The Hubris Debacle

So The Daily Post does this cool thing where they post a prompt everyday for writers who are stuck with no ideas.
Today’s prompt states thus:

Do you have a reputation? What is it, and where did it come from? Is it accurate? What do you think about it?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us YOU.

I felt like taking it up in a short piece, which follows immediately.


A reputation is a dangerous thing to have. It not only causes people to presume your demeanour, but also tends to have your public character pigeonholed into a tight, often unyeilding, mold. In other words, that all-important first impression of you has already been made by your reputation. It is made before you might even have an opportunity to present yourself for who you think you really are.

I do have a reputation. I know this because I have this practice where I periodically identify a person who is relatively new to me, but has in a short span of time, become a dear friend to me. I then privately ask this person to appraise my character. After the inevitable silly jokes and well-meant slander, I ask them to get serious and they do. Over the course of 7 years, I think I’ve done this 4-6 times (maybe more, I’m not sure), each time with a different person. I then look for patterns in their answers – stuff that other people have told me, and general inclinations that you pick up in conversations.

I think I’ve alluded to this practice in an earlier post. If it seems interesting to you, please feel free to use it in your own life. Come back and tell me about it, if you like! I’d love feedback.

There have been several patterns to notice, and the two that I notice most are that I am:

  • A very helpful/nice person
  • A sometimes arrogant person (I highlight “sometimes” because the political correctness amuses me)

I will be addressing the arrogance part here. The next part of the question asks me to ascertain the origin of this reputation. I think I discovered the grapevine, if I remember correctly, with “[me] bragging everyday about [my] mother’s cooking. [his] mother’s cooking was great too but you didn’t see [him] talking about it”. It seems so silly in hindsight, but I guess it mattered to children barely into middle school. The whole “arrogance” thing has been with me ever since, in every social group I ever entered.

I think the truthfulness of this ‘accusation’, for lack of a better word is limited to these facts –

  • For all my amateur writing and speaking experience, I’m still a very inept and awkward conversationalist because I never know what is off-limits and I fail to filter. This plagues me to this day.
  • I tend to remember very specific moments of my life, where I felt strong emotions, especially embarrassment and this can happen at any time, even in the middle of a conversation. I never know what the trigger is. While it helps tone down the arrogance, it is, obviously, not a pleasant experience for me. This, coupled with the previous point, leads me into more and more awkward conversations, to the point that people start getting annoyed while talking to me.
  • These points are only valid when I am in an informal setting. I make a great formal impression, and I handle myself with as much professionalism as a corporate greenhorn can muster. Therefore, when I meet new people, I tend to at least try not to get too comfortable with them, because history has shown me far too few people who would willingly listen to and put up with what I say.
  • In a previous post, I may have alluded to a tumultuous time in my life when my closest friends at the time collectively decided to stop speaking with me. While the situation blew over eventually, it led me to form two things: A defense mechanism of absolute self-satisfaction to overcome a confrontational situation, and an attitude to choose my principles over the feelings and companionship of people. It was also partly responsible for my choice to be severely honest. Many people find this self-serving attitude arrogant, but the beauty of it is that the same attitude lets me not care. Que sera sera – I learnt long ago that not everyone deserves my love and attention.

My principles have been under the scrutiny of several people still apparently. I moved to B.Sc. (Honors) for my final year of study last year (I graduate in May this year), and as a result I got a lot of new classmates – people I had never met before. We danced the awkward dance of new beginnings, and eventually were able to engage in easy conversation. During one such group conversation, when the focus shifted to me, one of my new friends told me this:

Hey, why did all those people say you are not a good guy and I shouldn’t talk to you? You seem like a nice person. (paraphrased)

I won’t say any more on this topic, except that my reply was – “Well they didn’t have the courage to come tell me, did they? I am a nice guy.”

In summary, I have written about what I think my reputation is, and how I think it originated and has mutated beyond its original form. I’ve also written about how accurate I feel it is, and have rationalised and somewhat justified my side of the story.

That just leaves one last thing, and that is to ask you what you think. Thank you for reading my post, and I would deeply appreciate your thoughts and comments.

