If only people were all fruit. Then you'd be able to fondle for freshness.
October 20, 2008 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Is there a single question you can ask that tells you immediately (if not totally conclusively) whether someone is a good person?

I've just found that lately my instinct meter for such things is off when I first meet people. It used to be solid. Now...less so. So is there some sort of first impression question you can ask that gives you some sort of real insight into the person you've met is more of a good person or less of one?
posted by rileyray3000 to Religion & Philosophy (71 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
"Hey, will you help me move a couch this weekend?"
posted by muddgirl at 11:04 AM on October 20, 2008 [8 favorites]

Maybe not a question, but seeing how they treat people in service positions is often a big clue.
posted by np312 at 11:04 AM on October 20, 2008 [33 favorites]

People get craftier as they get older... best to trust your fourth / fifth impressions of them, when the veneer gets sloppy.
posted by HolyWood at 11:05 AM on October 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

As you get older things are no longer as cut and dried as they used to be: What used to seem completely obvious (IE someone's character) isn't such an easy call anymore.

There's no magic bullet here, sorry- you have to take the good with the bad.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:06 AM on October 20, 2008

Not a question per se, but there is the classic Waiter Test. From the article:
How others treat the CEO says nothing, they say. But how others treat the waiter is like a magical window into the soul.
posted by mhum at 11:06 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think that if there were such a question, it would obviously be a test and even good people would resent it.

np312's got it -- how do they behave when they don't have to be nice.
posted by winston at 11:06 AM on October 20, 2008

Did you see that article in the [local paper] yesterday?
posted by unixrat at 11:09 AM on October 20, 2008

It all depends on what your definition of "good person" is. I'm sure plenty of evil murderous criminals have moved couches for their pals and been totally lovely to waiters.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:10 AM on October 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

Do not ask a direct question. Go Colombo style. How? Ask something that appears really non-threatening, but that people care about. I like the Sarah Palin question above. . . maybe it's too much of a lightning rod though! Very clever though!

Case in point though, when Couric asked Palin about which magazines/newspapers she read, she couldn't name any. Look at the structure of that! Non-threatening question leads to huge amount of important information.

My personal favorite question(s) to ask is about people's opinions (big surprise here. . .) on diamonds. First, ask very open ended: "So, what do you think of this blood diamond thing?" Let them put everything out there that they're going to put, and then lightly probe. My conversations with women about this (with some facts I brought to the table) have let me to get conclusions which ranged from "I will never buy a diamond" to "I know they're people in Africa, but I just don't want to think about [their human suffering counting or being equivalent to mine]." These answers seemed to correspond to whether or not [or how] they were good people-- to me at least!
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 11:11 AM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

The Waiter Test is interesting - my test is similar: to watch how a person treats animals when they don't know someone is watching. Sorry I don't have a question for you.
posted by fritley at 11:12 AM on October 20, 2008

"You're in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling towards you. You reach down and flip the tortoise on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping. Why is that?" (You may wish to avoid asking any followup questions about their mother, however.)

But seriously--no magic bullet, indeed. A person's character is what they do, and the patterns of what they do. So, just pay attention to that. Pay attention to first impressions, too, but with grains of salt available--both for good first impressions, and bad ones, because people have off days, and some have disarmingly good "on" days too.
posted by Drastic at 11:17 AM on October 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm sure plenty of evil murderous criminals have moved couches for their pals

Yes, but have they moved couches for slight acquaintances that they've just met?

Probably, but then again no test is 100% accurate :)
posted by muddgirl at 11:18 AM on October 20, 2008

For sure, how a person treats "the help" is an indicator of the kind of person they are.
posted by vito90 at 11:20 AM on October 20, 2008

Do you generally judge people you've just met? Are you judging me now?
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 11:23 AM on October 20, 2008

The big one for me is what fritley suggested. Do they like animals? Do they have a pet? How do they treat their pet?
posted by lilac girl at 11:26 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was also going to say something about animals/pets.

