I have a people problem. I have no idea what it is.
July 5, 2009 4:59 PM   Subscribe

I have a people problem. I have no idea what it is. A lot more inside.

I have a people problem and I have no idea what it is. I'm late 20's, just married, an expat in China, out-going, friendly, and intelligent. I have been described as having a "strong" personality. I know I talk too much (as the length of this explanation attests). I get passionate about things. I don't easily let things go. Though I wouldn't call it a grudge, I can hold one for months and years but am willing to let them go if the other party can show even a hint of remorse, or acknowledgement of how I might have seen things, for previous wrongs. I try to make the first move, usually rebuffed, in those situations.

I'm defensive. I've been called a know-it-all and I would agree in that I rarely claim to know something I don't and will happily check Wikipedia on my phone at that very moment to see if I'm right. I hold my ground but can quickly let go in proportion to the amount of truth offered to show me wrong.

I think of myself as very logical. I'm defensive, but with a thick wall and many doors that open with a little bit of cool (or) reasoned thinking by the other person. In college, as one of the top lefties on campus, some of my best friends were the leaders of the College Republicans. I easily let myself be proven wrong if someone else is willing to "argue" (again, not my word of choice - "discuss" is more appropriate) it out with me. I admit that I really enjoy a discussion/argument that makes me think on my feet and ends with me knowing something, or seeing something, I didn't know or see before.

I am very informed. I spend way too much time in any given day keeping abreast of current events and nearly anything of interest to me. I used to pride myself in being able to have a conversation about almost anything, so long as it wasn't pop culture.

To recap, I feel I have embedded safeguards against being accused of being too aggressive, pig-headed, know-it-all or whatever. I hold my ground but move with my "opponent" if they have any real interest in fact-finding.

Despite this, though, relationships are exploding all around me. I'm tired of these blow-outs. I never seemed to have them in college but they're happening a lot now.

I'm convinced there's something with my personality type that just fundamentally rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I, mostly, like myself and can't see what anyone wouldn't like (except discussion about politics and any sort of argument, which I try to limit when I think it's trivial or going negative). I'm just blind to it.

The closest I can get is this: people (especially me) are emotional creatures and not inherently logical. However, the idea of trusting logic and debate/argument/Socratic dialogue over our emotions in everyday life as a way of resolving issues just hasn't caught on anywhere outside the political science and philosophy classrooms of America. My "enlightened" way is just pissing everyone around me off all the time and I'm treated in much the same regard as a fundamentalist Christian by many people - outside the mainstream culture, speaking an entirely different language, and using a different social code of conduct that frequently breaks down when used with people who aren't practicing a similar code.

I think my need to “call [things/people] out” is something I know most socially healthy people don't have. I go crazy though when I hear people say something that just isn't true – especially if it's easily verifiable. I regard sticking to a key “fact” or strong opinion while being unable to qualify, back down from, or verify as one of the worst character traits possible. In other words, I know I respond negatively to arrogance with a dose of my own unwelcome, but verifiable and condional, “truth”.

For what it's worth, I think a lot of this comes from surviving as a child in a household where black was frequently called white. My father and stepmother have a very fundamental problem telling, and maybe even knowing, the truth. Untruths and irrationally were frequently thrown at me and I had to teach myself to stand up to it. I developed a strong and rigorous "bullshit detection" system to stay sane. The residue is that maybe I just don't automatically trust the information in conversation as much as is likely normal.





For reference, recent “blow ups”

---helped a friend who had a computer he wanted to throw out that kept crashing. I offered to install Ubuntu as a dual OS (wubi), work out all the kinks, test to make sure there was no crashing , and explained the pro's and con's before the installation. He agreed. He proceeded to never use it and tell people I did nothing to help him. When I confronted him, he let me work on his computer to save face. The words “you're unable to live your life with any dignity” were used after the relatively polite “please stop talking shit” message was sent. Two weeks running now. He's my best friends roommate.

---a friend came over with his visiting mother with some take-out dishes of a specific regional cuisine. I really enjoyed one of the dishes but forgot the name. I asked him. He told me the name was X, but X is the name of a very different dish. I tell him it's not. I get a “fuck you” within a minute even though I never raise my voice and only offered to check online and ask my wife. Go to Flickr and Google Images, all confirming what I'm saying, but he won't buy it. He tells me people don't even want to meet me because they hear I always start fights over little things. Left unresolved and brewing.

---My sister skips my wedding. She tells me she can't afford to fly overseas. The whole trip would cost maybe $1200. She invokes her son, saying he would be hurt if she came and demanded my wife and I pay for her ticket if she were to come and that she could never ask her Porshe-driving fiance for a loan or any sort of help. Big fight. Later we offer to pay for half the ticket. After that I find out she got breast implants at the same time. She had paid for it up front but her new husband was going to re-reimburse. I call her out and say I felt betrayed. HUGE fight, no contact for months now.

---My father decides to sell my car after sitting on it and letting it rot for two years. My stepmother and he transfer my title over to my step brother-in-law for a shockingly small sum of cash. They determined the value of my car without contacting or consulting me at all. I try to find at least some rational and cross-verifiable method of verifying the “fair” cost using any online pricing book (kbb, edmunds) they'd like. They never agree. They get many details wrong, including basic things like the trimline (they chose basic instead of luxury). I, and wife, offer tons of proof to what we're saying. I finally provide irrefutable proof (Carfax) and never hear a response back. They never change the sum they're offering. Haven't spoken in months.

Add to this tons of people I meet, think I have at least a small connection with, but the friendship never goes anywhere and I can just feel they don't like me.

What am I doing that's pissing everyone off so bad? I'm a friendly guy, really, but I feel like I drive a lot of people away.

How do I cope with this with fundamentally changing who I am? Do you have experiences with people like me? What rubs you so wrong? Are you like me? What are your coping methods?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (147 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
This may seem simplistic... but you have to get over yourself. Sometimes, it doesn't matter if you are right, and you figure out when to let it go. You value being "right" more than your relationships.
posted by kimdog at 5:06 PM on July 5, 2009 [19 favorites]


What am I doing that's pissing everyone off so bad? I'm a friendly guy, really, but I feel like I drive a lot of people away.

Nobody likes a know it all. Especially an aggressive one.

People have the right to make their own decisions, whether you agree or not. And, that they make decisions that are different than the ones you might make doesn't mean it is some kind of slight against you. Believe it or not, people might have their own reasons for doing things that they choose not to share with you.

So, you know, get some humility. Cut people slack. Don't hold people to the same standards you clearly hold yourself to. Actually, you probably don't actually hold yourself to those standards, but you wish you did. Maybe don't hold people to standards at all...

(As for the car thing: if you cared about getting a good price for it, you would have taken care of it before going overseas. Since you didn't, and left it to your father to take care of, you have to deal with it.)
posted by gjc at 5:09 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Diagnosis: chip on shoulder. Seek therapy.
posted by mpls2 at 5:10 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


You come across here as condescending and smug, and kimdog's right -- it doesn't matter if you're right (or if you choose to interpret things as you being right). Sometimes you just need to be gracious and let people be. You don't have to direct them, and they don't owe you anything -- not an explanation, not a justification, nothing. You sound really intense to be around; maybe you should exercise or meditate or... something... to just chill out.
posted by runningwithscissors at 5:10 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Condescending & full of yourself are what pop into my mind after reading what you've written here. You mention a wedding, perhaps you can ask your spouse or a trusted friend if this is the case?
posted by kellyblah at 5:11 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


... most people are in this world to be happy; you're the only one keeping score.
posted by mpls2 at 5:12 PM on July 5, 2009 [9 favorites]


How do I cope with this with fundamentally changing who I am?

You don't have to. You just need to stop seeing any discussion with other people as a contest. Practice being wrong (or even being right) and just walking away and letting it go. Some people are stupid, some people make mistakes, some people don't care enough to be 'right', but almost everyone hates someone who argues to the death with volumes of 'evidence' that they were SO WRONG. No-one likes a smart arse, especially when they're right. Back off a little.

The first poster is right. Get over yourself. Live and let live seems to be missing in your world.

None of the 'blow up' examples are the full story, I'd bet. They were just the last straw and you didn't even notice the small things that led to them being the breaking point.

Stop trying to enforce your personality and 'rightness' on other people and treat them as equals and I think your knowledge will be much more valued (assuming it is genuine) but you need to be happy to take the back seat sometimes until asked and learn the phrase "Oh really? I thought it was 'x'" and practice it until you can genuinely drop the issue, no matter how sure you are.

Sometimes it really doesn't matter who is right.
posted by Brockles at 5:13 PM on July 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


Sometimes it really doesn't matter who is right.

This. In examples like the takeout dish one, many people would get to hearing the other person saying the wrong dish and mentally shrug it off with a "who cares". Or say something like "are you sure...? Ok then".

If you must be right all the time, keep the smugness of being right in your own head. You know you're right, that's reward enough, surely? Of course, it sounds more like you care about winning than being right. And more about either of those than maintaining decent relationships.
posted by gaspode at 5:16 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]



The closest I can get is this: people (especially me) are emotional creatures and not inherently logical. However, the idea of trusting logic and debate/argument/Socratic dialogue over our emotions in everyday life as a way of resolving issues just hasn't caught on anywhere outside the political science and philosophy classrooms of America. My "enlightened" way is just pissing everyone around me off all the time


Realize that pretty much everybody thinks of themselves as logical, rational creatures. This includes people who you don't think are being very logical; just because you think you've arrived at your position logically doesn't make it the only correct position, because people start out from different starting points.

There are subcultures (especially in Chinese society) in which arguing is _not_ considered an awesome way to solve problems. To some people arguing is a very unpleasant experience. If you insist on arguing about lots of things, some people are not going to want to spend lots of time around you, because they find the arguing unpleasant.

If you're going to be all, "This is the most enlightened way to act", you will have to accept that not everybody agrees with you and not everybody will want to spend time with you.
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:17 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Strong personality" is a euphemism for "asshole."
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:20 PM on July 5, 2009 [56 favorites]


Stop talking. Start listening.

Yes, incompetence and ignorance are frustrating. But you are not (as far as I can tell) a teacher, and your friends and family are not around you for the opportunity of lectures (which is, unfortunately, how a lot of your actions are communicated, no matter how well-intended).

