I don’t really do extravagant displays of emotions; I don’t think I understand them. I don’t really do social convention either; I don’t think I understand it. I don’t really do being nice to people with the sole intent of building social/emotional currency; I don’t think it’s very nice, honest or respectful.
I fully understand and accept that I’m too literal at times. The problem is that I’m not willing to do anything which I deem to be “playing the game”. That is even when it’s just people acting in a way which allows society to function without us all throwing our toys out of our collective prams.
Acting in a way which feels to me to be disingenuous prickles at me: I know that that’s my own discomfort at play; that I should let the rest of humanity get on with their own interactions as they see fit, without raging like a grumpy Sith Lord. The problem is in my head, not with humanity.
That said; this is my blog, not yours, so I’m going to go on an extended soliloquy about stuff which is annoying me today. I’ll try to make it an interesting read, and I’ll try to keep it short. Most of all, I’ll try to keep it honest about myself, rather than picking faults with other people. Again.
I was in a restaurant last week, where a birthday party was taking place. Very much a family affair; old and young, male and female, gathered around, eating cheap, generic, pseudo Italian fare. At one point, presents were given. Unlike in our family, where we do such things in private, this family were perfectly happy to subject this ritual to public scrutiny. That’s where I come in.
Presents opened amid much “You shouldn’t have”, “You’re so generous” and the like. The recipient proceeded to whoop, swoon and coo over every last bath bomb, silk tie and cruet set. It seemed so fake; but maybe that was just me. They bought you a kettle for fuck’s sake; please stop screaming.
It wasn’t their emotional displays which made me feel uncomfortable; although the laughter and screeching did make my daughter put her fingers in her ears. It turns out I worry that my honest, my “true”, response to receiving gifts seems ungrateful. I love it when people give me presents; I really appreciate it. I try to respond honestly, with humility and gratitude. Next to these people, it feels cold and awkward; as if I couldn’t give two hoots that you’ve given me something I’ll treasure.
Seeing displays such as this make me worry that all of the emotions I see on display in the world around me are fake; are they really slapped on just for show? I understand that that’s the case on TV, with all of the competition, sales and human interest, but what about reality? Are you lying?
Is my entire understanding of human interaction a lie I’ve been told to make me feel good about myself? Is that why everybody hates me? Conversely, is that why I always think everybody hates me, because I perceive all human emotion as a lie, used to manipulate each other?
Society is based on trust: we need to trust each other; I want to trust people. Is it implicit that we each heighten our emotional responses in certain situations in order to make the day more fun for each other? Unwritten rules tend to alienate those not initiated. This feels like that to me.
Because I don’t take part in your cavalcade, because I do not understand your rules, do you think less of me? I hope you don’t, but the fear that you may makes me act differently. I understand that this is in my head, but I need to ask the question, just to be sure. Bring me my tinfoil hat, please.
We are all egomaniacs, whether we accept it or not. Digression: in my experience, the people most likely to scream in your face that they are not an egomaniac – some even going so far as to deny that they possess such an offensive thing as an ego – are the most likely to be egomaniacal. The ones who shout from the rooftops about their enormous egos tend actually to be in need of other things.
We all follow social conventions, whether we accept it or not. Example: I had to leave the house this morning, so I put clothes on. I may proclaim to not understand a lot of things, but that sometimes boils down purely to contrarian over-literalism: you may grin and shriek because you genuinely are happy your sister bought you a kettle. You may really need a kettle. It may be a joke I’m not in on.
We are all hypocrites, whether we accept it or not. Corollary: There are times when I have selectively chosen what I understand, in order to make a point. However, there is always a grain of confusion when I see what I suspect is faked enthusiasm. In my experience, people want honesty, gratitude and appreciation; those are things which rarely come with a fanfare: small gestures mean worlds.
This is clearly something of a preoccupation of mine. I’ve recently written another post on quite a similar subject, albeit from a slightly different perspective. It dealt with the concept of the “Social Lubricant”, except it looked at the idea of laughing and smiling in order to make people not hate you quite as much. I don’t think it’s the same notion, but it greases the social transaction just as much.
I desperately want to believe that this is all just some innate primate behaviour in which we all partake subconsciously. I need to believe that this is just a set of responses and reactions which tick along under the surface of our primitive ape brains; that we’re not really aware of it all, until some bearded misanthrope sits on the periphery and points out the things which make him feel awkward.
If I’d studied the social sciences, perhaps I’d know already; or perhaps I’d have analysed myself to an institution a decade ago. Either way, it’s a question with a discoverable solution, if I chose to look.
The reason I don’t look is likely my rabid egotism. I don’t hugely care if people are being nice to each other or not. All I want to know is whether they hate me for not screaming about their lovely gift.