Being rejected means you have no proof you can socialize well.

We have some big hangups about free choice and consent in social relationships. (And sexual too, but that’s a story for later.) And the title of this post is a big reason why. If not the biggest reason.

We see reciprocation– someone saying yes to us in a social situation– as evidence that we are skilled socially. We see a person saying no to us as a sign we have failed. And that’s a big mistake.

Because always framing a rejection in terms of YOUR failure to charm someone, misses the important point that the other person always has free choice. And their “no” is a referendum on their preference, in that moment in that time– NOT on you. They don’t have to have a reason for saying no. You could be perfectly OK at socializing. You could even be very charming. It has to do with THEIR free choice.

The other reason seeing a Yes as a sign of our good people skills, and a No as a sign of our ineptitude is a big mistake? Because it then puts us in a position of trying to coerce yeses out of people… because only successful reciprocations are evidence that we are good at this socializing thing.

Damn other people’s free choice. The ability to socialize well is a highly sought-after quality in our society, and to employers; and even to doctors and the legal system. And the way we prove our likeability is by getting other people to choose us. Popular people, by definition, have a lot of people like them and choose to spend quality time with them.

And if they won’t choose us of their own free will? Why, we’ll make them choose us.

Because how else are we going to prove we’re not social failures?

I don’t understand people’s mystification about social anxiety or where it comes from. Because modern social life is designed to foment anxiety. Every social encounter, no matter how small, has high stakes. Every person you meet is a potential job, love affair, new experience. And being turned down for any of that, feels like losing a piece of your life.

Hell, not only that: with every rejection, you’re losing some proof that you can socialize well. Others around you might start to think you’ve socially inept, or even that you have Asperger’s… unless you can make other people say yes to you in enough numbers to counterbalance that.
Sometimes, if you’re especially dangerous, you may even sexually assault people. Naturally, to force them to give you proof you’re romantically charming.

Who has time to care about someone else’s free agency, when your own reputation as a socially healthy and likeable person is at stake? You have no time for rejections! You have no time to let a silly little bunch of Nos make you lose your competitive edge in the game of life.
Why… a few years later you might be up for that Wall Street job, and you’re going to lose that to that slick, oily, schmoozy classmate of yours who gets girls just a bit more effortlessly. Or that other classmate with the 10,000 Facebook friends. Or that other one who’s been “Most Well Liked” since high school and FSM knows when. They have proof they can socialize. They have evidence… a lot more than you.
And you’ve been slacking. Your career is at stake. Your life is at stake. The winner is the most popular one, the one with the most Yes and the least No in their column. Must… get… that… Yes… come what may!

Sound ridiculous enough yet? Good.

It’s time to stop seeing acceptances as proof we’re good with people, and rejections as proof we’re not. Because thinking we’re in 100% control of how people react to us leads us down some very bad paths.

Why we should be VERY careful what we’re conflating with emotional intelligence.

Anyone who has caught my postings elsewhere on the web knows that I feel a bit cautious about emotional intelligence. To name a few reasons:

    • The way it enjoyed universal, unquestioned approval for many years;
    • The way it, indirectly, holds up status-quo seeking as the most emotionally healthy attitude;
    • The way it, even if unintentionally, pathologizes criticism of society and social dynamics;
    • The way, corollary to the previous two points, it ends up boosting privilege.

We already have enough of society propping up privilege. It would be very dangerous indeed if being privileged became reframed as emotionally intelligent. Because so many of us believe emotional intelligence is an unalloyed positive good. We all want to have good emotional and mental health, and to take whatever actions are necessary to get there.

So, forgive me if I have a problem with so many of the people who are held up as examples of great EQ. They, quite frankly, look to me like the privileged.
As if it doesn’t matter how destructive the prosperity gospel is to both our spiritual life and our economy– all that matters is if it gives some of us self-confidence– which has long been held to be a necessary ingredient for high EQ.
As if nothing could matter more than calm. Notice how much mental health advice is all about accepting your lot in life and not trying to make it better. (Even right down to the famous Serenity Prayer.) Notice how much of it frames thinking as a problem, inferior to emotion and intuition. (Thinking is not superior OR inferior to feeling. They are equal co-partners.)