Know when to shut up. Acknowledge that in the real world, facts alone, no matter how compelling, usually don't change people's minds. (Most university courses, sciences, and MeFites are an exception in this regard). If you have an instinct to correct someone, stop. Think about the cost/benefit analysis - is it worthwhile to take the time to correct them on what is likely to be a fine point, or let them continue to dwell in ignorance? If you feel you have to go ahead, think about empathizing with the person, rather than trying to hit them over the head with facts. (That's interesting, I would have thought the answer was x. I may be wrong - why do do you think it's y?)

In summary: you do have to change, or come to terms with the fact that your approach to argument and interaction will alienate a lot of the people around you, unless they are like-minded.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 5:20 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am very much like you, and all I can tell you is people are very easily intimidated, and most are very insecure. If you don't smile enough they think you're a stuck up, if you want to happily share all the information in the world with them they call you a know-it-all, and if you aren't apologetic or unnaturally self-despising (the way people like) many will feel threatened by you and they will automatically feel you think you are superior.

Sorry to say, not all people like to be enlightened, and most don't like to be proven wrong, unlike you or me. I can tell that you love information and reaching the truth and "friendly debate", but most people will assume you are just trying to humiliate them.

There is a passage in Pride and Prejudice, when Eliza Bennet describes Miss Darcy, in which she notices how her quietness may very well be taken for pride by people who think themselves inferior. unfortunately, many people are like that.

My advice is simply to use your personality as a filter to differentiate interesting people from the insecure, uninteresting crowd , and take care to cultivate the relations that do not feel threatened or insulted by your reasonably good, brutally honest personality. With the rest of the weaklings, try and be as politically correct as you can. It will save you loads of problems.
posted by Tarumba at 5:21 PM on July 5, 2009 [13 favorites]


When I was in AA, a curmudgeonly, but very wise old salt once said to me, "Son, don't take yourself so damn seriously." When I lightened up, loosened up, calmed down, got off my high horse, and took many, many deep breaths—I became happy, joyous and free.
posted by netbros at 5:22 PM on July 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


Good lord, that's tiring to read. I feel I must direct you to one of my prior AskMe questions here.

Yes, I was right. I knew it. So what? I had to get over myself. So do you.

In your examples :

- Did the friend ask for suggestions or help? No? Butt out. Or ask for the computer for yourself, put Ubuntu on it, and donate it to someone that really needs it.

- "Hey, where did you order that take-out from? I'd like to get X dish again sometime." Proceed to call the place directly and ask what it is, or go there in person.

- Whether her new husband has $$ or not is immaterial. She said she couldn't afford the ticket. If it was important to have her there, you should have offered to pay for all or part of the ticket right then. If you couldn't afford it, or felt like it wasn't so important, move on. Your sister has already shown what's important to her - and it's not you at this point.

- Yes, if it was your car, you should have taken care of it before you went overseas. I know it's annoying, because it seems like they just don't give a shit - it's because they don't.

People are going to be wrong about things - all the time. It's not important to always correct them, if you want to get along. I'd be interested to know what your wife's thoughts are on all this. Are you the same way with her?

And this last bit: "To recap, I feel I have embedded safeguards against being accused of being too aggressive, pig-headed, know-it-all or whatever."

I feel that I have to tell you - if your face-to-face interactions are anything like the sentiments you expressed in your question, those safeguards aren't working. Quite the opposite. Breathe.
posted by HopperFan at 5:22 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Jesus Christ. You do realise you don't get points for being right, yes?
posted by DarlingBri at 5:22 PM on July 5, 2009 [23 favorites]


The guy with the computer probably wasn't really looking for help or advice. People (more often than not, as in 95% of the time) just like to whine and get a little "there, there..", sympathy.

If someone has given you their best guess on what a dish is called and you know it's mistaken, you don't call them out on it in front of their mother. You accept the fact that they don't happen to know and shut your mouth. You don't try to give everybody else indigestion.

NOBODY is obligated to fly halfway around the world for ANYBODY else's wedding. She has a kid to raise and you CANNOT be a priority to her right now.

If you gave the title of your car to your Father (the guy with the black/white issues) and left the country 2 years ago, you need to look forwards in stead of backwards. At least it's going to your little brother, not some stranger.

It's good that you're looking get above this obsessive behavior. I think the best advice I can give you is that you need to back up and give people space to meet you half way. Quietly apologize to all the people you've pissed off in your illustrative cases. Then drop the matters and look forward.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:24 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, by the way, this is what Dale Carnegie has to say about it in How to Make Friends and Influence people:

I was attending a banquet one night given in Sir Ross's honor; and during the dinner, the man sitting next to me told a humorous story which hinged on the quotation "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will."

The raconteur mentioned that the quotation was from the Bible. He was wrong. I knew that. I knew it positively. There couldn't be the slightest doubt about it. And so, to get a feeling of importance and display my superiority, I appointed myself as an unsolicited and unwelcome committee of one to correct him. He stuck to his guns. What? From Shakespeare? Impossible! Absurd! That quotation was from the Bible. And he knew it.

The storyteller was sitting on my right; and Frank Gammond, an old friend of mine, was seated at my left. Mr. Gammond had devoted years to the study of Shakespeare. So the storyteller and I agreed to submit the question to Mr. Gammond. Mr. Gammond listened, kicked me under the table, and then said: "Dale, you are wrong. The gentleman is right. It is from the Bible."

On our way home that night, I said to Mr. Gammond: "Frank, you knew that quotation was from Shakespeare."

"Yes, of course," he replied, "Hamlet, Act Give, Scene Two. But we were guests at a festive occasion, my dear Dale. Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save his face? He didn't ask for your opinion. He didn't want it. Why argue with him? Always avoid the acute angle." The man who said that taught me a lesson I'll never forget. I not only had made the storyteller uncomfortable, but had put my friend in an embarassing situation. ...


You can't win an argument. You can't because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph. And --

A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still.

posted by Comrade_robot at 5:28 PM on July 5, 2009 [173 favorites]


This...."I think my need to “call [things/people] out” is something I know most socially healthy people don't have."

and

This..."I hold my ground but move with my "opponent" if they have any real interest in fact-finding."

You think of people as "opponents" not people. You seem to argue over EVEYTHING. You have to prove that you are right. Seriously, no one cares if you know the correct name of (insert exotic cuisine here). Going on google to prove that you are right is not needed. I mean, it's fine if it's in good fun, but you go overboard.

Also, you said that people would say you have a "strong" personality, that usually translates into obnoxious and overbearing.

You seem like a nice enough person, but you can't read social cues. I personally wouldn't be able to stand being around a person who does the things that you do. I'm suprised that you don't understand WHY people don't like you. You've basically stated all of the reasons why people don't like you in your question. So, you need to change or people are always going to keep you at arms length and not want to be around you.
posted by pdx87 at 5:29 PM on July 5, 2009


if you want to happily share all the information in the world with them they call you a know-it-all

I'm sorry, but neither you nor the OP have "all the information in the world". Believing that this is so, and having to prove this belief to anyone who hasn't lost your phone number yet, will only prove to alienate you from everyone except other assholes.

most people will assume you are just trying to humiliate them

Having "the truth" pounded into your head, especially if the one pounding it is a smug know-it-all, can definitely be humiliating, whether it was meant to be or not. What's more important, being right or KNOWINGLY HUMILIATING the people that you're trying to convince to be friendly and spend time with? Or have you gone past the point of caring about that?
posted by scarykarrey at 5:29 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


You don't have a people problem. People have a you problem. You sound like a dick, dude. I recommend getting a big dose of humility.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:29 PM on July 5, 2009 [9 favorites]


I developed a strong and rigorous "bullshit detection" system to stay sane.

Alright. The weird thing about human endeavors is that a lot of it is total bullshit.

Even happiness.

Also: you don't think other people have their own bullshit detectors?

I'm a friendly guy.

No, you're not.

But that's fixable, and as long as you're unhappy with the relationships in your life, necessary to repair.
posted by trotter at 5:34 PM on July 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


The fact that you check Wikipedia when a friend tells you the name of a Chinese dish (incorrect or not) is annoying, rude, and boorish. Let it go. What happens when you prove that you are right? You probably have a moment of elation but your friend has a bad taste in their mouth and makes a mental note to avoid you in the future.

Correcting someone in casual conversation is off-putting. Does it really matter if I call a Begonia a Bougainvillea? Does it mean anything to the future of the universe? Is it worth risking the flow and friendliness of the conversation? The reason people don't like you is that you're a buzzkill. You come across as very self-congratulatory and smug.

I would imagine people are on-guard when they're in your company. If I knew you had a habit of accessing Wikipedia on your phone to prove you are right, I wouldn't want to be friends with you.

Some tips:

Don't argue over trivial things. Actually try not arguing, or "discussing" at all. If someone speaks an untruth it's not your responsibility to correct them. You don't have to and hopefully soon, you won't feel the need to.

Try practicing taking it easy. This should be your new mantra. "Take it Easy". Life is not a debate team. Your friends and co-workers are not your opponents.

Keep quiet and practice calm. Instead of working your brain to recall facts and call people on their mistakes, let it go and take it easy. They're only human and so are you. Friends shouldn't be in the habit of constantly correcting one another. Friends should enjoy one another, have fun, and support one another.

You're not as smart as you think.

My sister skips my wedding. She tells me she can't afford to fly overseas. The whole trip would cost maybe $1200. She invokes her son, saying he would be hurt if she came and demanded my wife and I pay for her ticket if she were to come and that she could never ask her Porshe-driving fiance for a loan or any sort of help. Big fight. Later we offer to pay for half the ticket. After that I find out she got breast implants at the same time. She had paid for it up front but her new husband was going to re-reimburse. I call her out and say I felt betrayed. HUGE fight, no contact for months now.

This is a problem of not minding your own business and placing judgment on what you deem inappropriate or trivial. Maybe you could have trusted that your sister didn't feel comfortable asking for a loan, whether the future-husband drives an expensive vehicle, or paid for surgery.
posted by Fairchild at 5:38 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think you may be an energy-zapper.
Your best friends roommate wanted to toss his computer and you didn't want him to.

Your other friend didn't care to know the name of the dish, but you did.

Your sister didn't want to attend your wedding. She chose to spend her money on new boobs instead.

You should have taken care of your own car instead of it taking up space at your father's place for two years.