Back when I used to do a lot of online chatrooms, I used to gauge people by asking them what five words best described themselves. I can no longer remember, though, what I thought made a good answer to that question.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:28 AM on October 20, 2008

Yes, but have they moved couches for slight acquaintances that they've just met?

Call me horrible, but there's no way in hell I'm helping a "slight" acquaintance move a couch. It makes me think your totally crazy and/or so socially awkward that you don't have any better friends to help you. (I actually had this happen to me once. A woman who was wealthy enough to have major renovations done to her apt, asked me, in our second brief meeting, to come help her move furniture. Um, no. Not appropriate.)
posted by kimdog at 11:28 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

How others treat the CEO says nothing, they say. But how others treat the waiter is like a magical window into the soul.

I've never understood this. Doesn't this assume that the person you're observing isn't aware of this rule? In my experience, that's not the case -- people bend over backwards to show how much they respect customer service people in order to signal to others, "Look what a good person I am."
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:31 AM on October 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

That may be, Jalcoth, but just let the waiter spill some creamy sauce on his Zegna suit and you soon see the difference between a good person and an idiot. I did last week, and it was a real eye-opener. This is someone I have known for almost a year now and I would have sworn he was a kind person.

Knowing that he wasn't under any particular stresses at work or home (I was careful to ask) his behavior was totally unacceptable.

I like the waiter test.
posted by Wilder at 11:38 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't say I agree with the animals thing, but then I also know a lot of people with large, badly trained dogs (think snatching sandwiches out of your hand.)

how you see your pets is not how other people see them.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:39 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have no idea what you consider good and moral, and that will totally determine the question for you. Suppose vegetarianism is extremely important to you; then your filter question might be whether or not they're also vegetarian. Or whether they drink. Or go to church. Or drive a Hummer. Or think the Iraq War was a good idea.

For me, the Sarah Palin question is a good bellwether of whether I'll want to talk to that person more, but if you're apolitical, that's not going to be relevant. Pick something that would stop you from getting to know someone further, and ask them their feelings on that topic.
posted by desjardins at 11:39 AM on October 20, 2008

I don't think you'd get an honest answer, but: "do you behave differently if you know nobody's looking, or that nobody will know what you've done?"
posted by carbide at 11:41 AM on October 20, 2008

You can just say, "so, what do you do?" and then time how long they talk before they ask you anything about yourself in return.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:41 AM on October 20, 2008 [15 favorites]

The Sarah Palin question is not clever. Everyone will know that you're fishing. The Sarah Palin question is good if you're curious about a person's political views. It's not a good question to judge a "good" person.

If you say "blood" diamond and not conflict diamond, you've already given them the answer. Heck, you've given them answer with conflict diamond.

Asking a hot-button question to a person you've just met is kind of socially awkward.

There is no single question or test. A lot of jackasses are polite in public, kind to animals, and open car doors. You'll just have to get to know the person and judge for yourself.
posted by Fairchild at 11:42 AM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

To paraphrase Solzhenitsyn, the line between good and evil is drawn not between people, but through every human heart.
posted by callmejay at 11:48 AM on October 20, 2008 [28 favorites]

how you see your pets is not how other people see them.

[Ditto on children, too. Reminds me of sitting in a (very small) hot tub in a resort hotel where a mother was allowing her three grade-school-aged kids to snorkel and fight, since the water was "too cold" for them to play in the actual pool....she smiled at me proudly as I got splashed and grabbed, no doubt expecting me to indulge her with some sort of sisterhood nonsense about how adorable they were even as they were scraping underwater against my thighs and hitting me with flippers....]

Anyway, back to the topic on hand-- this may take more than one exposure, but I find that the kind of gossip you hear from folks about other people to be a pretty accurate gauge of the gossiper's character, and one which I've ignored at my peril. Someone is bristling with excitement over someone else's missteps or weight gain, or revealing personal details told to them in confidence? Yeah, you're next on the list, as soon as they're "in" enough to have something on you to share.
posted by availablelight at 11:49 AM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

In other words, Martin Luther King, Jr. cheated on his wife and many a murderer has been a loving son.
posted by callmejay at 11:49 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have no idea what you mean by good. Acceptable to you? Acceptable to the group you are a part of? I must be out in left field, because I am stunned how many people here are able to respond so quickly and easily.