Question: Leave a comment on what you think about arrogance, and whether there are positives to having an arrogant attitude.

I would also appreciate if you would read through my other posts, which are all categorized on my Welcome Page.

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5 Reasons We Feel the Need to Hate

If you haven’t been ignoring every single piece of personal, societal, racial or global information, you’ve probably noticed that there is a lot of hatred in this world. Heck, if you’re reading this blog, then you are already quite open to getting other people’s views and getting news (or, you know, I shoved the link in your face).

The concept is nothing new. As a species, we’ve been surprisingly receptive and generous in hate. And everyone does it. Not even priests bathe in milk (An Indian idiom – denoting a person very virtuous in nature; generally negated in the sentence – “He is not bathed in milk.”) – just ask the Westboro baptist church.

Let’s see down the years.

In history, we’ve had an atrocious number of genocides. Whether it be Hitler’s Holocaust or Stalin’s Great Purge, history stands testament to people losing themselves in mindless hate. Here is an article showing just that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history

For quite a few years now, education has taught us that racism is bad. For 4000 or so more, we as a species have practiced it. Whether it be comparing Jews to the heathens, or the subjugation of blacks because “The Bible condemns them to be servants unto servants.” or any hatred based on color or race is appalling and stupid. Fear of the unknown drives us to lash out, like a pathetic cornered animal. Only, the corner here is made-up. For more about racism: http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-02-01.htm

Other notable examples are sexism, hatred towards sexual orientation, slandering celebrities, and  bullying, among many others.

But despite the huge influence of music and literature promoting love and despite several anti-hate movements, why do we still feel the need to hate?

"Embrace the Hate", Kane says.
“Embrace the Hate”, Kane says.

Here are the 5 thinks I think are major reasons we tend to feel enmity, envy or aggression towards our fellow man:

Fear of the Unknown/Stereotyping

This, along with propagation of the same, I believe, is the reason racism exists, or at least, the reason racism started. Race hatred is one of the most powerful forms of malevolence, because it manifests in a group vs individual situation. Cultural and color differences are apparent at a glance. Paranoid, overprotective and small-minded people tend to abhor these differences, and instinctively lash out, verbally or physically. What is worse is that such people tend to attract similar-minded people. There is an Indian saying – “In a group, even a jackal becomes a lion.” Hence, in a public situation, racist hatred escalates quickly, making it one of the most antisocial and dangerous forms of hatred.

Exactly.
Exactly.

It is important to note that these fears also extend to hatred based on sexual orientation and religion. Hatred towards homosexuals arises mainly because of beliefs that gay people have made an unnatural and “evil” decision to be gay, that they shall forcefully convert each person to be gay, and that such people have a natural disposition to be rebellious and antisocial, among other such beliefs.

Religion raises similar issues where a person (again, in a “cornered” state), believes that if someone else believes in a different God, a notion strictly forbidden by the holy scripture of their own religion,  they will somehow be punished because they are “condoning the crime”, which also begets punishment (very conveniently).

Also worth noting is that all science fiction dealing with alien life depicts aliens as a much more advanced society, and that they are uniform/ (mostly) uniform species and have no concept of religion, in contrast to human beings who come in several variations of physical and social characteristics.

Dominance and Control

Often, two situations arise in a relationship simultaneously. One person gets too much power and control over the other, and/or one is under the control of the other, usually being blackmailed.  When both of these happen simultaneously, the relationship more often than not becomes abusive.

Both aspects are to be considered here. First, when one partner gets too powerful in a relationship, they start controlling more and more of their partner’s comings and goings. This kind of power is intoxicating, and the intoxication surprisingly does not yield pleasure, as one would expect but strangely, it breeds contempt towards the weaker partner. This relationship does not have to be between a couple in love, but any two individuals really. If you think about it, this is how bullying escalates. The bully, for whatever reason, vents his frustrations on the other, and begins to push the other more and more, as if to see how far the other will bend.