Pack your own parachute and leave others' to theirs.
posted by Acacia at 5:43 PM on July 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


You sound like a typical nerd. Eventually we learn to let things go, not turn everything into an argument, and that we must choose our fights. You're going crazy trying to correct all the mistakes you encounter. Be the bigger man and let them go, unless they absolutely need to be addressed. No one likes a domineering know-it-all itching for a fight.

Obligatory xkcd comic.
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:43 PM on July 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


You have to realize that you can only control the things that matter to you. If other people are wrong (in your opinion), that's their problem. When you make it your problem, you make enemies. You don't need to call people out when they're wrong, you're just humiliating them, what's there to like about that? When people are in social settings talking about whatever they're talking about, the last thing they want is to be schooled by the bullyish know-it-all. The second last thing they want is to have a pleasant conversation turned into serious business.

You seem to always be trying to engage people in debate, you seem like the type that makes people jump through hoops to defend everything they say/think/believe. Not everyone is as fired up about things as you, and your behavior must be burdensome to them. You also seem to have absolutely no respect for other people, or not till they prove their intelligence to you. That's pretty lousy.

One of the most troubling things about what you wrote was that none of the scenarios you listed are reflective of what you described above as your worst personality traits (essentially, almost everything you pride yourself on are probably your least likable qualities). This indicates, to me at least, a lack of self-awareness, or a skewed self-awareness. Another troubling thing is that everything up to your examples was an incredibly wordy post about how great you are. Nobody should need to spend that much time raving about themselves. Sure, it was sort of phrased in the context of what's wrong with you, but only in the same way that people like to say "I'm a perfectionist" when an interviewer asks them what their weakness is. Talk about breaking your arm to pat yourself on the back!

When you feel the need to call someone out on something, pause and think to yourself: what will be gained? Is the person going to get hurt by their beliefs (for instance, if the person is talking about whiter whites with a perfectly safe combination of ammonia and clorox, it might be worthwhile to point out that that combination is deadly. If the person is saying that Abraham lincoln was the first president of the US, there's no point to correcting them)? Is pointing out that they are wrong, or challenging their beliefs just an opportunity to point out how much you know? If nothing's to be gained, and it's just another stage for you to flaunt your "enlightenment" then keep it to yourself.

It helps to remember that the entire world and social structure does not exist for your mental gymnastics. You can't turn situations and people into debate partners just for your own entertainment.

I have a friend like you, man I hate talking to him. I avoid it whenever possible. In addition to ALWAYS being right, and ALWAYS making me defend the most innocent statements ("I like blue, nice, crisp, blue shirts look good with most complexions" can turn into an entire debate where I have to fight to defend this. It's ridiculous). It is tiresome to talk to him, and he loves to talk about what he knows. He'll tell loooooong stories that are sort of "instructional" and even when you try to tell him that you know something and he can just get to the point because an hour has gone by and you've totally lost sight of his point (like he'll tell you all about the history of WW2, it's origin, where it started, etc. stuff that EVERYONE knows, just to get to a minor story about hitler or pearl harbor, or something like that), he'll snap and say that the "lesson" is part of his story, it's his build up. EVERYONE hates this guy. Nobody wants anything to do with him because he's so obnoxious. Yet, he's clueless about how people feel about him. If he were as smart as he thought he was, he'd know that ranty lectures and lessons are not acceptable ways to relate to people.

I have another friend who is incredibly smart. I don't think I've known a smarter person. He is a scientist, has a PhD, several bachelors degrees, speaks several languages. He's a trivia whiz, he's super informed, he's like a walking wikipedia. However, you'd never know. When he talks about things that interest or matter to him, you can tell he's well informed. When other people talk about things that interest/matter to them, he listens and appreciates hearing other people's point of view. If people make huge mistakes or errors in facts or logic, he's gracious and never points it out, not to the person talking and not to other people afterward. He's just a really humble, great guy.

I suggest you be more like guy #2 and less like guy #1.
posted by necessitas at 5:45 PM on July 5, 2009 [48 favorites]


I had much the same problem as the OP and made relationships in general very hard to maintain. When I was correct, you were damn sure I was going to let you know and when you were wrong, I felt obligated to let you know exactly how fucking wrong you were.

In the end, being right doesn't really mean squat to anyone other than you. I never realized this until I drove away a very good friend. We are friends again and have built up the trust and friendship we once had but it took him calling me out one night as we drove home from a friends house party. I think words like asshole, shithead, inconsiderate prick, know it all, etc.. were all brought up.

At first I really struggled with just keeping my mouth shut and would have a physical reaction after the conversation had ended and we had walked away from each other. It almost gave me headaches to a certain extent. Now, whatever. It is not my duty, position, obligation, or right to let someone know they are wrong. I could be wrong adn just not know it.. hmmm

If I am asked, I simply state my position and leave it at that. I won't argue over it and I won't try and make the other person concede to me in the conversation nor do I entertain someone trying to convince me that I am wrong. End of that conversation, on to bigger and better things such as plans for the weekend or a new movie I want to see or what show they are going to.

Almost every relationship I had destroyed is back to the original way it was but people do notice that I no longer say what I think most of the time unless it is a moral issue or I am specifically asked. I'm told I'm much funner to be around also, whatever that means. :)


nthing others comments here. Quit being an asshole. I am exactly like you, I just realized I was an asshole and stopped being one sooner than you have so far.
posted by Gravitus at 5:46 PM on July 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


If we were discussing, say, neurosurgery techniques, and we disagreed on a point, and you pulled out your phone to check Wiki to prove that you're right... I'd feel that it is more important to you to be right than to be, well, nice. And honestly, I would probably take a step back and make an effort to not get into another discussion with you.

I lived with an Expert On Everything for 7 years, and his insistence on being right all the time, even when proved wrong, was boring, predictable and occasionally downright embarrassing. He was a pain in the bum, and had no friends (that weren't drug dealers or fellow users). His whole family are the same, and it made family get-togethers torturous, as they all try to out-Expert each other.

Learn to bite your tongue a bit. You're not a bad person, you just need to learn how to be satisfied knowing you're right, instead of being satisfied only when the other person has agreed with you.

Life is too short to not say "we'll just have to agree to disagree", with a friendly smile.

Your father and sister, however... tell 'em go to hell. They sound horrid.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:47 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why do you care so much about what other, relatively meaningless people (like your friend's room-mate) think? Surely it's not worth fighting about, getting out wikipedia etc? Just let it go when things like that happen.

Also, saying decisively "You're Wrong" is bound to come across as adversarial. Using the food example, you should have said, "Oh, is that what it's called? I always thought XXX was a chicken dish with corn chips". When they say nope, again, let it go.

Final word of advice. There is a sure-fire cure for when this happens: Apologise. Don't get into twisted academics about who was wrong or whatever - it's irrelevant. If you're sorry about the conflict, and you are sorry about upsetting the person, apologise. It's impossible to fight against something with no resistance. And it might help you feel and start acting both more relaxed and more compassionate.
posted by smoke at 5:49 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Every one of your descriptions of yourself seems to come down to:

"I seem [bad] but am actually [good] if the other person [makes a special kind of effort]"

What makes you think you're worth the special effort? Why should others assume you are?

Someone who is more difficult to get along with than others is always going to be the last one chosen.
posted by rokusan at 5:49 PM on July 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


Sometimes it really doesn't matter who is right.

This is your answer. I'd say you also need to just recognise that other people don't thrive on the kind of interaction which you obviously do, and that their truth may be just as valid as yours - especially in cases of ethical, moral or emotional issues, which are at the heart of most of the examples you've given.

I have a friend who's very much like you, especially in the enjoyment of a good argument, although like you she thinks of it more as discussion. She was raised debating politics around the dinner table and seems to enjoy confrontation, arguing her point and verbally dominating others. Even though she's got many wonderful qualities you'd love in a friend, this know-it-all characteristic is dominant and makes her difficult to be around. She's lost some friends because of it, and others limit the time they spend with her.

The thing that rubs me so wrong about this particular characteristic? It's exhausting and it makes the person not so much fun to be with. Friends are supposed to be people you can let your guard down with, relax with, enjoy spending time with - not people with whom you have to be constantly on guard in case you set them off on some argument, or who want you to defend some offhand or casual remark you've just made with a well-reasoned, detailed, impromptu debate. It creates drama. Drama is exhausting to take part in, and most people have enough unavoidable drama in their lives already without needing more.
posted by andraste at 5:50 PM on July 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


A friend and I have similar troubles as you and have wrecked our fair share of relationships by being know-it-alls, by asserting our rightness when it doesn't really matter, or by trying to enlighten people. One thing she learned in therapy and passed on to me is this: just because you have a thought or feeling, doesn't mean you have to act on it.
posted by lunalaguna at 5:52 PM on July 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Noticing that you have this issue is a good first step. I think the advice to listen more is spot on, as is the recommendation to learn to let things go. Don't sweat the small stuff, and pretty much everything is small stuff. This will lead to less stress for you, you'll be happier and loosen up. Once you do that, people will be more receptive to you and less likely to find you overbearing.
posted by arcticseal at 5:53 PM on July 5, 2009


It is not my duty, position, obligation, or right to let someone know they are wrong.

Quoted for truth and repeated - practice this as a mantra.

I think it's really admirable that you're starting to examine your behavior because you see that people are reacting to you in ways that you don't want them to - good for you.
posted by tristeza at 5:53 PM on July 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


First, find friends that are like you. It sounds like you fit in OK at college where there were plenty of other intelligent, argumentative people. I have a friend who would be happy to be corrected if he got the name of a dish wrong and who loves to go get a dictionary to check some point that came up... that's the type you want.

But in general, I'd say the problem isn't that other people are irrational; it's that they have boundaries that you aren't respecting. It's not your affair what's up with your friend's computer, what that other guy calls a dish, what your sister does with her money. Your car is your business, but you didn't take care of it yourself for whatever reason.
posted by zompist at 5:54 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


In case it helps, I'll add one more voice for the "chill out, dude" brigade. Like the quotation about from Carnegie, sometimes even when you win, you really lose.