You're operating under a lot of assumptions. For one, the idea that people generally tell the truth about themselves. For another, that "bad" people are terrible liars.

Maybe if you told us exactly how this experience came about, we could get a better indication of what you mean by "good", and why your "good meter" was off in that instance.
posted by uxo at 11:54 AM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've heard that film philosopher guy Slavoid Jejeck say that the true test of whether you are a human being or not is if you cry at the end of City Lights, the Charlie Chaplin film.

I did not cry. I fail!
posted by sully75 at 12:02 PM on October 20, 2008

Not fail-safe, but useful: go out to a restaurant, and watch how they treat the waitstaff and how much they tip. (Caveat: the second part only works in tip-centric cultures, of course.)
posted by scody at 12:07 PM on October 20, 2008

I've just found that lately my instinct meter for such things is off when I first meet people.

This is your real problem. Your instincts have been thrown off and you're out of sorts.
I would question your need or desire to judge people so quickly. People are more complex and your rush to put them in a particular box is probably cutting you off from knowing several cool people.

Rather than try to reduce your judgment to a single question, have a short conversation with the person. Based on that, decide if you want to talk to them anymore. Eventually, you might decide you like or dislike them, but attempting to sort them all at first contact can ultimately make you unhappy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:13 PM on October 20, 2008

Mod note: A few comments removed. Not so much with the silly or divisive stuff, folks.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:27 PM on October 20, 2008

We're all good people sometimes and crappy people other times. I don't think this is something you can really get a definitive answer about. If you mean, is it possible to tell in advance whether someone is going to screw you over or not, being surprised one way or another is pretty much inevitable.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:29 PM on October 20, 2008

But how others treat the waiter is like a magical window into the soul.

See, and this one doesn't work either because my father in law is horrific with waitstaff. He makes them stand there for an eternity while he decides what to order, and by the time he's done, I'm a nervous wreck from the suspense. He isn't mean, he's just totally oblivious. I mean, borderline autistic oblivious.

Also, my brother once asked a waitress 'how many shrimps' the fried shrimp came with. Now, he's a kind and generous person in a great many ways and situations, but that's just so idiotic I've been telling that story for ten years.

How many shrimps. Jesus.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:34 PM on October 20, 2008 [6 favorites]

He makes them stand there for an eternity while he decides what to order, and by the time he's done, I'm a nervous wreck from the suspense. He isn't mean, he's just totally oblivious.

But that's not even what I really mean. I mean people who are demonstrably rude toward waitstaff -- the yellers, the snide-comment-makers, the ones who seem to think "server" and "servant" are the same thing, etc. Speaking as a former waitress, I always knew that there's a huge difference between the irriation caused by someone who's just a bad orderer, vs. that caused by someone who clearly thought I was beneath them because I was carrying a tray.
posted by scody at 12:45 PM on October 20, 2008

"Hey, I just got bit on the ass by a snake..."

“There is nothing in which people more betray their character than in what they laugh at.”
posted by mandal at 12:46 PM on October 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

Responses to questions about Palin won't tell you good or bad. These responses will give you information about who the person listens to. Does the person can think for themselves. Can the person be manipulated by fear. Perhaps you can find out something about the persons intelligence; you almost certainly can discover much about their level of education. But not good or bad.

I like the waiter thing, how the individual acts with someone in a service position, but that's not a question to be asked but rather a behavior to be observed, and, as pointed out, it's out in the wild, many people know about it and act accordingly, at least around people they wish to fool, perhaps including themselves.

It really depends upon your criteria, truth be told; what is a 'good' person? What is a 'bad' person? What traits or behaviors or patterns determine this?