For the weaker partner, the obvious hatred comes from thoughts of being unfairly persecuted and thoughts of avoiding or escaping the situation. The weaker partner is quite often a timid or shy person, or a person who chooses to avoid confrontation and fighting, and this characteristic not only encourages the bully, but also bottles up more and more resentment in the weaker partner.

Social Pressure

(Credits to the wonderful Aakriti Verma for brainstorming with me and coming up with the basis for this point.)

The idea came about from parents who harbor resentment towards disabled children. In the hyper-competitive environment that we live in, each one of us is pressured to succeed, either actively or passively by the society. A lot of times, it is the individual’s perceived notion that society wants her to succeed, but is actually a self-imposed set of standards that are difficult or impossible to maintain. In such a situation, if we somehow “fail”, we get bothered very quickly, especially when we blame the so-called failure on factors other than the self’s hard work, such as circumstance, accident, or lack of initiative from another.

If a parent is very dedicated to raising their child as well as they possibly can, and due to some circumstances, there comes a big hurdle in the way, e.g. a child suffers permanent damage in an accident, it is found that the parent often blames the child for it, rather than the situation, and thus becomes hostile. Oh and God forbid s/he’s gay!

It’s the same as when an unfortunate woman is raped, the media, and by extension, we as a society find ways to blame the woman, as is becoming a common trend the world over (which is stupid, appalling and pathetic, by the way).

Unfair pressure from the society to be perfect gets to most of us, and the destructive criticism or judgment that the machine that is society throws at us, often causes us to rage against a weaker opponent, whoever is unlucky enough to be at hand. This is especially true of Indian parents, who put a ridiculous amount of pressure on their children because they do not want to be embarrassed in the closely-knit Indian society (Thankfully, my parents do not pressure me in this way. Unfortunately, I speak of the self-imposed impossible standards from experience).

In simple terms, anger is misdirected from the larger stronger opponent (societal norms and circumstances) to a weaker opponent, and this leads to dominance and subjugation, as discussed earlier.

Entitlement and Jealousy

This point is the original idea that led me to write this piece.

What I feel is a major stepping stone towards full-blown antisocial hatred is the unsettling amount of hatred that we throw out casually every day.

” I h8 Justin Bieber coz he’s such a fag. Your gay, loser!”

“Shah Rukh Khan is an arrogant jerk.”

“Steve Jobs was nothing special. He just stole from people by selling them overexpensive electronic crap.”

“I hate <that new movie>. It sucks.”

I find that the teenage and young adult group is most vulnerable to this kind of talk.

CHILL OUT! I sometimes say to people who make such remarks, “I don’t have the time to hate these people. I have a path to make for myself.” You’ve probably heard that one saying – An empty mind is a devil’s workshop.” By encouraging this casual hatred towards other people, be they celebrity or ordinary, we tell ourselves and others around us that it is okay to hate. It is not. Deriders will tell me that we have a right to opinion, and to them I say don’t abuse your right.

I feel that this directed hatred towards celebrities comes from this notion that forms in childhood that we are entitled to a good, successful, rich and happy life, and when we don’t get it, we tend to blame the people who apparently do have a happy life. Ironically, this sense of entitlement comes largely from the culture of art and film. A lot of movies are made where the dashing hero works hard throughout to get the perfect life and the perfect girl in the end. Let me make it perfectly clear – You and I are entitled to NOTHING. What we have and what we shall have comes from a combination of hard work, luck and confidence with a healthy dose of help from others.

This kind of casual hatred experienced a heavy boost with the popularization of the internet, the forums and message boards and social networking sites. Now stop blaming the sites – I know that would be the first thought that a number of you would have. Don’t blame the tool, blame the user. The anonymity that the internet offered and still offers encourages this kind of unsolicited judgment. Every person who ever took to the internet as salvation from whatever problems they were facing in real life, channel that subjugation anger out on this pervasive yet anonymous medium. If you don’t believe me or if you doubt my words, go look at a popular YouTube video’s comments section.

The "2/10 Would Not Bang" meme is a perfect parody and example of the kind of judgmental and hateful behaviour we see on the internet.
The “2/10 Would Not Bang” meme is a perfect parody and example of the kind of judgmental and hateful behaviour we see on the internet.