My intuition tells me that who you hold up as an example of your concept, speaks much louder than your description of the concept. So you can tell me all the time that EQ is not all about lulling yourself into bovine complacency. But if that’s the main emotion of all your high-EQ exemplars– if there’s no dissenter, no social critic, no– well, emotional person with high EQ that you can point me to– then I will feel less than enthusiastic about getting on board the emotional intelligence train.

UPDATE 7/13: My response to No More Mister Nice Blog’s discussion on the politics of punishing the poor. Why do the poor have to be punished? Because they fail the marshmallow test, of course. *facepalm*

Great news today

The Affordable Care Act upheld, 6-3.

AND… even better: Texas Dept. of Housing vs. Inclusive Communities. Upheld 5-4 with Kennedy joining the four Democratic-appointed justices.

Both cases were worrisome. But the ACA’s case was a bit less so. King vs. Burwell was founded on so ridiculous a premise, such a feat of mental gymnastics, that on some level I thought it couldn’t possibly prevail. But seeing how the ridiculous and fantastical so often have prevailed recently, if only because certain very ideological and determined people wanted ridiculous stuff to prevail.. *Walker cough cough*
Let’s just say, I was surprised when reality did win the day over craziness. But only a little surprised. John Roberts is pro-corporate… he’s not a loon.

But the Inclusive case really did worry me, because its defeat would NOT have been ridiculous or unexpected. Not only because our society is so “what’s in it for me?” Not only because we feel freer to indulge our worst instincts to love Teh Epistemic Closure and hunker down with people just like us.
But because we generally suck at considering impact over intent. Because it’s psychologically painful. It forces us to rethink, at times, our entire purpose and reason for doing things. It sometimes even seems to ask us to consider ourselves… gasp… bad people. And nobody, but nobody, likes to think of themselves as a bad person.

(One good way to avoid feeling like absolute crap when considering impact is to frame it as bad actions, not bad people; like Jay Smooth does here. But I digress.)

Supreme Court Justices are no more likely to wish to feel like bad people than the average person. It’s just so much easier to not think about things like “disparate impact” and just focus on intent. It just feels too much like reading too much into things to think about racist effects hidden within ostensible neutral actions.

But luckily, we don’t have to have that discussion. The Fair Housing Act still stands.

How about a little celebration, then?

Are you tired of studies saying loneliness will kill you? So am I!

Another psychological study doing its very best Dick Cheney impression. If you don’t eliminate terrorismloneliness, you’re gonna die!

March 25, 2015 marked the first time I’ve seen a major online publication, Psychology Today, question something that has become, through the power of repetition, a widely held truth.

“Loneliness will kill you.” How many times have we heard some variation of that? How many times do we keep hearing from the media that we are social animals and just aren’t at our best without relationships?

Then after that, how many times do we see any discussion of how we are to achieve the salubrious state of social support? Especially in a way that respects our right to be distinct human beings… and does not try to prescribe a best personality or a best way of living?
That does not assume we have 100% control of the uncontrollable– other people’s feelings, boundaries, and perceptions– and therefore, says it’s 100% our fault if others’ choices do not favor us?
That does not promote a “whatever it takes” attitude to combating loneliness, thereby ensuring we try to coerce others into reciprocating our social overtures?
That actually challenges our instinct to hunker down with people who remind us of ourselves, instead of saying “embrace it”?

Let’s just say, I have more fingers on my hand.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Believe it or not, a big part of what holds us back is our relationships.

I’ll restate that: what holds us back are the unspoken rules we follow about our relationships. The actions we take as we go about this socializing thing. The everyday behaviors we engage in to be sociable, be friendly, be likeable.

