On the various blogs I like to comment on, I often find myself speaking with distinctly non-neurotypical persons. By neurotypical, I mean a person whose brain (and particularly their emotions) work in a similar fashion to around 95% of the population or more. I am not using it in the fashion that the autism community uses it (i.e., people who are not autism-spectrum or Asperger's). Certainly there's a lot of overlap between my definition and said communities, but let's be clear, I'm not using this as in any way, shape, or form as a pejorative. Let's be blunt---if I mean to insult you, I will do so fairly openly---if I refer to you or another as not neurotypical, I'm not insulting but rather simply describing. Needless to say, I'm hardly neurotypical myself. My purpose in writing this little missive is to give aid and encouragement to my less neurotypical readers and those who find themselves dealing outside the neurotypical. A lot of what I've learned has come at a pretty steep price, and I'm willing to offer you a nearly 100% discount.
Probably the most common method we use as human beings for estimating what another person is thinking or feeling is the attempt to 'put ourselves in their shoes'. A programmer might say we try to instantiate a copy of ourselves inside their workspace and see what output it gives. A psychologist would say we use projection. Although the word 'projection' has a pretty seriously negative connotation (like a lot of other terrifically useful concepts, like generalization and stereotype), it is the neurotypical's most useful theory of 'other mind'. The closer you are in mindset to the person you attempt projection on, the better it works. For most guys, it works pretty well when dealing with other men, and poorly, but not so poorly as to be useless, when dealing with women. For the non-neurotypical, projection IS disastrous. It is bad, but usually a little better than useless with the same sex, and almost comically bad with the opposite sex. You can probably explain a large fraction of the relative lack of success of the average geek in romance right here. It doesn't necessarily have to be this way--remember, the purpose here is support and encouragement.
The second thing we reach for besides projection is a mental model of another person or group's behavior---how does it respond to the stimuli we generate? This SHOULD be the social salvation of the non-neurotypical, but in practice, it rarely is. The problem is, we, as a society, systematically lie about a terrific number of things as regards interpersonal relationships. Not being neurotypical myself, I'm not absolutely certain whether we lie intentionally or simply because we lack self-knowledge of our own motivations, or whether we simply do so for fear of social disapproval when we 'let the cat out of the bag', and speak too frankly. Here is the biggest one, in my experience. The only people who you'll meet in ordinary life who will be open on this one are salesmen, and only those speaking generally among themselves:
Doing someone a favor does NOT make them like you more. Getting them to do you a favor (particularly lots of small ones over a period of time) generally DOES.
To the non-neurotypical, or the neurotypical who's trying to use his mind's general processor (his social processor generally doesn't communicate directly with his conscious mind), this MAKES NO SENSE. Why in the hell would I dislike someone who did me lots of favors in the hopes of currying favor/improving their relationship with me? And why would I like a person more/be more willing to do them more favors if I'd donated to their cause in the past/helped them out of numerous jams/had them pester me for favors in the past?
Well, if you're not neurotypical, and I'm not, you wouldn't. However around 95% of the population would, AND THEY'RE NOT GOING TO CHANGE, even (perhaps especially), if you marry them. They're simply not wired that way. It's not a moral thing (although a lot of moral accusations are tossed in BOTH directions here, I'll talk about that a little more in a future post), it's just their nature. If you observe their behavior, both in your personal life and in macro examples in history, you'll find this to be true. Why it's true is something I don't really grok---I mean, I can advance possibilities---like maybe the neurotypical views you asking a favor as a status stroke and you doing him a favor as a status hit which his gut resents or maybe we mishandle it like we typically do sunk costs, but as I said, I don't really grok this one. In general, I counsel the non-neurotypical to do the following:
1) In the words of Dr Phil---ask yourself...how's that working out for you? I.E. is your mental model of others working for you? If it is, wonderful, if not
2) Suspend your existing model for a little while. Start actually observing what people DO...you should probably ignore what they say for the time being
3) Don't worry about explaining so much WHY people do what they do for now, just focus on general stimulus-response pairs...i.e. WHAT they do
Eventually you can work on refining your models into serviceable stereotypes and you'll find your success in this arena greatly enhanced.
If you meditate on this observation (I think Ben Franklin was one of the first to publish it in bald language), you'll find it helps to explain an awful lot of the stuff you see in your interpersonal life that just doesn't make any sense. Why do so many women keep going back to guys they know abuse them? Why do charities pester us incessantly once we've given them money? Why do fraternities, armies, navies, secret societies, and sororities have degrading hazing rituals?
Here are a few concrete suggestions:
If you're like me, you probably have a massively positive 'favor balance' (i.e, you do a lot more favors on the net than you ask for). Reduce that balance---don't explicitly say you're trying to 'call in a favor'---for some reason, being explicit like this REALLY rubs the neurotypical the wrong way because they absolutely HATE having interactions like that framed in transactional terms. Do, on the other hand, ASK for some favors---saying...can you do me a favor or, maybe you can help me or, I've got a problem, and I think you're the one with the (insert positive attribute here) that can help me are all good openers. Don't go hog wild here, but ask for them in cases where you don't necessarily 'need' them. Perversely, you'll find they'll improve and solidify your relationship with the person that does you a favor. If you study a bit of sales, you'll find this one is huge---but I'm not sure the catchy name they're calling it these days :-)
A Roman Fresco from Pompeii
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