I believe that if we begin to address this issue right at the onset, that is, during a child’s formative years, we can make them model citizens who believe more in self-upliftment than pulling down others. If we nip this casual hatred in the bud, we can automatically curb the stereotype, dominance and pressure hatred that a person dishes out. Conversely, if we encourage this kind of behaviour, it could increase the frequency of the child getting in trouble, and eventually falling into a cycle of hatred (addressed below).

Hate Begets Hate AKA Retribution

As you read this article, it is entirely possible that you think either “Such people are stupid.” or “This author is stupid. He doesn’t know what he is talking about.”.

People may or may not have first-hand experience with any of the above  (or other) forms of animosity. Those who have, often want to not only escape the situation, but receive “justice” for the wrong they have suffered. I do not deride these feelings, but rather I point out that justice can be subjective.

Those who haven’t experienced such hatred first-hand nevertheless have read about it, or seen videos and movies, or have been exposed to it in some other second-hand manner. As we are wont to do, we do judge such acts as heinous and resent them, and this resentment is the seed of fresh hatred. Whether it is righteous anger or not is irrelevant. The point is that it is that easy for hatred to be born. It is a self-replicating, self-sustaining mechanism now.

Cycle of Hatred
Hatred Begets Hatred

In the end, I feel a little helpless, because there is a circle of hatred prevalent in society. As Masashi Kishimoto pointed out in his manga series Naruto Shippuuden, one feels outraged when their friends and family are massacred in a war, and they wreak justice upon those responsible. But then the family of these “aggressors” feel outraged and wronged, and they shall unleash their own brand of justice on the revenge-taker, and thus the cycle of hatred goes along.

I am personally troubled because I find it easy to forgive, but difficult to forget. Hence, I’m sure that at a sub-surface (surficial?) level, I do somewhat resent even those I forgive, and that makes me a hypocrite, something I don’t want to be.

If you feel your opinion can add to this topic, or address these issues, please feel free to comment, criticize, suggest and appreciate.

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A Thoroughly Incomprehensive and Unstructured Analysis of Connotations

Implied meanings can alter the communicated message, often unwittingly, and hence affect judgement. This is the reason that so many companies and organizations pay special attention to effective communication skills.

Introduction

At the risk of being unoriginal, I begin by defining a connotation[1], which is an idea or feeling that a word invokes for a person in addition to its literal or primary meaning. Many wouldn’t notice, but the title itself had multiple connotations. When I say incomprehensive, I mean that it isn’t detailed enough to be a thesis[2]. When I say unstructured, I mean that it is free-flowing and presents ideas in a form I see fit, and not in a generally accepted format. However, many would take the misleading heading to mean a lack of direction or form, and would immediately pass judgement on the author[3].

As such, we see that implied meanings can alter the communicated message, often unwittingly, and hence affect judgement. This is the reason that so many companies and organizations pay special attention to effective communication skills. The study of connotations, denotations and meaning in general is called semantics, and is a complex and subjective study.

Illustration[4]

Negative: There are over 2,000 vagrants in the city.

Neutral: There are over 2,000 people with no fixed address in the city.

Positive: There are over 2,000 homeless in the city.

While the sentences all reference the same people, ‘vagrants’ implies people who are a nuisance to the general populace, while ‘homeless’ seems to indicate a person deserving pity and help.

Impact

While the effect connotations have on general conversation and communication has been made clear, it is noteworthy that the degree to which a nuance is skewed increases over time, largely due to what is referred to in economics as “The Bandwagon Effect[5]”, and through circulation in education and mass media.

The most stark and effective example is the broad[6] region of political correctness, videlicet, the terms used to identify racial differences. In the case of those of African descent, the most commonly used terms are Negro, black, African-American and the pejorative ‘nigger’. While ‘nigger’ is definitely a contemptuous term originated from supremist colonists, the other three terms are still in general use. In the mid-20th century, ‘black’ was considered a more offensive term, and ‘coloured’ and ‘negro’ were the more polite terms. However, during the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, some black American leaders in the United States, notably Malcolm X, objected to the word, preferring Black, because they associated the word Negro with the long history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination that treated African Americans as second class citizens, or worse[7].