In my experience, many who are cruel or even vicious are people who've been crushed in life and by life, damaged in shipping. Some of these people are completely unaware of what they are doing, the havoc they wreck; denial. Some know what they are doing, they can see clearly, it causes them anguish, they want to stop their behaviors but cannot; they're involved in something much larger than which they are able to grapple. Some are damaged such that they suffer no anguish, they can see that their actions cause others pain but it doesn't touch their hearts at all. Others have mental illnesses which take away moral compass, or skew it to this side or that.

I don't see any of these people as 'bad'. Dangerous? Damn straight. But not bad.

Bad, to me, is a person willing to lie, even to themselves, or maybe especially to themselves, to get what they want. And: What they want is to aggrandize themselves and put others down, to manipulate others, to sit back and watch as others get hurt because of situations that they've set up. Almost always, bad people have high intelligence, or maybe it's cunning. Probably both. Whatever it is, they've got it, in spades, and they'll use it whenever they can, both to serve themselves and, as important, to hurt others.

While I've only been in close proximity to one of these people, my life -- and yours -- are hugely affected by many others. Perle. Cheney. Feith. Rumsfeld. Rice. Bush Sr. (W is too fucking dumb to make it here, he hasn't the cunning -- watch how poorly he lies, in any of hundreds of interviews posted on youtube or wherever) Many others, perhaps countless others, maybe all of them, tend toward politics, whether it's on a construction job-site or a corporate boardroom or public political office; Washington is filled with these pieces of shit, as is the seat of any government or religion. And you don't need to ask them any questions, just watch them a few minutes, their secret smiles.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:51 PM on October 20, 2008 [5 favorites]

Ask them what kind of question they would ask another person to determine if that person is genuinely good.

That will at least give you some interesting insight into their fundamental construction of good and bad. As an added bonus, they'll probably come up with a question that, if asked to them, would paint them in a favorable light.
posted by itstheclamsname at 12:55 PM on October 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

Supposedly, Rush Limbaugh is very kind to waitresses and is an excellent tipper.

Anyhow. I don't think such a question can exist, because there are lots of "bad" people who are smart enough to realize that life is a lot easier if you behave in ways that make you seem virtuous to new acquaintances.
posted by arianell at 1:02 PM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

How about "What would you like to go back and do differently?" Look for indications of self-knowledge and true acceptance of one's faults and quirks. To me, goodness means kindness, and requires the ability to admit to one's mistakes, take responsibility gracefully, give credit to others where it is due. Someone failing at this.
posted by tula at 1:03 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised that so many people here confuse being "good" with being "nice". There's a lot of overlap, particularly from good to nice, but they're not the same thing.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:09 PM on October 20, 2008 [7 favorites]

Also, my brother once asked a waitress 'how many shrimps' the fried shrimp came with.

A Terrible Llama, why is that a bad question? Sometimes you get a basketful, sometimes you get five. It's nice to know in advance, before you order.

I think the waiter question is an okay way of finding out if people are at least "normal" (eg, no anger management issues), but as other people have pointed out, even evil folks can be civil to the waitstaff sometimes.

Whether or not a person will move your couch is only an indication of how much they like you and generally has very little to do with their character, especially if it's someone you've just met.

In my experience, people's relationship to their parents (and how they describe it) has actually been a relatively solid way of future indications of a person's moral compass. For example, people I've met who have abusive or otherwise incapable parents who recognize them as such and have gotten help/therapy tend to be fine. But the people I've met who have maybe less overtly "bad" parents but have a poor or nonexistent relationship with them have routinely been the most deceitful and likely to take advantage of other people.