In each of your examples, there was a socially graceful way to handle it, and you chose another path. The name of the dish? Say "huh, are you sure? Ok, tell your mom thanks, I really appreciate it" and move on. The wedding? Either say "I'm happy to help pay your ticket" or "sorry, I'm totally stretched too, but let me know if things change and you'll be able to come after all" -- don't get in an argument with the woman about her breast operation, for goodness sake. And the car -- remember, it's a huge pain in the ass when someone leaves a vehicle for you to deal with; the gracious thing (assuming that it's not worth many tens of thousands of dollars and that you can afford it) would be to say "oh, step-BIL wants the car? Tell him to consider it a gift from me," or to just accept the money offered with thanks for all the trouble that everyone went to on your behalf. (I mean, they could have just had the car towed away and let you deal with the problem from China -- would you really have preferred that option?)

So the take away message here is to focus on finding the socially best path in a given situation, not the path that focuses on a narrow idea of right and wrong. Think about what you can say that will make you look good, the other person feel good, and the situation resolve in a fundamentally good way. I think you'll realize that in only a vanishingly small set of situations will that involve arguing about who is right and running to Wikipedia for "evidence" of your rightness.

Mostly, it's just about good manners, empathy, and a sensitivity for other people's goals and feelings. Get those things right, and you won't need to try and "win" all the time.
posted by Forktine at 5:56 PM on July 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


Seconding Comrade_robot. You got your facts from somewhere. So did the people who you think you're correcting. One of you is possibly wrong. It could be them, or you. Or, you both may have something accurate and insightful to bring to the party. I mean, come on, in a political discussion, did you go down to the library and research from the original materials? No? Then the information you're talking about has been filtered through different interpretations, simplifications and distortions. It may be that both of you are talking about the discussion in a flawed way, and there's enough material for someone to come along and write a book about why current attitudes on the subject are wrong. Information is somewhat subjective in this way.

I used to know someone who took everything she read online as golden, and sometimes when discussing something with her you could see that well, she was partially right, but the disagreement came with how the website or Wikipedia presented the information. We were both talking about the same original information, but had come to it from two different secondary interpretations. Maybe she read it online, maybe I learned in a classroom, but like I said, information is subjective.

If only it were so easy as going through life looking at information and deeming it 100% true or 100% false, and every true fact you learned could be banked forever in your brain and every false "fact" could be refuted for the rest of your life. But take a look at the AskMe question that HopperFan linked to. The question sounds straightforward, to begin with: Who held the first televised news conference? The person asking the question thought it was JFK. HopperFan thought it was Eisenhower. Another person in the thread pointed out that depending on how you want to define "televised" it could have been Truman or even FDR. So who's right? Well, it depends. Does televised mean live? Does it mean "showed up on a TV somewhere at some point" ? Does it mean "a video recording" ? There are good arguments for all of those possibilities, and no one could say definitely that they're right above all others.

Well, they could, but people would hate them for it. Sound familiar?
posted by malapropist at 5:56 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you enjoy debating, seek that arena for that type of competitive spirit. Restrict it to that.

If you are in China, I suggest you learn what sort of cultural context you need to understand to have an enjoyable time living there.

To be a good companion, you must continually give and take, listen for cues, really try to connect with the person you are talking to. Even in a classroom situation, students who already have their response planned don't really even hear the discussion much.

Your post is a sort of visual metaphor for your dilemma, if you take my meaning.

Many people who have mastered scientific concepts distort this ability to mean that they are somehow superior to others, and it only hinders them in grasping much larger concepts.

Consider the limitations of the Hindu numbering system. It doesn't really explain the nature of the universe at all.
posted by effluvia at 5:57 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree with kimdog, but will add a bit more of what I've learned from life (since I was much like you a a decade or two ago).
Most people don't care about truth or facts. This has been especially true in East Asia (at least in my experience). Or perhaps a better way of phrasing it is that most people don't care about "your" truth/fact. In Korea (and China too I assume) you can tell if your sick by sticking a needle in your thumb just above the knuckle. This is true and a fact. Wanna debate me about it? Why? Think of it like this, if someone came up to you and mathematically proved that the sky was pink, would you start calling the sky pink even if it still looked blue to you?
One of the steps of maturity that happens post adult hood is to realize that other people can relate to the world in entirely different ways than you do. It's not your job to change their world view, and if you try it will be resented.

Specifics
- Computer friend: You fixed his problem, but didn't solve his *need*. This is a really important distinction and a key to understanding people. What your friend needed was a reliable computer he could intuitively use and understand. If he's comfortable with Windows or Mac, then putting Linux on his box may not enamor him of you, even if *you* like it and it solves his problems for *you*. He may not care about learning a new OS, and to force it on him is not kind.

- Side Dish friend: He brought the food, if he says it's "X", it's "X". If I bring the beer, I can call it coke all I want and I'll be right, and if you told me I was wrong, well you'd be beerless. In your mind there is this objective truth that for most people doesn't exist. Showing me a wikipedia that says coke comes in a red can and beer in a glass bottle, still wouldn't get you any beer from me until you admitted it was coke. I don't have to give an inch because there's no reason to change my reality because of your whims.

- Sister skipping wedding: Ok, wtf? It's her money, why should she spend it on you? Really. If you love her, you'd understand her position. Or is it she should do it because she should love you so much? (see what I did there?). She could a bazillion-aire but if she doesn't want to pay to go to your wedding, it's her perogative, and it's not yours for calling it on her. This is a case where facts about why have absolutely no bearing on anything. She doesn't want you to find a fix to her problem because her problem isn't what you think it is. She doesn't feel like flying half-way around the world for your wedding. Speaking of someone who had their wedding half-way around the world from his family, I can say I understand her position. No one from my family came to the wedding, nor did I expect them too. It's a huge hassle, even when you can afford it.

- Father selling the car: Your father should have mentioned that he wanted to sell the car. However, either a) he didn't want the confrontation and lecture on how to best sell a car or b) he mentioned it to you, but you missed it. Either way I can see why he did what he did, but that doesn't make it right. But if you focus on the car, you're missing the bigger picture, which is you shut down communication by your attitude and actions.

So, what do you need to do? You need to realize that other people hold beliefs and have reasons for doing things that are not yours to question or debate. Unless they directly ask you for advice, don't give it to them. Unsolicited advice (even if correct) is rarely appreciated. My advice for your specific situations:

-Computer friend: Apologize for being pompous. Avoid doing anything to fix the computer problem, don't say you can put Windows on the machine or anything like that, it's too late for that. Just apologize and be nice to him.

-Food friend: You should have said "X or Y, this stuff is damn good" and left it at that. See the name of the food is not important to the social interaction. I'm not sure what you can do now, maybe if he visits again offer him some X which is exactly his definition of X. But this can be tricky if he's still defensive about it. If so, then an apology is the best you can do.

-Sister: Apologize. Say "I love you sis, and it's fine if you can't come to the wedding. If you'd like we'll stop by your place when we're back in the states."

-Father: This one is tricky, because it depends on what you want. I'll assume you want a good relationship with your father, so go with "Dad, sorry I dumped the car on you for so long, hopefully you got enough out of it to cover the cost of keeping it". And write off the monetary loss to a lesson learned. If you're more concerned about the money than the relationship than a different tact is needed.

This is long already, so I'll just make one more point. See all that stuff above, it's only appropriate for me to shove it in your face because you specifically asked for my opinion. My whole spiel would be decidedly rude if I provided it to you without your asking.

Best of luck.
posted by forforf at 5:59 PM on July 5, 2009 [14 favorites]


You have to choose your battles sometimes!
posted by JoannaC at 6:00 PM on July 5, 2009


OP - notice how Tarumba has tried to make this thread all about her? That's you. If we engaged with Tarumba, we'd waste a bunch of energy trying to make her see our point of view, when fundamentally she just wants to be right. But it's not a contest that anyone can win. Next time you feel like getting into a discussion with someone, use the following response as a model for how you might act in a way that isn't confrontational and off-putting:


Tarumba: I hadn't thought about it that way before. You may be right, and I can certainly understand how you might feel that way. You've certainly given us all something to think about. Thanks.
posted by logicpunk at 6:01 PM on July 5, 2009 [14 favorites]


There are norms in human interaction and you seem outside them.

Did you ever have anyone get too close to you when talking... violating your personal space? You know how that feels? It may be the way you are making other people feel.

I think I was a lot like you in my teens and twenties, and every now and then I run across someone who is like me/you. In a prior era, I might have engaged them and butted heads, but now, I make a rapid qualitative assessment of how they fit in my world, and decide the level of effort demanded by the relationship. If they fall in the "Don't care" tier of things, I politely excuse myself, or hand them off to someone, or impolitely excuse myself. I try and make an assessment of how my treatment will be greeted by those around that I DO care about, and factor that in, but usually, they don't get sought out.

How to you change? You're good at being a know it all, so why not study proper interaction a bit? Dale Carnegie is a very dated, but rather universally applicable read. If no one (including YOU) has taught you how to behave, you'll be much better off after a few reads of "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Even if it is antique, your skills seem so missing that it will probably help. There are actually Dale Carnegie courses (expensive) that are effective at helping you develop social skills. It's like music, or better yet, dancing. It takes learning the moves, practice, constant refresh.

You are to be praised for asking the questions about yourself. You intuitively sense that something's wrong. Casual outsiders reading your question can see it. I've found that when I hear the same thing from people about how I am acting, it's usually a good idea to pay attention. They have to overcome some major barriers to mention it. We generally don't like to yell at people or insult them. Civilization depends on well maintained boundaries.

I, for one, don't think you are an asshole. You might be more insecure than you think, though. I know my intellect and verbal skills were compensation for being raised in bad circumstances and I beat people over the head with my brains. Still do, a lot, but much better at 55 than I was at 30. Maybe you're doing something compensatory, too?

Be gentle with yourself. You have the capacity to be a wonderful person. Your smarts will show through to perceptive people, but don't confuse being right with wisdom and charity.

Go and learn how good people act and try, try, try to be like them. It's good for the species!
posted by FauxScot at 6:01 PM on July 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Are you me?

It's hard because I don't feel like I am being defensive, I just feel like I am explaining to people why I acted the way I did. That seemed logical to me, but someone recently helped me to understand that others just don't see it that way. So now I try to just hold my tongue even though it kills me!

I'll eagerly await responses because I am sure I can learn from them too! You are not alone. :)
posted by NHlove at 6:07 PM on July 5, 2009


Hi fellow expat in China,

In these situations, take a deep breath and let it go. Try listening, really listening and not just thinking about what you will say next. Don't be so defensive and argumentative when you perceive someone as "wrong." In the end, it really doesn't matter. Repeat this to yourself until you believe it.

He tells me people don't even want to meet me because they hear I always start fights over little things.