Too often, in the choices, behaviors, and decisions we make in our everyday lives to attract a social support system (and therefore protect our health, according to the media), we choose conformity with the dominant culture.
We choose to uphold white privilege, for instance, because we just feel safer and more comfortable with white people.
We choose to let sexism slide, because the consequences to our career, reputation and lives are just too steep– ask any man who wants to stay home with his kids. Hell, ask any victim of GamerGate.

Likeability itself seems to require not rocking the boat, because that’s the picture we hold in ourselves of a likeable person– someone who goes with the flow with a minimum of complaint. Someone who’s OK with things staying just the way they are.
Why does the exemplar of the “emotionally intelligent” ideal employee in business come off as so… unconcerned with the consequences of unchecked greed? So single-minded in the pursuit of calm– over any other emotional state? Like solidarity, compassion, altruism and egalitarian outlook?
Why did it take 20 years after the publication of Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book, to see any kind of substantive criticism of it? To see any kind of consideration that EQ might have unintended consequences?

Or to see that positive emotions could, in fact, be used for selfish and even negative ends:

In this single line, “Compassion and altruism are the key to low inflammation and even a longer life,” the presupposition is that compassion and altruism are a means. The end is health and longevity.
…We ought to become more compassionate and altruistic not for the personal good it does for our health, but for the benefits it has for others. The fact that it also may have some benefits for me personally is a nice side-effect, but not the reason for doing it.

If we presuppose that the reason for doing good is to personally benefit… [we] contribute to a degraded society of selfishness and moral decay.

Duff McDuffee, “Compassion Reduces Inflammation, but Saying that Reduces Compassion.”

Love from others, too often, has a hidden price of admission– first, you must make me look good to others and feel good about myself. Then, and only then, will I invite you into my community. The fitting in, the benefit to ourselves, becomes more important than the love and compassion.

Closer to home for anyone invested in social justice: how many times have we all tried to practice activism in our everyday lives, but our friends and loved ones just didn’t want any part of it? They didn’t have time, they didn’t know what to do, or they found it too negative?
And what did we choose to do? We chose the respectful and likeable thing, of course. We backed off. We saved our activism for someone who cared. We toned it down. Because if we kept it up, our loved ones may not have found us so lovable any more. They might even decide to leave us… and sort themselves into a group of more like-minded people. Because more warm and fuzzy feelings.

Oh, and by throwing health concerns into the mix? That all but makes being in a relationship compulsory, in the practice of everyday life. Because of both not enough of us having health care (thank you, Republican governors), and because of the American ethos of “always help yourself before asking for help from others”, the practical effect of saying “loneliness is bad for your health” is to make loneliness taboo.

We trust the media less and less overall. But we still trust them when it comes to messages about our health. And for many years now, we have been getting such a steady diet of uncritical promotion of health through relationship, that we largely accept it without question.
We would rather fit in than stand out, because it has been drilled into our heads that rapport and friendship require that first we make ourselves similar to our would-be friends. That we must have something in common with someone, in order to care about them.
And so we put up with things from our social circles that we swore we never would put up with, when we were growing up. Because we see the negatives as worth being in relationships. We see gender inequality as a small sacrifice for being married and having children. We see emotional abuse and overlong hours as a trade-off for having a good job. We see the pains of the dating game and of possibly having to live beyond our means to fit in, as an inevitable consequence of living a rich single life.

We see ourselves as being realistic about our social world, and doing the best we can.

But what if we can do even better?

What if we do NOT have to choose between having friends, and being our best selves?

What if our social circles were not warm, fuzzy straitjackets… but real bonds of solidarity? Real give-and-take that does not impose a hidden cost on us (except for Don’t Be An Asshole)? Real forces for personal and social transformation?

Loneliness may or may not kill you. But social circles that are contingent on you not rocking the boat, will smother your soul in a fluffy, comfortable blanket.

Note: Cross-posted to Daily Kos.