I don't mean to say this is always true, but in my experience, the first warning bell always goes off when I hear about a person's family situation.
posted by timoni at 1:12 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Who are you voting for?"
posted by MaxK at 1:18 PM on October 20, 2008

Do they ever feel compelled to quote Ayn Rand?
posted by dskinner at 1:26 PM on October 20, 2008 [6 favorites]

I really don't think there is an easy and simple way to assess someone's character. life is not that simple. over the last couple of years, I found out that two of the nicest guys I knew were 1) a serial cheater and manipulator, 2) a heroin addict. both of them would have helped me move a couch in a second. both are almost certainly Obama voters (though since I don't speak to either anymore, I can't be sure). both of them were incredibly considerate of waitstaff (and both waited tables/bartended, to boot). in both cases, they were able to get away with a lot of deceitful and crappy behavior *because* they were so nice and charming and genuinely kind. I was far from the only person who was fooled by them.
posted by dropkick queen at 1:53 PM on October 20, 2008 [6 favorites]

"What are your five favorite bands of all time?"
posted by spilon at 1:55 PM on October 20, 2008

Like another mefite once put it: ask them to explain the off-sides rule.
posted by yeti at 1:57 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "Are you a line-upper or a side-zoomer?"
posted by BobbyVan at 2:03 PM on October 20, 2008 [5 favorites]

For me, a good measure is whether the person uses any of John Gottmann's Four Horsemen, the primary indicators of a bad relationship: defensiveness, criticism, stonewalling [i.e, refusal to acknowledge a direct request for information], and contempt. And the worst of the four is contempt. With a little practice, you can identify contempt in 2 or 3 words -- it happens any time someone ridicules or diminishes someone else in order to strengthen their own position.

But why are these helpful? To me, the use of any or all of these forms of interaction indicates insecurity, poor self-image, or an unconscious sense of low status. Someone who is secure and confident is open to different ideas, treats everyone respectfully, and gives serious attention to what you're saying to them.

Examples: what does the person do when someone cuts them off in traffic? Do they panic, curse the other driver, or do they react calmly and laugh it off? What about problems at work? Is it always someone else's fault? And I'll add yet another vote for the waiter test.

The key thing is, does the other person try to bring you down to their level? Or do they find ways to use every experience as a lesson and view it in a positive light?
posted by Araucaria at 2:06 PM on October 20, 2008 [6 favorites]

Unfortunately, no, you can't get an accurate portrait of a person with one question. And even if you could, no guarantee some bad side wouldn't emerge later.

I have been known to swear at people who cut me off in traffic, occasionally not be any more than vaguely polite to my barista/waiter/sommelier, talk about myself at length without asking someone else a question about their day, etc...

However, I have also been known to help move a couch anytime I'm asked (and offer to do it if I think help is needed but someone feels bad asking), I'll stick up for you in a fight no matter how outmanned we are, I babysit/dogsit/fishsit all the time, return lost wallets, help stranded tortoises (yes, seriously), etc...

I think it's hard to know too much about someone until you see them in a variety of situations.
posted by KAS at 2:21 PM on October 20, 2008

A Terrible Llama, why is that a bad question? Sometimes you get a basketful, sometimes you get five. It's nice to know in advance, before you order.

Shrimp is sold by count/weight, so eight shrimp might be two ounces of shrimp, or eight shrimp might be half a pound. It's not a genuine indicator of volume.

Then, I have a hard time imagining the waiter is going to know off the top of their head how many shrimp are in a dish (although someone mailed me just now and said it wasn't uncommon question where they worked.)

Then, the other thing is, and this is a whole different concern: when I'm out to eat with someone, I like to pretend, and I want them to pretend, that we're there for the main purpose of enjoying each other's company and I don't want to see a whole lot of cross examination of the waiter harshing my mellow. I don't want to feel like we're counting our pennies. Or our shrimps.

So, it's a bunch of things. But I think this points to the original question and whether treatment of waitstaff is a good indicator of 'goodness', and there are so many forces that might go into that it's not really a good indicator. Someone might be a real prick to a waiter because he spent all day in the hospital waiting for his six year old to undergo chemotherapy. Who knows?