This is a very telling remark about how you are being perceived.

I think my need to “call [things/people] out” is something I know most socially healthy people don't have.

Yes, because it is generally perceived as rude. This will immediately send a message of how you perceive the other person as being inferior to you.

I know someone who is very much like you. An intelligent and funny guy, but definitely a know-it-all and often comes off as both smug and inappropriately domineering. He will try to beat you over the head with his own opinions, and being on a quiz night team with him is a total nightmare, because not only does no one else on the team get to give an answer as he is obviously always right, he is also that asshole in the room ranting loudly about why the answer is wrong. He doesn't read social cues very well. He also has a real desire to be the center of attention - perhaps this is also part of your problem?

At any rate, even though we have a lot in common, I can't bear to be in the same room as this person. In general day-to-day conversations, I want to have a dialogue and share ideas, not a monologue about why the other person is right and I am not.

If you must be "right", get a blog. On the internet there is always someone willing to argue with you over the facts!
posted by so much modern time at 6:07 PM on July 5, 2009


There's some emotion clouding your logic with regard to your family--or, some logic clouding your emotions? Knowing (and even proving) facts won't keep your family from hurting you, or keep your relationships with them intact or healthy. Your parents' lack of logic may be damaging to your family relationships, so could your insistence on logic be damaging as well.

With regard to your social life outside your family, you need to practice letting people be wrong. Seriously, take it on like an exercise regimen. If someone says something you know to be inaccurate or untrue, but it doesn't hurt you, make yourself keep quiet:

You: What's that dish called?
Friend: X
You: Huh, ok, cool.

Recognize that in all of these examples you've given, you're not acting logically or rationally: you're acting on emotion. You have an emotional need to "be right" or to prove your case. The rational thing to do when you have a silly disagreement is to let it drop and go on your way confident that you're correct but open to the possibility that your friend--yes, friend, not "opponent"--could also be right.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:07 PM on July 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


What am I doing that's pissing everyone off so bad? I'm a friendly guy, really, but I feel like I drive a lot of people away.

This:

I go crazy though when I hear people say something that just isn't true – especially if it's easily verifiable. I regard sticking to a key “fact” or strong opinion while being unable to qualify, back down from, or verify as one of the worst character traits possible.


If someone calls a dish by the wrong name, and it's easily googleable, then just google it yourself and leave him out of it. Maaaaybe trying asking once "Are you sure that's the name?" and then letting it drop. If your friends and family want to do different things with respect to computers, selling cars, spending their money, you need to realize that there is no one correct logical answer to these decisions. I wouldn't want Ubuntu on my computer, or to hassle with getting the best price for a car, or drop over a thousand dollars to go to a wedding, either.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:08 PM on July 5, 2009


People who think they are logical and rational invariably are not. In fact, they usually come off as more irrational because they are blind to the ways that they twist and distort and rationalize. Everyone does it, and you are no exception.

You still have the mind of a student. You are trying to prove yourself to some imagined, objective third person. This method can get you good results in school, but it may not carry you everywhere you want in real life. You really need to sit down and consider what are the results you want and learn how to pursue those even when they aren't aligned with your seeming passion for being pushy about correctness in small details.

(Willingness to argue shallow surface details while being clueless about subtext? I see why College Republicans were buddies of yours.)
posted by fleacircus at 6:10 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Try this: The next time you're with someone, encourage them to do most of the talking. When you feel an urge to talk, don't make it about you or about some fact that you know. Make it a question about them. Not a challenge, but a question of mild curiosity, such as "How long have you lived here?" or some other seemingly banal query. Every time you feel the urge to talk about yourself or to correct them, instead ask a genuine question about them.

When they're talking, instead of noting the factual errors they've made or deciding how you can show how much you know, you'll have to really listen to them and find the next thing you're going to ask a question about (such as, "What was it like to work in Iran?" instead of "Iran? Interesting. I spent three months in Dubai becoming fluent in Arabic and...") .

You'll learn more about why people think and act the way they do, and you'll stop thinking so much about yourself and stop believing that you must be publicly recognized as "right." If you do this faithfully and regularly, people will magically start liking you more.
posted by PatoPata at 6:10 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I consider myself a know-it-all yet even I winced when I read your story of attempting to prove someone wrong about the name of a certain food. It would have been enough to say "Oh, I always thought this was called ___" and dropping the subject, rather than immediately offering to check Wikipedia to prove him wrong. Who cares if he's wrong?

In these kind of situations it really depends on the person. With some of my friends I might very well offer to settle an argument by Wikipedia, but that's because we always have friendly arguments that are settled by Wikipedia.
posted by pravit at 6:10 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


It sounds as if those people that you had problems with were dicks themselves. I wouldn't say it's your problem; it's theirs.

I have a very, very similar outlook on things. I have an extremely hard time tolerating ignorance and incompetence. I do manage to tolerate it, but I have to work really hard to tolerate it (c.f. some people I'm working with as of late - I have to repeatedly tell them how to, say, measure out a chemical for a reaction and they do it wrong after the sixth fucking time and I tell them nicely that, as I've said before, you measure from the bottom of the meniscus for aqueous solutions, but inside I want to throttle them)

Separate the wheat from the chaff and do your best to hang around, as much as possible, those of us who are generally secure and not easy to intimidate.

Don't act overly defensive, either, and pick your battles a little. The examples you gave have very different amounts of importance in terms of whether you should stand your ground or maybe not concern yourself too much with it.

But keep in mind that most people are just fucking morons. Don't openly say it, but it's a nice thing to remember. Hanlon's razor and its corollary are entirely true.
posted by kldickson at 6:11 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, your family doesn't sound wonderful — but whose does? We have only your perspective on it, but, yeah, a family history of being lied to can lead to someone aggressively defending the truth as a way of trying to keep a connection with reality.

I might suggest that you look for an outlet for this need of yours while you simultaneously work on developing the ability to tone it down. This could give you a chance to do your thing — maybe some debate group, maybe some time on the Snopes forums, and so forth. Search for places where being right and a reputation for it are more important than being nice, then you can do your thing without having to feel like your current tendencies are being crushed up in a little box.
posted by adipocere at 6:12 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I agree with most of the above, and I'd add that your tone suggests you came here for validation.

I used to be very much like you, although it was while I was younger. My problem was, I placed every single ounce of my self-worth on my intelligence. I had been placed in advanced classes from a young age, and every adult around me praised my intelligence... and nothing else. Because of this, I undervalued every other positive trait I had, to the point where I actually felt that without my intelligence, I had literally nothing. I remember thinking that if I ever had an accident that made me less intelligent, I would kill myself, because what else was there to life?

This resulted in my trying to show off my intelligence to everyone I met. I wasn't trying to hurt their feelings. I just wanted them to see I was smart, because I thought everyone else felt like me. Unless they saw how smart I was, they wouldn't have any reason to notice me, much less like me.

As it turns out, though, people just don't give a shit. That can hurt to hear if being smart is important to you. But when I'm choosing qualities in a friend, there are SO many things that matter more. Things like kindness, willingness to listen, a sense of fun, a sense of humor. I've tried to develop those qualities in myself, and to downplay my urges to show off my intelligence. And I have ten times as many friends as I did when I only cared about being smart.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:16 PM on July 5, 2009 [16 favorites]


Yeah I have to admit, having someone get their blackberry (or iphone or whatever), to prove a point in a conversation over dinner would put me off a bit. To me, someone so determined to prove they are right about something points to a personality weakness.

If you know you are right in your own mind, then why isn't that enough for you? Why are you so determined to make sure those around you know that you are right and they are wrong?

Focus on the big picture... why does it matter to you that they know you are right? Or that you went to the n'th degree to prove whether you were right or not? If it does really matter i.e. someone will miss a flight, not make it to hospital, make a big mistake, then sure, make a big deal about it. If it doesn't matter, then gracefully agree to disagree and move on.
posted by Admira at 6:19 PM on July 5, 2009


People don't like to be wrong or ignorant about something they thought they knew about. It can be particularly embarrassing when there is an audience. There are contexts in which finding answers or correcting information is important and valuable, but I don't think you can discern that right now. So, as many people have suggested, let it go, and if you are truly that curious, figure it out for your own edification, but don't go back to the incorrect or unknowledgeable person unless they have directly asked you to do so.

In the instance of the car and your sister, while your points are valid, they also have valid points of view. It all depends on how much weight you give to certain factors. That is going to change from person to person and their relation to the situation. In the case of the car, you didn't take care of it before you left, and they are doing you a favor. Thus, they think you should go forward with the sale, and just be glad you have an offer at all. You want a fair price for your car, and feel they should get you a better offer. Both perspectives are totally understandable, and what is "right" is completely subjective.

As for your sister, I understand why you are hurt, but nobody has any business telling someone how to spend their money or judge how they do so. Furthermore, if someone is uncomfortable obtaining funds through a personal loan or whatever, that is entirely their own call. From her perspective, the overseas trip was too expensive and too cumbersome for her to undertake. From your perspective, it should have been something she valued as much as you did. Again, both points of view have validity, and the decision of what perspective has more weight is going to vary from person to person.

I think you mean well, but you need to develop a more nuanced evaluation of what people want (for example, solution or just someone to listen) or find acceptable (for example, what you want them to do vs. what they want to do). Maybe you can approach this like you would more straightforward issues. Try taking some time as an observation period. Keep notes, not just of what others do and say, but also what your instincts are. You may find a pattern that will help you figure out when people are receptive to your help and when they are not. You may also develop better ways to approach conflict so your relationships remain intact. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 6:19 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know a lot of things. About facts, I am almost always right. I read about 300 books a year, mostly non-fiction. I am not, though (I don't think), a know-it-all in conversation. Some realizations that have helped me not be a know-it-all:

1. There is more than one right choice, always. You're disappointed by the choice your dad made getting rid of your car; you'd have liked a choice, perhaps, that maximized the amount of money it sold for. They chose the path-of-least-resistance choice, the one that netted (maybe) less money but was straightforward to accomplish. Their choice is as good as yours; different people have different priorities.

2. Face-to-face conversations in social settings are not the place to educate people or persuade them. They are the place to enjoy social interactions, and my decisions about my conduct should maximize that. That means not pointing out small errors ("I think you mean Theodore Roosevelt.") and, unless people say something really egregious, not getting into arguments. A blog is a good place to have those other kinds of conversations.