Those gut instincts everyone says to trust in? They’re sexist (and racist, and classist) little buggers.

The root of all evil is not money. It’s something more basic.

More to the point, it’s something that makes us feel so good, so comfortable and healthy and right, how could it possibly be bad?

It’s our need to feel comfortable. For the most obvious example: racism and sexism are, at their base, about our need to feel more comfortable and secure in our surroundings. Countless studies have proven that we like best the people who most remind us of ourselves… and we feel safest in a community that shares our values, preferences and life experiences.

And we are also coming off a decades-long charm offensive by psychologists, medical doctors, liberals, conservatives, spiritual leaders, cultural luminaries, and intellectual heavyweights alike attesting to the healing power of happiness… with no mention of how we get that happiness. Which has elevated stress-relief to a virtue, to the point of making thinking and concern for the less fortunate as emotionally less-than-healthy. Which has looked, uncritically and almost uniformly without dissent, on emotional intelligence; not openly acknowledging any possible dark side or side effects until a good 15 years after the fact.

How far down the rabbit hole have we fallen? I’ll just let my comments in the Alternet piece, “The Attractiveness Bonus in the Workplace” speak for themselves:

Why appearance bias in jobs where there is ostensibly no public contact? Because attractive people make our l’il gut instincts feel good.

Those touchy-feely things… which, I might add, were held up as better judges of character than our rational minds, and more reliable and closer to the truth than thoughts, by just about everybody under the frickin’ sun with barely-microscopic levels of dissent, from Oprah to our former president to our entire media to an army of credentialled doctors over the last couple of decades… well, those instincts of ours just like feeling comfortable above all else in the world. They like things fast, easy, and familiar. They like it so we don’t have to take too much time or emotional energy processing pesky things like complexity. Our instincts love stereotypes.
And may I add that happiness and being stress-free is the most important thing in the world? May I add that it doesn’t matter HOW you get your happiness, or where it comes from, or whether it was bought by screwing up someone else’s life, turning off our empathy switch, or surrounding ourselves with yes-men… only that we’re happy; because happy people are ALWAYS healthier and smarter than unhappy people, and EWWW I don’t want you contaminating me with your poisonous cortisol?
May I add that we are social beings and, as such, it’s more beneficial and healthy to follow the crowd than to stand up and challenge things? Besides, silly rabbit, everyone knows you can’t change the world; you can only change yourself, and your response to things.

For that I blame two people more than anyone else: Daniel Goleman and David Brooks. Goleman for spawning an industry that gave us a green light to stunt others’ LIVELIHOODS and malign others’ characters for failing to tickle our subjective fancies; Brooks for continuing to set the tone as to what it means to be a sociable human being– which, apparently, means someone who will put up with a lot of emotional manipulation and subtle coercion; because, goshdarnit, those are necessary prices to pay for love and friendship; and ZOMG, gender essentialism is so SEXY.

We are continually told that if we follow our gut instincts, we will be happier. And if we are happier, we are automatically healthier, smarter, and have more friends. In a country where 1 in 10 people suffer from depression and many more suffer from other mental illnesses and just basic unhappiness, these are not just empty promises. They are emotional manna to us. We eat these words up… like triple-chocolate ice cream with a touch of catnip. Besides, our economy being what it is; an creeping monoculture where everyone must be selling, baby, selling, where the personality traits of financiers and decision-making-by-mysticism are increasingly setting the tone for every line of work in America, our very livelihoods may demand we sing in tune…

We tell ourselves we are emotionally healthier and more intelligent, that we are socially well-connected and sound judges of character. Because we’re doing what the culture has been telling us to do. We’ve been trusting primarily, or entirely, on our gut instincts. And they make us feel good.

And we forget just how prejudiced our gut instincts can be. How racist, sexist, classist, ableist, every kind of -ist they can be. Because we forget that what our gut instincts enjoy more than anything, is not rocking the boat.

Money is just a tool.