As an aside, I remain unconvinced that 'shrimps' is a plural of shrimp, but it entered my vocabulary through repeated telling of this story, and now I have a hard time remembering they're not generally referred to as 'shrimps.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:22 PM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

You can't easily get a sense of what a person is until you've been around them long enough for their defenses to come down. Plenty of nice ideas here, might improve your odds, but there's no easy answer -- it's just too easy/common for folks to plausibly act like they're something other they really are. Acting!

Best way I've found to see what someone is really like? Live with 'em for a few months -- once they relax, you find out everything you need to know.
posted by Pufferish at 2:24 PM on October 20, 2008

No. There is no way to tell if somebody's good or bad upon first impression.
posted by footnote at 2:42 PM on October 20, 2008

I like the City Lights test, but you really have to see it in the theater, to avoid distractions.
posted by rottytooth at 2:42 PM on October 20, 2008

I believe it was in the screenwriting book Story where the author said that true character is revealed through decisions made under pressure.

I'm afraid this means that you can't wave a wand and see into a person's soul. That type of revelation only comes under stress, and the more stress the more exposed becomes the true self.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:00 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Okay, I've just gone through the tests suggested so far and can only assume I'm Chaotic Neutral since...

I'm kind to most animals, but will happily squish bugs.

I have both moved and avoided moving the couches of others.

I have both tipped generously and been rude to waitstaff.

I have both engaged in and actively spoken out against malicious gossip.

I have never seen that Chaplin film

I would wriggle out of answering the turtle question at all costs, since I know it's a test of your mental state and I can never remember which response means you're a serial killer.

What I'm getting at is that the same person may pass and fail the saem test on different ocassions. The only way you can truly get to know somebody is to spend time getting to know them. (Although if you're still desperate for a shortcut, I think Itstheclamsname's suggestion was awesome.)

And I want to know what was wrong with the shrimp question too. If you don't know how big a serving it is, how do you know if you'll need side dishes?
posted by the latin mouse at 3:03 PM on October 20, 2008

Also, it is interesting how many commenters here automatically equate good with "agree with me." Perhaps its a natural way to quickly divide people but honestly I can't imagine a truly good person behaving in such a way.

So, there's one thing you can do: find out how they treat people they disagree with. It isn't foolproof but it is a starting point.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:06 PM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Don't know if this is helpful, but this question made me think of David Foster Wallace's commencement address and what he had to say about how we view the world, and judge others, from our own myopic frame of reference. And that led me to agree with others that facile examples such as how someone treats waiters or who they voted for don't get to the truth of whether they are "good" or not.
posted by mattholomew at 3:08 PM on October 20, 2008

"If you were from the city of liars, which city would you say you were from?" :-)

Seriously, though... no, there isn't.
posted by paultopia at 3:34 PM on October 20, 2008

How about, "Is there a single question you can ask that tells you immediately (if not totally conclusively) whether someone is a good person?"

Personally, I think you're already on the wrong track if you're trying to determine if someone is a "good person". Maybe I'm just too much of a moral relativist, though.
posted by losvedir at 4:08 PM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

My personal favorite question(s) to ask is about people's opinions (big surprise here. . .) on diamonds. First, ask very open ended: "So, what do you think of this blood diamond thing?"

I don't know if the diamond question works all that well, given that there are people who really just aren't informed about the issue and you would be putting them on the spot or essentially spoonfeeding them an opinion by explaining the situation in any detail.
posted by thisjax at 4:24 PM on October 20, 2008

im surprised that only one other person mentioned the instinct problem. that's absolutely the part of this dilemma to work on the most. worry about the friends after it's "fixed"!
posted by jazzybelle at 4:35 PM on October 20, 2008

I'm with the small minority here who find the question overly simplistic and problematic. Is a child who steals medicine for his dying sister a "good" person or a "bad" person? Even the most basic definition of "good", i.e., do no harm, runs afoul of real-life situation where someone somewhere will be harmed by your actions no matter how careful and conscientious you are.

As uxo and callmejay have hinted at, perhaps a better question is "How can I tell if someone believes in the same values as I do," the answer to which is, ask them direct questions about things you care about.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 4:47 PM on October 20, 2008

good people gravitate towards good people. Are YOU a "good" person?


