14 April 2011

I Don't Think You're an Idiot

This is a rant. If you feel like reading it, read on.

You know, there are times when I find humans so bizarre, so complicated, and so irrational that I wonder why is it the case that they are still around and not self-destroying. See, you say something, with the most innocent intention, and yet people take it the wrong way. People take it the other direction. People take it the way you never intended it to be. Why is that?

You ask someone what their research is about, simply because you really have no idea what their research is about, and sometime later, you hear that this person got offended because you think their research is crap. Really? You give "I see." as a back-channel response and then the person thinks that you're being pretentious and patronizing, when seriously, that's just a way of saying that my brain has processed what you just said earlier and therefore you can continue.

People read too much in between the lines. Ever heard of invited inferences? Well, not only do they do invited inferences, they also do inferences that aren't even invited!

See, why do you think that I think you're an idiot? If I think that you're an idiot, believe me, I will let you know explicitly. But no, I do not think that you're an idiot, I do not think that your research is crap, it was a simple act of curiosity in my part that I asked what your research is about.

Perhaps it is a better move not to say anything, and keep silent, because in that way, people will not have any material from me to mis-interpret. Oh wait, perhaps my silence will also be interpreted the wrong way. Hmmm, I have to think about this.

But really people, have some self-confidence. Why do you always think that other people are out to get you? That's called a neurosis. If you really think that I think your research is crap, then prove to me that it isn't crap. If you really think that I think you're an idiot, then prove to me that you're not. I'd rather have things out in the open so that we can clear things up, instead of ending the day, with me thinking that everything was okay, and yet apparently, in your head, things are boiling and you're seething with anger since apparently I said something offensive.

Really people, this is graduate school. Not high school.

(Terraced Structures, from my Ollantaytambo Series)


  1. Looks like a huge misunderstanding, probably started because the person doesn't feel confident in the first place. Otherwise, such a simple statement, "I see", wouldn't have triggered that!

    People are complicated.

  2. Zhu,

    I totally agree! That's what I thought too.

  3. Strangely enough, I found your post a bit funny. Makes me weird, I guess. Oh wait, are you saying that I'm weird? Hmph. Haha.

    But seriously, I totally get where you're coming from. Makes me wonder if people really mature in the first place. You nailed it with "[This is] not high school."

  4. prabster,

    You know, sometimes I think people don't mature. Some people just lie in limbo, and act like they're still in kindergarten. You'll be surprised at how prevalent this phenomenon is, not just in grad school.

  5. hmmmm depending on who this person is and what's your relationship with him/her I would say that you shouldn't worry about that. If the person misunderstood, that's clearly his/her problem.

  6. Kami,

    Hi there, long time no see! I agree, I have this idea that if I just continue on worrying about what other people think, then I won't have time to think about more important issues. After all, I definitely have no control over what other people would like to think.

  7. Well, most people are insecure and sensitive about particular topics but that does not necessarily make them neurotic. And state this is often situational or temporary.

    A simple question like "what do you do for a living" can trigger childhood memories of their dad mocking at them saying "you are good for nothing" or "you'll grow up and be a bum" etc. Your context (which might be purely rational) might not be theirs - probably because the question you asked them meant more to them than the mechanical answer you were looking for "I work in a bank," "I pick up garbage", etc. So your question has reminded them of something unpleasant, but you don't know that.

    Ideally, one should be able to separate rationality and emotionality while responding to strangers and acquaintances, but that's an attribute not many have.

    It's like asking a writer "what book are you working on?" When 20 people ask this question, and the writer hasn't published in last two years, you can be assured of a cranky, irrational answer.

  8. Priyank,

    I agree, that there might be certain situations that make people temporarily irrational. Fine, I'll make allowances for that.

    By the way, if I apply your example, then I think you just suggested that this person hasn't been doing research. What is your research about? Oh, I haven't been doing research for the past two years, and therefore I am giving you a cranky, irrational answer. Oops!

  9. I did? How? One doesn't need to publish in order to be a writer or a researcher, right?

  10. Anonymous,

    Correct. I just made an analogy with what I did (asked the person what this person's research was about) to your example (ask the writer what book this person is currently working on).