Random Firings of Neurons

The rest of your life is going to be spent getting back up after life has knocked you down again. You might as well just get used to it.

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Location: Round Rock, Texas, United States

Thursday, September 16, 2004

On egocentrists

As I have said before, I mis-spent quite a bit of my youth as a con-man, or Applied Psychology Entrepeneur (APE). While I am not proud of this, I still carry many of the lessons I learned from that time today. Like how to figure out why people do the things they do.

One of the major reasons that people do what they do is egocentrism, or self-centeredness. Once I learned that, people became MUCH easier to figure out. You can see that egocentrism just about everywhere you look, and probably in yourself, if you actually take the time to look. While I can't actually describe the actual signs of it, due to it being more of a habit of mine, rather than a skill, I can give you some examples of it, and hope that it helps y'all see it more often.

During inclement weather, many people get the clever idea to order a pizza, so they don't have to go out in the weather, since they are probably too tired (or lazy) to cook their own meal, due to the depressive effects of inclement weather. Invariably, at least ten percent of those people will think that THEY are the ONLY people who came up with that idea, at that time, for that reason. How do I know this? Because I used to work at a pizza place, and I would have to field phone calls from people who were mad that their pizza wasn't there in twenty minutes, even though there was six inches of snow on the ground. I usually explained to the person that they weren't very clever, or original, because they weren't the only person to order a pizza because it was snowing, or raining. Also, bar time customers reacted the same way, only they were now drunk, in addition to being stupid. It never seemed to dawn on these people that we didn't sit around the store, just waiting for their phone call for an order. So, they were always, and I do mean ALWAYS, suprised that our delivery times would go up to about an hour during peak times, because of all the people who came up with the idea of ordering pizza at the same time. Egocentrism at work.

On some of the garbage routes that I go on, the municipality has a limit on how much trash can be picked up at each stop. This is due to the fact that the municipality has to pay for the gross tonnage of trash picked up by a contracting company, such as my employer. So, many municipalities put a cap on how much trash can be picked up, to limit the tax-burden on the residents of that municipality. Invariably, out of five hundred homes (on a moderate day of trash pick-up...we have some routes that are in the seven hundred home range...), twenty-five of those homes will have more than the allowed amount of trash at the curb. Now, I know that some of the people may be new to the area, and don't know the allowed amount, but they would get a new home-owner's packet telling them the allowed amount, so their laziness isn't really an excuse. The other home-owners are just being egocentric. They feel that "just this once", they can put out too much garbage, and we won't mind. Wrong. While some of the drivers will pick up a reasonable amount of excess garbage, there are always a group of home-owners who exceed even a reasonable amount of excess. Like quadruple the allowed amount. And some of them seem to use the "just this once" rationale EVERY STINKIN' WEEK! But, in their egocentrism, they just don't care that their neighbors have to pay for their excess garbage. All the home-owner knows is that they don't have to pay for it now.

The most annoying, to me, example of egocentrism is in the arena of politics. How many times have we seen a politician give a speech that appealed to the greed of the audience? Such as "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" Or "It's time for the rich to pay their fair share!" (which is usually said by a weathly person to not-quite-as-wealthy-but-still-wealthy people...) No where in either of those statements is an acknowledgement that other people might be harmed by the egocentrism. All that is there is an appeal to the individual, with no thought to the individual's fellow citizens.

One thing I have learned about seeing other people's egocentrism is how to translate what they are saying into what they mean. When someone tries to get me to do something that they say will benefit me, I almost always ignore them. (some exceptions are training and safety...) But, if someone comes to me and asks me to do something for them, without trying to sell me on the idea, I will usually listen to them. I may not do it, but I will at least consider it, because they have at least taken the effort to not try and lie to me about why they want it done. If someone is honest enough to ask me to do something without trying to make it sound like I will somehow benefit from it, I will be honest enough to consider their request. But if they somehow try and convince me that I will benefit from their request, I will reject their request, because they are lying to me. They are trying to appeal to my egocentrism to satiate their egocentrism, and I have spent a lot of time and effort trying to get rid of my egocentrism. Plus, it's a trick I used to use to get money from people, so I know how easy it is.

The most obvious, yet least recognized, example of this is the concept of "free" anything. Free healthcare, free garbage pickup, free prescription drugs, free public schools. None of them are free. Someone is paying for them. And the people paying for them are the people who want them. But they don't see the cost, so they don't care about it. All of the "free" government services that certain people are advocating aren't free. The cost is just hidden in a tax-bill. Actually, to be honest, NOTHING is free. If you use a "buy one-get one free", you didn't get anything for free. The cost of the "free" one is included in the cost of the "buy" one, or later "buy" ones. If you use a "free" coupon, it isn't really free, either since your tax-bill will go up by a corresponding amount, due to the "free" item being deducted from the offering company's taxes as an advertisement expense...So, anytime someone tells me I am getting something for free, I call them a liar. Sometimes, I don't actually use the word "liar", but I will explain to them the fallacy of their statement, which could be construed the same way.

I hope this all made sense. I had an idea of what I wanted to say, and my brain wouldn't let me organize it as well as I wanted. What I do hope is that it makes enough sense for you to look at your behavior, and try and get rid of the egocentrism that you are probably harboring. If you can do that, you will start making the world a better place, if at least in your social, family, and business circles.

Semper Fidelis: Always Faithful, to God, Corps and Country