You will know by who wants to go with you.
posted by cvoixjames at 5:44 PM on October 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

I never pay attention to what people say and if your instinct meeting was working you didn't either.

What's going on with you? I see two sides. One: your previous estimate was based on confirmation bias and you are now seeing how well your instinct meter actually works; as others have suggested, you now see things are not so simple as you thought; or, you previously managed situations so that people did what you expected while you were around.

Two: Something's going on with you - you are off your game. Any hits to the self-esteem lately? Stress?

Why do you need to know, so quickly, if someone is a good person or not? If you are selling drugs or turning tricks in a dark alley, this could be necessary. If you are working in emergency medicine or a cop or military, you don't get the question; you just have to act. For life as most of us live it, you can give people a chance to reveal themselves. Why not try that?

Some of my all-time favorite people hate dogs and plan to vote republican.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:07 PM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Look I'm not looking for foolproof. I want an 75-80% answer. As in, they answer right, there's a 75-80% chance they're more likely to be on the side of the angels in most respects as opposed to the hades squad.

I get moral relativism. Totally. I'd probably be hesitant to put myself categorically in the good column for just such a reason. That said this is for work. I'm in reality TV and occasionally, quickly, I'm required to size up people as good or not so good for certain projects. And until recently in my life, I've been outstanding at it. I'd say, for purposes of needing to know if I was going to deal with an inherently immoral person for hidden camera I could almost always find a fiend on demand.

But lately, not so much. I'm not sure why. I've been in a much more gray area of my own life lately. And I've had some memory issues. But for reasons emotional, or possibly physical, I don't have my necessary mutant ability anymore. So I'm fishing for an edge.

And I think someone hit on one.

Of all the questions thrown about, the most succinct and powerful to me - for my purposes anyway - seems to be line-upper vs. cutter-offer. I really think that might work. At least as a 60% question at any rate. But for whatever it's worth, I appreciate the spirited discussion behind it. It makes me fairly sure this is a considered answer and not an instinctive one.

Even if, ironically, it's being used to assuage a lack of instinct in the first place.
posted by rileyray3000 at 8:13 PM on October 20, 2008

Despite being one of the posters who denied the possibility of definitively categorizing people, I'll be the first to say I nonetheless got a quick shameless woo-hoo! out of getting sorted into the 'good' column by the NY Times article.

I'll bet most of those liner uppers are oldest children, though. We love to line up for shit. Or more like, many of us HAVE to line up for shit.

/pet theory
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:27 AM on October 21, 2008

I'm in reality TV and occasionally, quickly, I'm required to size up people as good or not so good

Oh, this makes it much clearer then.

I think if this is the kind of screening you're after, you could ask about opinions about celebrities. Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, whoever else is in the current doghouse / gossip mill situation.

It is good in two ways: 1) because it is "about the biz" it might not seem like such a direct challenge / test. 2) you can quickly see is the subject a pileon type, or a kind supporter type? Are they happy to get dirty about gossip, wish people poorly? Or do they tend to not want to gossip, more sympathetic to people's problems?
posted by Meatbomb at 7:31 AM on October 21, 2008

Today's Slate says that you can tell how a person votes by whether they think spanking kids is OK or not.

So, if voting and spanking are important to you... MetaFilter: voting and spanking
posted by BaxterG4 at 12:21 PM on October 21, 2008

I'm indifferent to children and can find a crying baby terribly grating, but I'm always nice to call0centre workers as I don't see why my frustration at being interrupted should be taken out on people doing a shitty job for no pay.

I elbow my way onto the tube (and being dyspraxic, and living in London, the line-up thing doesn't much apply) but give up my seat. I love to pet dogs and cats but have been known to say mean things about people, just because.

Oh, and I don't really care about celebrities much.
posted by mippy at 1:43 PM on October 21, 2008

For reality TV, I'd think you want people who want you to look them, but on the non-violent side of crazy.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:20 PM on October 23, 2008

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