One of my all-time favorite books is Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein. In this book there is the concept of a professional "Fair Witness", a person who is trained to observe events and report exactly- and only- what they actually witness. For example, at one point in the book a Fair Witness is asked what color a house is, and she replies "It's white on this side." (emphasis mine) It is then explained that she does not make the assumption that the rest of the house is white. She does not give extrapolation or opinion- only observed fact.
I absolutely fell in love with this concept as a younger person, because it made so much sense to me. It resonated with me, and with the way my brain works. I know that I annoy the hell out of most people with my oft-repeated motto, "Precision of language is important!" but it is. Precision matters.
But most people do not want precision. They want broad, easy strokes. And this can make life very awkward for me, indeed. At times during my childhood it made it downright miserable- other children can be cruel to peers who are different, and using polysyllabic words at a young age certainly marked me as different. But even more than that, certain adults don't know how to deal with children who are as smart- or smarter- than they are, and some of those adults react by attempting to put said children "in their place". The world can be terribly lonely when you are surrounded by peers and "superiors" who are all telling you that the way you're acting- the way you are- is showing off and mean and wrong.
But that's another blog entry entirely.
The point is, I have a history of saying things that alienate people, all because I tend to forget that the average person doesn't care about precision in their day-to-day interactions. They only care that you hit the proper steps of social ritual. And although I've gotten better about it, I still occasionally fail to switch out of logical-Vulcan mode.
I failed today.
A friend of mine asked me,
"Am I a good person?"
And instead of responding like a normal person would, by saying, "Of course you're a good person!" and thereby giving them the reassurance they were searching for, I said, thoughtfully,
"Well, I don't know." I went on to explain that I wasn't sure anyone could ever know whether or not another person was good, that the most I could do was comment on the behaviors I'd observed, and that they seemed like the person in question was probably a good person. But I couldn't know. And while I'm saying these things, my mind is whirling with thoughts like, "What is good? I don't even know that I'm a good person- I'm more likely a neutral person who occasionally does good things," (any time I take those, "What's your Alignment?" quizzes I get "true neutral", if that tells you anything).
And then, suddenly, I realize that my friend is looking at me. Looking at me in that, "You just failed a test of basic social niceties" way. And then they sort of try to brush the whole thing off, but can tell that actually I've really hurt their feelings. And I feel awful, because I absolutely didn't mean to hurt their feelings, and if they had phrased the question just slightly differently, ("Do you think I'm a good person?" or "Am I a bad person?") I could have answered appropriately, but oh no- whatever part of my psyche that cannot let go of literal-ism is flailing around screaming that if I don't know what the definition of something is, I cannot categorize things using said "something".
But then? Then I start to feel angry. Because why the hell do people have to take things personally when they aren't personal? Why do people have to be so sloppy with language? And why can't people just ask for what they actually want, rather than making me have to guess at their stupid normal emotions and react "appropriately"?
But then I realize that I'm just going into defensive mode, myself, getting angry to mask the discomfort of having unintentionally hurt my friend. So I shake it off, apologize, and try to explain myself- but the brusque way they're speaking indicates that they don't really get it. In fact I'm pretty sure they're still thinking that I think they're a jerk.
Oh well. Tomorrow is another day.
(In all fairness, sometimes I'm just plain self-centered/oblivious. It's a pretty major personal failing, and I'm working on it. I've been working on it for over a decade. Theoretically someday I'll get better about it. Hopefully.)