Some practical tips:

1. You can actually say you disagree about something without starting an argument. "I have different feelings about that...but I wouldn't want to get into an argument. How are you liking your fish?" Sometimes people will then ask you to say a bit about your opinion, and, having been invited, you can do so, in a low-key way. This is an advanced technique and an argumentative know-it-all should not attempt to use it until managing some period of time without arguing at all.

2. For small factual errors or disagreements, a self-deprecating "I always thought it was pronounced *this way*, but I could be wrong!" and a shrug alerts the other person that they may be mistaken (and, if they care about that kind of thing, they can look the answer up later) while not being argumentative.

3. If you really can't stand to sit there and listen to someone rant on about something foolish, don't. Excusing yourself to use the bathroom can keep you away from the table long enough that the topic changes.

That said, one thing that happens when people know you are well-informed but not argumentative or pushy is that people seek you out. I often have friends say, "Hey, you read a lot...what do you know about Topic X?" At this point, you are giving solicited advice, which is a very different thing.
posted by not that girl at 6:22 PM on July 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


A lot of people are saying, and will say, that "being right isn't the most important thing" or "you just have to let it go" or "you're not being fun" or (possibly the least helpful to my thinking) "you need to lighten up."

Here's the deal: you have to decide what is more important than being right. Focus on that instead.
posted by amtho at 6:24 PM on July 5, 2009


You sound just like my husband. He sometimes comes across as an elitist, but he's been working on it and is doing better. Just relax, don't try to prove you know better, live your life and let them live theirs.
posted by sporaticgenius at 6:31 PM on July 5, 2009


I have this problem too. I am a know-it-all (hence answering this question). The way to stop feeling bad about yourself is to get over it. So what if people are wrong about inconsequential stuff? I usually only butt in if a life is in danger, like when my sister decided to not get her kids vaccinated. Other than that, who cares? But if you still feel you need to prove you are right, then face the consequences. People will be annoyed with you. Sometimes I choose to be a know-it-all and choose to have people annoyed with me. It can be amusing.
posted by fifilaru at 6:35 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I heard it said by a very happy person a while back -- "After years of always having to be right, I came to the realization that I'd rather be happy than right."
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:35 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


To a lot of other answerers on this post -

I don't like this decrying of reasoned debate at all costs. It smacks somewhat of anti-intellectualism. Can we find a happy solution that does not require ditching one's integrity?
posted by kldickson at 6:37 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Would you rather be right, or be happy?
posted by seawallrunner at 6:43 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


As someone who can veer into the know-it-all range, and definitely isn't perfect about avoiding coming off badly, here's what helps me.

Some people are looking to complain and vent, not for a solution to their problems. Practice being a good listener.

Learn the differences in argumentative styles in your friends. (Just think: one more thing you could know!) Some people, like your college republican friend are perfectly happy discussing which color in the rainbow is best. Most people are not, and want to either vent, or have help weighing the pluses and minuses of a situation before making the decision themselves.

Think before you speak. Never back someone into a corner, let them save face. It's great that you say you can lose an argument gracefully - but you're not having arguments with your friends, you're attacking them. In the example of the friend who gave you the wrong name for the dish, you gave him no way to back down with out losing face. (Also, he might have been correct - sometimes different dishes have the same or very similar name, or it could have just been the name his family used for it for whatever reason.)

Finally, remember that there are many types of intelligence. There's the kind that helps you memorize facts, there the kind that helps you use logic to formulate debates, and (maybe most importantly in real-life application) there is social intelligence. Try to work on that latter.
posted by fermezporte at 6:43 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


kldickson - there's a BIG difference between "reasoned debate" and "OMG you just said that this wine is from the South of France, I know for a fact it's from the NORTH, allow me to pull out my Blackberry at the dinner table and prove you wrong!!"

I fear the OP is the kind of guy to do the latter.
posted by tristeza at 6:44 PM on July 5, 2009 [8 favorites]


I go crazy though when I hear people say something that just isn't true – especially if it's easily verifiable. I regard sticking to a key “fact” or strong opinion while being unable to qualify, back down from, or verify as one of the worst character traits possible.

Online Asperger's Syndrome test
posted by aquafortis at 6:49 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


tristeza - actually, that was one point I wanted to make, which ties into the 'pick your battles' sort of thing. I wouldn't make a giant deal about, say, where a wine's from. Perhaps find a way to work that into the conversation as sort of a friendly aside in the spirit of general discussion.
posted by kldickson at 6:51 PM on July 5, 2009


I don't like this decrying of reasoned debate at all costs. It smacks somewhat of anti-intellectualism. Can we find a happy solution that does not require ditching one's integrity?

I'd argue it takes much more personal integrity to avoid pettily correcting a friend on the name of a food he shared with you or judging your sister re: her husband and her use of money than to follow the urge to win an argument you started.

What does any of that have to do with intellectualism? This isn't debate team, nor a foreign policy discussion.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:56 PM on July 5, 2009 [15 favorites]


Everything I'm about to say applies only to your relationships with friends and colleagues. Family is always a minefield laid in quicksand and yours sounds especially difficult. Maybe you need a bit more separation from them?

None of the 'blow up' examples are the full story, I'd bet. They were just the last straw and you didn't even notice the small things that led to them being the breaking point.

Please ponder this. Ask your spouse to help you identify when things started going pear-shaped. Enlist her help in learning to recognize in future interactions when you're veering off into obnoxious-asshole territory. You clearly are unable to read the signals. (I know you think you're responsive and flexible, with your anti-pigheaded safeguards -- but I guarantee you're the only one on the planet who thinks so.)

And, as everyone has said, learn how to let stuff go. For instance, in the name-that-dish situation, things should never have reached the point where you were Googling images to prove your point. That's well outside the boundaries of standard social discourse. Yes, it's frustrating to not only have your correctness unacknowledged but also not get the info you wanted in the first place -- but is that worth wrecking a friendship over? "He tells me people don't even want to meet me because they hear I always start fights over little things." -- he tells you that because that's exactly what you were doing. And in front of his mother!

In this particular case, you said the situation was "unresolved and brewing." One thing that would get you closer to resolution: say to your friend something like, "Look, I'm really sorry I pushed so hard the other day. I know I have a tendency to do that and it upsets people so I'm really trying to change that. I value your friendship, so please understand that if I start up again, it's not about you. Just tell me, 'Hey, jackass, you're doing that thing again.' Okay?"

NB: Only say this if you truly mean it, if you want to change and are willing to actually listen to what other people say and then act on it. If that friend isn't the right person to trust on jackass patrol, find one or two others. Regardless -- a sincere apology would be both reasonable and practical.

For what it's worth, I think a lot of this comes from surviving as a child in a household where black was frequently called white.

That's worth quite a bit. You recognize why you have such a strong emotional attachment to finding some objective truth and getting everyone else to sign on. Now take that insight a few steps further. Next time you find yourself itching to google some back-up in defense of a minor and meaningless point -- remind yourself that you're no longer that child. Your friend (co-worker, whatever) is neither your father nor step-mother. Your frenzied inability to let it go is prompted by old, old stuff, stuff you can and should leave behind. Learn to react to what's in front of you.

Anon, I've been there. I know it feels like a defeat, a betrayal of your deepest self, to just let stuff slide. (Wrong stuff! Stupid stuff! Obviously stupid and wrong stuff!) It's not, I promise. Let the minor stuff go.

You'll always notice the stupid wrongness -- that's part of who you are -- but you don't have to dig in as if you were defending the Marne every single goddamn time. Your stubbornness and relentless focus can be valuable tools, in the right situations. Learn to use them, or be used by them.
posted by dogrose at 6:57 PM on July 5, 2009 [8 favorites]


Even if you know you're right, you might not be. So if you must correct someone, bring it up with the idea that you're probably wrong, and that you're thankful to have your misconception righted.

So in the take-out dish example. Don't just assume you're right and the friend must be wrong. Assume the friend is right, and your idea of the other dish is wrong. "Oh, really? I thought that ____ was that one dish with the mushrooms and the sauce, etc".

Use your friend's reaction to judge if he really wants to be corrected or not. "Oh, you know what, you might be right." would mean you can say, "Hmm, I don't know then. I'll look it up later because I definitely want to order this again." And then you can look it up later and tell him.

But "No, I don't think so." means your friend doesn't care enough to want to know the truth about that. In that case just let it go.

You should still dial down the number of times you do that, though, probably.
posted by losvedir at 6:57 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


My version of MS Word counted 64 uses of the word "I". Despite the fact that you wrote this long piece about yourself to solicit the feedback of strangers, the constant self-referencing signals, to me at least, that you currently have a limited interest in, or capacity to, view the world from another person's perspective. Frankly, your essay struck me as narcissistic, and it leads me to wonder if that's how your friends/family view you, and whether or not that is what they are reacting so strongly to.

It also could be the case that this has been going on for a while and many people have started reaching their tipping point simultaneously.

My suggestion: think hard before you speak. During my residency, a number of my colleagues gave me the same type of feedback. Since then, one strategy that I've employed with a good bit of success is this - think before talking. My wife has been hugely helpful in my mastering this. Literally, consciously think about what is about to come out of your mouth before you say it, and most importantly, consciously consider the impact that it will have on the person who you are saying it to. Not the impact that they should have by your standards, since that means nothing. But instead the impact that you think that they will have based on your putting yourself into their shoes. If the latter isn't possible, then you may have a bigger problem than you realize, and may want to see more formal assistance.
posted by scblackman at 7:00 PM on July 5, 2009


fauxscott: I, for one, don't think you are an asshole. You might be more insecure than you think, though. I know my intellect and verbal skills were compensation for being raised in bad circumstances and I beat people over the head with my brains. Still do, a lot, but much better at 55 than I was at 30. Maybe you're doing something compensatory, too?

I was like you back in the day, OP. I think it came out of a deep-seated need to be heard, and validated. I was neither heard nor validated in the family I grew up in, in fact the things I knew about and valued and was good at were viewed with derision in that environment. So outside of that environment I was always on the alert for situations that called for my knowledge/expertise. I was simultaneously arrogant and needy, which is how you sound.

But the thing is, we are all walking around with a library's worth of information in our heads and a partial lifetime's worth of experience. The other person, too, has all that information and experience. If you're only interested in instructing/helping that person, you don't have opportunities to learn what they know. Social intelligence, for example.