All three terms are still in use, though comedian Russell Peters has objected to the term African-American, stating that “You guys are not African.”

Another, not quite so obvious example is that of the word “nerd”. Originally and still meaning “a person who is single-mindedly skilled in a particular profession or discipline”, it attained a negative connotation largely due to Hollywood influence, eventually used to stereotypically describe socially inept and often extremely intelligent high school students. With rapid changes in fashion, particularly in the mid-2000s, the stereotypical portrayal of a bottom of the barrel student became the next big thing, and before you know it, glasses with heavy frames, coats and bowties became commonplace, eventually gaining its own niche in young adult fashion[8]. This change brought in another level to the meaning of the word, and has somewhat equalized and balanced out the extremities of implication of the word, whether positive or negative.

However, that is not all. The concept of implication, like other concepts, is also evolving and this is especially true of trends originating in and propagating through the internet. The connotations skew so much that eventually a secondary or tertiary meaning begins to be associated with the word. The greeting of “What’s up?[9]”, made popular by Bugs Bunny, is now a general indication of boredom in a conversation. It serves as a filler or as a silence-breaker, wherein the conversationalist reinitiates talks that have become dull or have been awkwardly paused due to some reason.

Example:

A: … and that is how to perform integral calculus on trigonometric identities.

B: Great. Thanks for all your help.

A: …

B: … So, sup?

Another example of change of meaning is of a word routine in talk nowadays – “Gay”. Originally, the word only meant carefree and/or happy. This meaning eventually began to exaggerate, enough that it attained a connotation of wickedness or sin[10]. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, it began to be used as a term to describe homosexuality, so much so that nearing the end of the 20th century, LGBT[11]  groups recommended it be used exclusively to describe people attracted to people of the same gender. However, the negative connotation also intensified around the same time (1970s), being used to mean “rubbish” or “stupid”. Hence both meanings are still used, and this can be accredited with being part of the reason that the gay community is still harshly ostracized. The ridicule that this word implies would be glaringly obvious if one would read the comment section of a popular YouTube video.[12] The use of this word has been criticized as homophobic, and a 2006 BBC ruling by the Board of Governors advised “caution on its use” for the following reason: “The word ‘gay’ in addition to being used to mean ‘homosexual’ or ‘carefree’, was often now used to mean ‘lame’ or ‘rubbish’. This is a widespread current usage of the word amongst young people… The word ‘gay’ … need not be offensive… or homophobic…”

A lot, lot more can be said on the topic and every word may be analysed separately, but having dealt with a few of the more important or prevalent ones, it would be safe to conclude that semantics and communication are delicate skills, and extreme caution needs to be exercised in their use, because as was indicated, a clever pun, or a simple remark may get in vogue, and cause major changes in the landscape of trends and language in the future.


[1] From the bluntly named ‘Dictionary.com’

[2] A thousand word piece can hardly be called a dissertation now, can it?

[3] Id est myself. Referring to oneself in third person is so narcissistic, isn’t it?

[5] The Bandwagon Effect is a form of groupthink which states that the more the number of people having adopted a concept, the greater the proportion of people tending to adopt the concept id est ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ syndrome.

[6] (and suffocatingly obnoxious and bootlicking)

[7] From ‘during’ onward, I lifted the whole thing from Wikipedia. It’s so succinctly put.

[8] There are two such niches – ‘nerd’ which is hardcore role-playing such as dungarees and polka dots, and ‘hipster’, which is much more mellow and makes nerd look cool.

[9] Often abbreviated to the slang “Sup?”

[10] As per Wikipedia, around 1637.

[11] Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender – This term was coined later. At the time, more offensive terms may have been in use, such as the still prevalent ‘queer’.

[12] “Everyone that you hate is fake, gay or a fag” (abbreviation of the already distasteful ‘faggot’) – Ray William Johnson, Internet comedian and musician.

Thank you for taking the time out of your schedules to read my work. Please feel free to comment, criticize, suggest and appreciate. :)

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