick I totally didn't just make up" crowd is hardly ever seen outside Arkham Asylum's "People who think they're '80s action heroes" wing. It's glorious.
Read the article while you're there -- I researched that piece like a motherfucker.
Hey, can you guess how many private messages I received from these hundreds of brave warriors, all dead set on correcting me and proving how wrong I am about the ineffectiveness of kicking and how easily they could curb-stomp my ass? Fucking one, and I'm willing to bet cash money it was written by a drunk person. This is because not a single soul among these online badasses actually wanted to prove the article wrong. They only wanted to come across as hardcore to as many people as possible.
For the casual online dweller, these classic Internet tough guys are probably the most visible symptom of humanity's tragic inability to accurately gauge its badass-o-meter. However, they're far from the only one. We, as a species, seem hard-wired to act to boost our own image as tough people. But we rarely (if ever) get the volume level right, and it goes way beyond casual, everyday I-could-kick-your-assery. Every single thing we do to boost ourselves at the expense of others is an attempt to make us look tougher than they are. Every time we rage at a Walmart cashier for some petty mistake that is not their fault in any way, every time we cut someone off in traffic, that's us, being all hard-ass winner alpha specimens.
In our heads, that is. Most other people would probably choose different words.
What We Should Do About It:
Making yourself seem as powerful as possible is a major survival trait for tons of animals, and we're more than animal enough to succumb to it every now and then. I don't think there's anything we can really do about it outside of putting everyone on seven sorts of medication, which might be cool for about a week before we realized that no one gets anything done anymore.
That being said, counting to 10 and asking yourself: "Is this really the time and place for me to start loudly boasting about my superior abilities, or am I just being a dickhead?" whenever you feel like unleashing your inner Rambo is never a bad idea. You know what, let's just use that technique every single time we feel like flexing our real or imaginary muscles. I bet most of us will find it'll yield a very different result than us-10-seconds-ago might have assumed.