You're getting a lot of people saying "dude you're an asshole," which doesn't really help you get the chip off your shoulder. To do that, you have to look into how the chip got there in the first place.
posted by headnsouth at 7:05 PM on July 5, 2009 [12 favorites]


Read and reread and then read again Comrad Robot's response until you get it. I would favorite this 100 times if I could.
posted by murrey at 7:11 PM on July 5, 2009


There are a couple examples of the "repellent, self-centered Aspie" archetype in this very thread, almost as an object lesson in What Not To Emulate. You might be right most of the time, but you are not fun to hang out with.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:22 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Arguing about provable fact is not reasoned debate, and debate/argument/spirited conversation that is meat to some is anathema to others. For example, I don't discuss politics in social settings - I just don't. However, there's often that one person who thinks my change of subject signals that I just don't know The Truth (or, sometimes, that I am embarrassed about what I think, and that public airing is good for the soul).

Don't be that guy. Reasoned debate requires consensual participation by everyone involved, including the people who have to listen to one person at the table setting another person on the right path.
posted by catlet at 7:25 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


One of the most valuable pieces of advice I've ever received:

In this world, you can be oh-so-smart or oh-so-pleasant. For years, I was smart; I recommend pleasant.
posted by pecanpies at 7:38 PM on July 5, 2009


One technique I've been deploying recently to prevent me from just blurting out "No, you're wrong." is, if i think i've heard something said that I don't think is correct, I'll politely ask them to "go over that again, I didn't quite get it" or "Sorry, I think I spaced out for a second, could you say that once more?" This has two functions:
1. It gets them to think it over once more and rephrase/restate... sometimes, they'll have caught their own mistake on the second go round... gold star for them.
2. It gives me time, if the mistake is repeated, to make sure that I understand them, really, and also decide if it's a crucial point that needs (GENTLE, VERY GENTLE) dissent or a trivial point that I just say, huh, okay. Then move away from.
All of your friends-based examples were decidedly of the latter, trivial points that should just be walked away from.
I propose an experiment for you, DO get a blog, or a journal or anything, wherein, everytime you've walked away instead of scoring a "you're wrong!" point you can then go and write down for yourself or posteriety what you totally knew and they totally did not. After about 10-15 of these look back and see how it makes you feel.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:42 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


The car thing is a family thing, not really related to the rest of your post.

I'm a know-it-all. I find it gratifying to know facts and to tell them to people. I hate being corrected, especially if I'm right. But many years ago I decided to force myself not to give advice or information unless asked, and to be extremely tactful about it even if someone does ask me. I also vowed not to correct anyone, unless I know they'll find it interesting. (Some grammar- and vocabu-philes don't mind.) I guess I'd make an exception if safety were involved, but that hasn't come up.

I stopped because I realized it worked against the main purpose of conversation, which is usually to connect with someone, to have a pleasant moment, to enjoy one another's company, to kill time harmelessly, etc. Once I quit with the info and corrections and vindication, I found I really wasn't losing anything... and other people had a nicer time.

The kinds of things you describe can be fun as a hobby or sport, if you do them with similarly-inclined people.
posted by wryly at 7:45 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think everybody else has already made the important point that if you want to get along with people it doesn't work to make a federal case about every little detail where you perceive them to be in the wrong.

That point being made already, I'll make a different one. If you really care so much about being as factually correct as possible in your own beliefs and words, you'll do much better to spend more time listening and less time correcting. Even assuming that you are an highly intelligent, well-educated, well-read person, it is inevitable that you are mistaken in many of your beliefs - that's just a consequence of being human. From personal experience, I can say that you will learn to correct those mistakes a lot more quickly if you assume some humility and entertain the idea that you might be in the wrong rather than always jumping in to correct others. Even if you turn out to be in the right 90% of the time, that remaining 10% offers you a lot of room to grow and learn.

(You might think that starting a big debate will help you discover those instances when you are wrong. In general, this isn't the case. First, because the folks that you're picking arguments with likely aren't interested in finding the documentation to prove their point. Secondly, and more importantly, once your brain gets into the whole "debate and prove my opponent wrong" mode, it just isn't primed to notice the possibility that you might be one who is incorrect.)

This point applies even more strongly when you are arguing over something other than "facts". The arguments you describe with your sister and your parents have nothing to do with facts or logic. Neither party is provably "right" or "wrong". You just had different priorities. Your perspective is understandable, but so is your sister's and your father's. If you aren't making the extra effort to see things from their point of view, then why would you expect them to make the effort to see things from yours?
posted by tdismukes at 7:51 PM on July 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Lower your expectations.
posted by plombir at 7:54 PM on July 5, 2009


Did you know that the leaves don't fall off the trees in Autumn? Truth is, they jump off before the squirrels can get them.

- Lucy Van Pelt

Relax, bloke. Learn to argue only when it matters. Then learn to make it matter less often.
posted by flabdablet at 7:55 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


You have two goals in life, 1) make everyone around you happier, and 2) make them better informed. You might not have realized that you have #1, but you do. Your own happiness depends on that of your entourage. Furthermore, #2 should have been an instrument for #1, yet up to now you have been wholly sacrificing #1 in the name of #2. You've been pissing people off by shoving information down their throat for their own betterment. That's not good. Worse, people are not open to new information when they are upset or unhappy. So, by being insensitive to people's emotions, and to how unpleasant it can be to be shown wrong, you have been undermining your entire attempt at #2. Because the people you were talking to were upset at you, all the truth-telling you have been doing has accomplished nothing, or nearly anything at all. If you want to be a source truth in this world, if this matters to you, you will have to find a way to changing people mind's that takes their emotions into account.

From here on, you will only tell people new information if it will make them happier to hear it. Otherwise stay mum and focus on making them happy some other way. Only count points when they say 'geez, thanks for telling me.' If you screw up and make them upset, count -10 points on goal #1, and -5 point on goal #2 (since making them upset reduces your chances of ever changing their mind in the future.)

As you will see, the game of truth telling becomes much harder once you add this rule. There will be precious few opportunities to speak, and you will have to nurture each one for a long time. It's hard enough that you might have to invest a year or two studying how leaders do it before you'll be ready to try it on your own. Good luck.
posted by gmarceau at 8:02 PM on July 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


My dad and brother used to always have to be right with each other, and could argue about the most trivial of trivia for hours, get pissed, call each other names, etc. I have the have-to-be-right gene too, but have managed to repress it.
Get over it. Right now. You are not put on this earth to bring the Truth to other people. Nobody cares.
posted by signal at 8:04 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


To go along with Gravitus, people like you remind me of who I am, or, better yet, who I am trying not to be. I am an outrageous asshole, and pretty much all of my waking time spent interacting with others is me trying to fight against the asshole instincts I've got.

You do not have to be right all the time. People are often wrong. Their opinions are how they feel. If you absolutely must correct them, do it only when correcting them will actually have some sort of benefit. And seriously, think about the way in which you correct them. If you're as smart as you say, and as logical as you say, think before you speak. Choose your words. Are you humiliating someone just so you can be right? Try to change your mindset from "Hah, I win," to "Hey, if they need some help, maybe I can help them."

Accept, however, that some people don't want your help, and in fact, would rather fail on their own than take help from someone else. Or, rather, would rather fail on their own than take help from you due to all the negative energy you've brought them.

Learn to listen, to have a conversation. Conversation doesn't have to involve a winner and loser. In fact, if conversation between friends involves a winner and loser, they probably won't be friends much longer.

Finally, dude, you're in China. Culturally, getting into arguments, jumping up and down to prove you're right, it's embarrassing to everyone involved. You claim to be logical and smart, yet you live in a culture governed by the concept of face. If you're behaving like this around Chinese people, there's a reason they don't like you, you're humiliating them. If you think, "it's okay, I'm only like this to other foreigners," it's not. It's quite common for people to adopt mannerisms of their surroundings. They've learned to play the game, and they play it with varying degrees of success. You're the guy who can't be bothered to learn the game, which, in turn, makes them look bad too.

Seriously, you need to get over the idea that being right, even if you are, just isn't that important. You can be right, if you want, and end up being a bitter old man. Or, you can learn about how normal people interact, how not to pick a fight, how to relax, how to have conversations, and maybe, just maybe, have friends again.

I'm not trying to anger you, or humiliate you. It's that I know you, because I've been you, for many, many years. On my worst days, I still am you, and I hate it. You have a lot of work ahead of you, if you care to do it.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:09 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


My two cents worth: when you have a problem with people after the fact then you aren't getting your contracts right. Every interaction has an implied contract even a minor one like just treating someone nicely. When it gets more complicated, then you have to set your boundaries and make sure people a) understand and b) agree to the same terms as you do. Any result you get that's different than what you expected is either someone violating the contract or you not setting one in the first place.
Whether you are an abrasive know-it-all or just plain old meek-little-helpful-person is immaterial. When you are on the short end of the stick again and again it's probably because you are setting it up that way by ignoring your own implied contractual obligations you are setting for others, meaning you are not making them overt or clearly understood, you are making them covert and then complaining when the process turns out belly up.
If you are getting your contracts clearly lined out, then the rest is all public relations. Schmoozing.
posted by diode at 8:13 PM on July 5, 2009


First.... cool you are in china, wish I were there!

For this problem and just because you mentioned you like being "enlightened" (though being logical and informed does not necessarily make one enlightened) check out some Buddhist Chán or maybe some Taoist temples near you. Get you to chill out a bit and also examine how empty "knowledge" truly is.

Also check out the idea of wu-wei, this may help in some of your interpersonal "friction". Applied here (loosely): unless something is causing you harm or someone directly asks you to intervene... don't impose on them.

If you want to help, help without helping. If you want information, ask without asking, that is to say, don't ask in such a way that if they give you a wrong answer you can bash them over the head for begin wrong--not that you would :) but even the threat of being wrong makes people defensive. And don't help or ask with ego, that will always make things a competition.

But I myself am not enlightened so maybe this is all nonsense... find out for yourself.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 8:15 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


(on belated preview) I just want to say gmarceau speaks wisdom, I think I will use that game.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 8:20 PM on July 5, 2009


You'll notice that there's an exasperated edge to many of the responses. Don't take it personally. The edge probably exists because so many have done what you're doing... and are learning, or have learned, to stop.

Just as an experiment, operate on the following assumption:

People like having the freedom to be wrong, or incompletely informed.


