Reacting to excitement

I've been slowly noticing, over a number of years now, a place where I don't react to other people the way that I want to. I've been stumbling over defensive reactions that I didn't realize I had. These are a few rules of thumb that I'm formulating for myself to try to improve that, and I thought it might help to write them down. And maybe they'll be meaningful for someone else.

  1. Things people are excited about are probably exciting. If I don't find them exciting, that's probably because I don't know enough about them to understand why they're exciting. Or perhaps I have a different mindset, and therefore the exciting parts don't connect with me.

    Both of those are okay! There are way more things to learn about than I will ever possibly have time to learn, and I don't have to get excited about everything other people are excited about. But, equally, just because I'm not excited doesn't mean that the thing is not exciting.

  2. My misplaced sense of obligation should not be someone else's buzzkill.

    This requires a bit of unpacking, since I only intermittantly realize that I'm doing this. But (partly for cultural reasons, partly due to natural inclinations) I've always felt a strong sense of obligation to "keep up" with things. To know a lot about a lot of topics. And one of the things I've realized is that my brain occasionally twists an interest in knowing lots about the world into a sense of obligation to "stay current" and know something about everything important, at least within my vague field of expertise. And usually that part of my brain has a very expansive notion of field of expertise; all of software development, for example, which is, when I pull it out into the light, ridiculously broad.

    This then sparks one of the standard failure modes of human cognition. I have an unrealistic expectation of myself. I fail to meet that expectation. This makes me feel guilty and stressed. At that point, my brain starts trying to find targets for me to displace negative feelings onto, and that generally ends up being the next person who is excited about something new that I don't know anything about but feel like I should.

    This is all very interesting psychologically, in the abstract. However, the concrete result is that I sometimes get all snarky and negative about something that someone else is excited about because it happens to be the moment I hit overload, or because I didn't want to hear about another thing that I feel like I should know more about. And that, in turn, can be either confrontational or discouraging to someone who is legitimately excited (and may rarely get the chance to be excited). And that's not the person I want to be.

  3. It's okay not to have an opinion. Seriously, it's okay. The world is full of stuff, far more stuff than any one person can know anything about. It's okay not to go read about everything people say is exciting. It's okay not to know about something new. It's okay to focus on the things I'm already doing. Really.

    What's not okay is to make up an opinion about something I know nothing about just so that I can feel better about myself by having an opinion. Particularly since that opinion formed under those circumstances tends to be negative, despite the fact that I have no actual basis for having any opinion at all.

    I need to practice just quietly not having an opinion. No one else needs to know about my lack of opinion.

  4. Before bristling at imposition, be sure someone is actually imposing. I frequently leap to the conclusion that, when someone raises a topic, they want me to do something about it. It's a gut emotional reaction, I think in part because the emotional part of my brain likes to make everything about me. Intellectually, if I can engage that part of my brain, it's often obvious that it's not about me, or that they're not asking me to do anything.

    Often, when someone brings something up, they just want to tell someone else about it, or make me aware of it. If I've listened to, or read, all the sentences and understood then, then congratulations! I've done everything that I needed to do and was expected to do and need not feel any further obligation. Even if something further needs to be done, it doesn't necessarily need to be done by me.

    I'm very protective of my time and available resources because I almost always feel overwhelmed by all the things that I want to work on. This does not entitle me to snap at random people who are being excited around me on the grounds that they're trying to put more obligations on me. They're probably not. If it becomes clear that they really want me to do something I don't have time to do, I can politely decline, but if I just shut up and listen for longer, usually that's not the case at all.

(Please note that this is not prompted by any current discussion happening anywhere, and paticularly not by anything in Debian. Insofar as it was prompted by anything, it was by a throwaway comment in an unrelated private discussion. It's just something that gelled enough to write down while I was walking home from work.)

Posted: 2012-09-04 20:33 — Why no comments?

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-04