Today’s random musing comes courtesy of some recently disappeared Facebook friends, interactions with former acquaintances, and observation of human behavior gleaned from my travels to date.
I recently revisited an editorial from The New York Times, one my mom shared with me a year ago, entitled “Rich People Just Care Less” (Daniel Goleman, The New York Times). She’s an avid consumer of the news, so this editorial made its way to my inbox two days after it appeared online.
Daniel Goleman, author of the piece, is a psychologist and a writer. And like any good scientist and communicator, he draws upon research from his field.
A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker.
A combination of both aloof and aggressive behaviors
The financial difference ends up creating a behavioral difference. Poor people are better attuned to interpersonal relations — with those of the same strata, and the more powerful — than the rich are, because they have to be.
While Mr. Keltner’s research finds that the poor, compared with the wealthy, have keenly attuned interpersonal attention in all directions, in general, those with the most power in society seem to pay particularly little attention to those with the least power. To be sure, high-status people do attend to those of equal rank — but not as well as those low of status do.
These findings are scarcely surprising. Goleman draws upon the research in order to highlight its effects in public policy. While this is interesting in its own peculiar way, I am fascinated by how behavioral differences in interpersonal communication play out on a much smaller level.
I want to start by sharing a quote that I hold dear:
You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him – Malcolm Forbes
To anyone who knows me, it is hardly news that I have not been employed in my field since I graduated from the University of Tulsa. The couple of jobs that I have held since leaving school have been tremendous for my personal growth and development, but I have few external trappings to show for it. I know what I am: a poor, unemployable man. If not for the continued patience of my parents, I would not have had the luxury of observing those around me to such an extent. I hope that they can understand how immensely grateful I am for their contribution in shaping my past and present direction.
The situations that led to where I am today are known to few, but I have taken strides to publicize them for anyone who is willing to read. I’ve invited great troubles upon myself by making foolish decisions at the workplace, often motivated by drugs or women. To that end, I took great pains in consolidating the facts surrounding my long-term relationships to date. I publicized each release with a Facebook post. The first release was made on August 1st, 2014. Since that time, I have lost no fewer than 13 friends. This averages out to just over one friend a week.
I expected that this thinning of the crowd would happen. Truthfully, I am glad that it has taken place. What it represents is a graceless about-turn on the part of individuals with whom there is nothing to talk about. What little value there was in keeping them around is long gone. This is accentuated by the fact that I have received zero feedback from those individuals. Be that as it may, I hold zero resentment toward these individuals – rest assured I won’t spend any time trying to find out who they were.
On to current news: I have observed a great many people who have taken scientific research and gotten it backwards.
Remember that correlation does not imply causation.
One of my guilty pleasures is reading relationship advice. Any young man who ventures into the realm of men’s relationship advice will find a litany of complaints and success stories alike from other men, all reading: “Women love assholes.” Some go so far as to suggest that, in order to have greater success with women, the hopeless romantic should behave like an asshole. Because women love assholes, you should behave like an asshole, and you will quickly find yourself swimming in a sea of opportunity.
The young man who applies this advice might find that there is a remarkable change in how others perceive him. Chances are that he was nice, bordering on being a pushover before he effected this change. However, those who know him well will see through it. The most astute among them know that there has been no change in circumstance, and that this new face is merely a bid at gaining higher perceived value. The strategy may work on certain women, but it is unlikely to win the hearts of those of any worth beyond the one night stand.
The same young man comes back within a few months or a few years and declares, “I’ve now confidently bedded so-and-so many women, and I find them all to be the same! None of them are worth a damn thing!” At this point, commenters divide themselves into two highly visible camps. The one echoes the thoughts of the returned young man, saying, “Amen, brother!” while the other calls out, “What value can you offer? Why should a woman of any worth go with you over someone else?”
In actuality, this type of discussion can be found everyday in every corner of the manosphere, and it all comes back to a misunderstanding of observed results. If one’s only goal was to achieve some measure of success with women, then the advice works. Those that know better have taken it a step further by deconstructing the true constituents of perceived and real value. In relationships, it’s been said that a man will do well to:
- Establish boundaries
- Respect others and to expect respect in return
- Avoid making himself too available to his prospects
- Engage himself in the pursuit of an enjoyable hobby, beyond mindless pastimes
- Cultivate a strong image
- Gain worldly experience
- Keep company with others who are striving to make it
What they have understood is that being an asshole can only take a man so far. The asshole has few truly desirable traits, but the word is used liberally in order to persuade the too-nice to stop being doormats. To actively embrace being an asshole is to throw away innumerable prospects for the sake of a short-term reward.
The same is true in business and in acquiring wealth. There are some people who will do business with anyone, regardless of character. One can be a dickcheese and still become wealthy in spite of it. However, there are countless others who expect more than just a warm body. They will work only with those who possess a strong character.
What about those self-promoting pricks who don’t help anyone else? Well, what about them? One must practice self-promotion where appropriate, else opportunities will go to someone else. And one cannot neglect one’s proper duties in the name of expanding one’s responsibility.
To be sure, even individuals of strong character can be mistaken for assholes, but you ought to know the difference for yourself by now.