Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships 26

In my latest reading of The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, Sean Barron tells a story about when he walked into the recording studio where his parents worked and made a social mistake. Sean was in a bad mood because he did poorly on a test earlier that day, and so he breezed past one of his parents' co-workers, Marcia (with whom he was acquainted), without saying hello. Sean's mom corrected him on that, and Sean sank deeper into his morose mood. When he went out to dinner with his parents that night, he wanted them to ask him what was wrong and to try to comfort him. But whenever they did ask him what was wrong, he was unresponsive. From this experience, Sean learned the "Three strikes and you're out" principle:

"Most people will give you the benefit of the doubt a few times, and after that, if you don't take responsibility for either changing your behavior or repairing the situation, they lose interest in further social interaction with you." (Page 347)

I could identify with Sean's story. For one, it teaches me that it's important to be polite even when I'm in a bad mood. Granted, it may be difficult for some to be cheerful and to make small-talk when they feel badly, but saying "hello" doesn't have to take much effort. At the same time, Sean then had to go out with his parents when he was in a bad mood, and that would be difficult. Perhaps honest communication would have defused the situation (as hard as that may be), or he could have pretended to be happy just to get through the dinner.

Second, I can understand why Sean felt bad after he was corrected. Perhaps he wanted for his mom to treat him as an adult rather than a little kid, or he was embarrassed. Moreover, Sean said earlier in the book that he confused making mistakes with being a mistake, and he probably felt as a result of his mom's correction that he was a mistake.

Third, I learn not to put heavy expectations on the world around me. I've often expected the world to be unconditionally loving and accepting of me, when it is not. I shouldn't assume that the entire world is against me, since, as Temple says, that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I shouldn't expect for everyone in the world to be unconditionally accepting, either.


  1. I learned your third point especially well in the working world. About 20 years ago a co-worker I was nominally supervising became upset with me because she was making an extra effort to be efficient (requiring me to change my organizational system) and I wasn't "validating" her to the extent she felt she needed.

    After she left for another job her opinion of my managerial style changed for the better. It turned out that my "laissez-faire" approach was much gentler than anything she encountered at the next workplace.

    I had learned that many years ago that your time (and often your self-esteem) truly does belong to someone else when you work for another person. That is probably why the Sinai/Deuteronomic Covenants place such a premium on working for yourself instead of as a slave.


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