Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Logic of Illogical Judgment

Last night I visited a good friend, and we were talking about a recent incident involving some individuals in an organization in which we are both members. A particular woman in this organization was now the focal point of everyone’s conversation—she had caused such ill-will, suffering, and strife for so many people, and had driven so many people away, that she garnered attention at very high levels.

I remember the first time I met this particular woman. She was very nice to me, and I was to work on coordinating a project with her and another woman. She was warm, friendly, and obviously very committed, as she had many tasks on her plate that she was doing on a voluntary basis. As nice as she was, I had a distinct sense of unease—like a knot in the pit of my stomach. It was as though a little voice said, “Don’t trust this woman any farther than you can throw her.” When I expressed this to some other people, they chided me for being “judgmental”. She was clearly a kind and selfless person, and I was unfairly judging her.

At first I thought that perhaps they were right. I gave it my best try, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling, and was extremely cautious in all of my dealings with this person. In time, every single thing I suspected she might do to stab me in the back came true. Fortunately, I had already covered myself, which just made her angry. She went around telling people that I hated her “and she never did anything to me.” I’d never said anything of the kind, and had never been rude to her. But she wanted control of me and didn’t get it, so she resorted to other kinds of manipulation. I have a policy with people—I’m friendly to everyone, but if they try to manipulate or control anything about me, who I’m friends with, or what I do—then they’re not friends, and I couldn’t care less if I ever see them again, or if they ever do anything for me again. I don’t need friends with agendas. And I don’t apologize for it.

This is not the first time I’ve had an experience like this. What has me thinking about this subject is all of the recent discussion about persona, identity, and “knowing who someone really is.” I argued previously that if you go by external behavior only, you will never really know anything about a person. What I have found is that when I meet someone, I immediately experience a sensation—I don’t know quite how to describe it, to call it a “vibe” sounds a tad new-agey, but it’s something like that. I know almost immediately whether I should spend my time cultivating a relationship with that person, or if I should stay away (or at least keep a polite distance if I must deal with them). It doesn’t sound terribly logical or fair, but I rely on that feeling anyway, because it’s never been wrong. When I have ignored that feeling, I always end up regretting it.

The question I have is—what exactly is that “feeling”? Is it a “psychical” thing? Certainly it’s intuitive. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you can easily measure in any kind of study, because it’s entirely random. It goes beyond first impressions of people. I had an experience last weekend where I walked into a room, watched people interact, and it was almost as if I heard a voice in my head saying “This is not what it appears to be.” I say “almost”, because I think what my brain interprets as a voice is really just an attempt to verbalize and make sense of the feeling. What I have noticed is that the frequency of those occurrences has increased since I took up meditation. If you can stop your brain from chattering and just be quiet and observe, there seems to be a lot of information available to you about situations and what to do about them.

If you take this a bit farther, you realize that a lot of the “truth” of situations is not in the external presentation, but in the subtext. If you combine that intuitive feeling with observations about body language and choice of words in many cases, you can decode what is happening in a confusing situation. But you may not know until later on that your interpretation was correct. So, it all becomes very mysterious. But it is the cornerstone of good judgment. Relying strictly on external factors and data is deceiving. Take the example of marriage. Many women seek to marry men who have a certain social standing, or make a certain amount of money, or have some other external identity feature that is socially approved. In my early twenties, I married a man who, by all accounts, should have been perfect for me—logically everything fit—he was intelligent, creative, good-looking, had some depth of thought, and when we were engaged, he was set to have a good career taking over his father’s business. But that “vibe” was very strong for me, and the message was, “don’t do it, it’s a mistake”. I ignored it, and found out the hard way just how big of a mistake it was. If, as I said in my post on Smoke and Mirrors, we can’t be sure about who others are, or ourselves for that matter, then it’s not unlikely that we will deceive ourselves about our motives in such situations as choosing a partner, or even taking a job. Without that flash of intuition to help us out, we’re just walking around blind.


Mark said...

Intuition can be gossamer, but very real. I have had similar situations, in which I have listened, and not listened, to that little voice.

I also am friendly unless given reason to be otherwise.

It's interesting that your would be nemesis got angry when you failed to provide fodder for her attack.

I wonder how things like that look on the planes.

Your blog is always a joy to read.
Thank you!

Brigid N. Burke said...

Thanks, Mark! Glad to see you're posting again these days--I enjoy reading your blog as well.

Yes,the person in question manipulates people by playing "innocent"--look how hard I work, how kind I am--and then what she does is set other people up to fail, so that when she screws up, she points to them as the cause of the failure, not herself. That was my assessment, anyway, and she didn't prove me wrong!