When you are taking away their freedom to be wrong, they will be angry at you for stealing from them.

Refrain from stealing from them, and just notice the results you get.


Also, most people, much of the time, aren't hoping someone is going to do a knowledge-dump on them; if you're assuming that people will think you're stupid if you don't correct them, or that they are trying to get something over on you by saying something incorrect, well, now's the time to use what you probably already know to be true:

When someone is consistently giving people more information than they ask for, he is only proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is no fun to be around; consistently finding ways to let other people think well of themselves, and how much they know, proves that he is a good guy to have around, encourages other people to share the little bits of arcana even the seemingly-stupid have squirreled away (information you can't learn online), and also strongly suggests that he is maybe even a good person to quietly ask for information, when there is something you want to know so badly that you have to ask for it-- because once you've done that, then you can listen, and find something useful in what you now know.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:22 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I bet you have a tone problem, and come across as smug or patronising or even aggressive. Being smart and knowing things isn't a problem. Being right isn't usually a problem. Being a dick is a problem.
posted by The Monkey at 8:28 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't like this decrying of reasoned debate at all costs.

What you (and the OP) are missing is that it's not a debate. It's just life.

the relatively polite “please stop talking shit” message was sent

There is no such thing as a relatively polite "stop talking shit" message. If you're telling someone they're talking shit, you're being rude by definition.

I regard sticking to a key “fact” or strong opinion while being unable to qualify, back down from, or verify as one of the worst character traits possible. In other words, I know I respond negatively to arrogance

Do you see what you did there? What you described isn't arrogance. It's just disagreeing with you.

with a dose of my own unwelcome, but verifiable and condional, “truth”.

Now this is arrogance. Steaming piles of it.

Bask in the warm glow of knowing you're right and they're wrong, if that really makes you happy. But there's no reason you need to tell them about it. And fer chrissakes, try to keep some perspective. I mean come on: you seriously got into a pissing match with someone over the name of a fucking side dish? Seriously? And consider it "unresolved and brewing"? Seriously?

I have a people problem. I have no idea what it is.
He tells me people don't even want to meet me because they hear I always start fights over little things.

I think your people problem may be that you are not listening to what the people around you are telling you about you. Maybe you should start.
posted by ook at 8:36 PM on July 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm a bit like you because my family is like that around each other with no problem. We never take it personally, but I learned really fast that other people don't like that. If you feel the need to correct someone, either just let it go and don't, or if you think it's important, approach with caution. Phrasing is very important. Example:

You: No, this isn't dish X. Dish X is ___.
Other: Yes, it is dish X.
You: No, I'll look it up! I'll ask my wife!
Other: You're a jerk, ugh.

Better way:
You: Oh, is this a kind of dish X? I thought dish X was ____ kind of food?
Other: No, I think it's dish X.
You: Oh, cool. I never heard of this kind of dish X before, it was really good, thanks.

Phrase your correction as a question, and if they don't budge, just let it go!
posted by ishotjr at 8:52 PM on July 5, 2009


I'm actually a bit baffled about the motivation behind your actions. In many of the situations you use as example; your desciption of your own behaviors would lead one to believe these to end less than favorable. As for example the computer, you start as he wants to throw it out, then quickly progress to "When I confronted him". Confrontration generally always puts a negative twist on the situation. A point not up for debate among most.

With your sister you throw in a snide remark about her fiance's car. This sounds juvenal and smacks of pure jealousy. I am not attemping to be cruel, I do respect the fact that you are examing your interactions with others. That is how we all grow. I just wonder if you not only have a need to be right: but if the deeper issue here is that you are OVER sensitive and react out of a need to liked. Trying to prove yourself out of some emotional defense mechanism. Try to focus on the positive and growing. Less confrontation and more listening never hurt any of us. Best of luck.
posted by maggiepie at 8:53 PM on July 5, 2009


(No time, skipping over a lot.)

The fact that you wrote an essay-length post with a sincere question about yourself yet still included "evidence" supporting your "argument" as if you were writing a thesis paper subject to review makes me wonder whether you're capable of not treating life as if it were a combat match between two teams of intellectually rigorous debaters.

Try this trick the next time you go out with someone. When you sit down with them for dinner, instead of facing across from that person, try sitting next to them. It's a different way of looking at the world. It might seem like a small change, but the difference in personal space and physical nearness might make you more empathetic and aware that you don't always have to be at cross-purposes with someone. You don't always have to cross swords.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 9:13 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


A lot of people have been pretty rough on you, and, if I were you, I'd be smarting. However, I do think the advice is good. What I'd like to tell you is one possible long term consequence of not changing. My ex is right. About everything. All the time. And very smart and well educated. And he took enough psych courses to learn how to manipulate and/or humiliate people, usually intentionally. He's also very argumentative and would enjoy nothing better than being captain of the debating team again. The man will argue about anything, must prove everyone else wrong, and will shout you down if you pose a reasonable argument.

Well, 25 years after leaving him, he's still the same according to our DD. He lives alone and has no friends. He doesn't want any because no one is good enough or smart enough. There is no one he considers at his level. Anyone who approaches, including his only child, is constantly told how to do things correctly, what to do, what to think, etc., all because he knows everything better than anyone else possibly could. Of course, I think he's been off the deep end for years and am glad that I left him when DD was small as I can imagine the damage that attitude would do to a child.
posted by x46 at 9:26 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


ook, sometimes it is a debate, sometimes it isn't. It varies depending on the situation. In addition, if one's unable to back up their argument when disagreeing with you, that means their argument is possibly deficient. People may have their own opinions, but nobody is in possession of their own fact.

Solon and Thanks - tristeza thankfully clarified for me, and I did reiterate - that picking one's battles is necessary. The examples you talked about were in fact quite petty.

But sometimes things do come down to issues that deserve debate or pressing the issue, even when the other person really doesn't want to talk about them, and there are times when you have to bring out the metaphorical armory of argumentative skill. These situations do happen; sometimes it is fucking difficult to figure out whether it needs to be argued about or not.
posted by kldickson at 9:37 PM on July 5, 2009


The best way to get people to like you is to be genuinely interested in them. In other words, if you want people to like you, the easiest way to do it is to like them. From the tone of your explanation, it sounds like you don't generally like people because you don't respect them (you think you're smarter, more logical, so probably better). Maybe try to remember that everyone has something to teach you, a different flavour of the life experience to offer, even if they do get something simple (i.e. the name of a dish) wrong. Look at the big picture and stop focussing on the details. There is no objective "right" and "wrong" when it comes to social interactions--at the end of the day, we all just want to be around people that make us feel better about ourselves.
posted by Go Banana at 9:56 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


You seem very intelligent and able to understand what's going on around you. I think your intelligence might make you a bit oblivious to people's feelings, though. Like others have mentioned, Dale Carnegie has some good stuff to help with this problem. Read How to Win Friends and Influence People. Some of the analogies are dated, but the advice is solid. It might seem stupid, but just try the advice in that book for a month. You will be amazed how much easier it is to get along with people.
posted by Happydaz at 10:01 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a friend like this (and I am kinda like this too).

Read "Getting to Yes". It will help you so, so much.
posted by kathrineg at 10:09 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's some info from wikipedia, which has a great outline of the book

Getting to YES (ISBN 1-84413-146-7) is a reference book describing the principled negotiation or negotiation on the merits strategy (also referred to win-win negotiation), as a preferred alternative to positional bargaining.[1] Written by Roger Fisher (professor and Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project), William Ury (negotiation / mediation consultant and director of the Negotiation Network at Harvard University & Associate Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project), and for the Second Edition, Bruce Patton (founder and director of Vantage Partners, Deputy Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project) , first edition 1981, second edition 1991. This book has become a negotiation best seller: over 5 million copies in 20 different languages (in 1999) and has broadly influenced negotiation literature.
posted by kathrineg at 10:10 PM on July 5, 2009


I'm wondering if you might be using questions over the facts of the case to distract yourself from the emotional heart of things.

I believe it's absolutely reasonable that you feel betrayed by a bunch of these situations. What I see is this: your father and stepmother betrayed you as a child by lying and spinning the truth often, so that now, I gather, you feel compelled to check everything. Your sister prioritized a boob job over your wedding and bent the truth about it -- and not, I think, to preserve your feelings. (It's your sister's prerogative to decide not to go to your wedding, yes; and it's your prerogative to decide whether you want to have much of anything to do with her afterwards.) Your brother just got a shockingly sweet deal on your car from your father and stepmother. Your "friend" talked smack about you. You've gotten stepped on, put down, yelled at, and shunted aside. That really stinks. But there's one area in which you can hold your own, and that's facts. So that's where you go. Facts -- that's where you're a Viking. And -- if I may project for a moment -- as long as you go there and stay there, the pain of betrayal isn't quite real. Not as real as verifiable facts.

How your fact-focused combativeness rubs people the wrong way has been, I think, pretty fully described here already. I think there's something else going on as well: if you don't speak from your heart, people tend to assume that you don't have one. (The sarcasm thread from a few weeks back may have some applicable insights for you.) Your feelings become disposable, which mean that you become disposable. When people don't hear your emotions, that very often sets you up for their contempt. At best, speaking about how people are factually wrong clouds the issue and makes it harder for them to hear how hurt or confused you are.

That may be what you're unconsciously aiming for. You may want to marginalize yourself. Wearing your heart on your sleeve is scary, not just because you're vulnerable, but because they are, or at least may be. This way, you get to express your irritation and grief without risking being taken all that seriously. To speak from the heart often means to bring out the big guns. You may not feel ready for that kind of responsibility. Consider how much more impact your admission of feeling betrayed would have had if you hadn't already irritated your sister into defensiveness and self-righteousness. Or if it wouldn't have more impact, consider how awful it would be that she wouldn't particularly care -- are you ready to know that?

So I don't think you need to get over yourself so much as I think you need to start by getting into yourself. Be brave. Let it hang out a little: let your feelings be valid data, and recognize when they're sufficient. Socially, start with the positive -- try to be more open about how much you sincerely and authentically like the people you like.

Someday your fearlessness about getting into a confrontational situation will be a tremendous strength. Right now, I reckon this is a decent demonstration of how our greatest strengths are our worst weaknesses.
posted by sculpin at 10:13 PM on July 5, 2009 [21 favorites]


ook, sometimes it is a debate, sometimes it isn't. It varies depending on the situation.

The OP is speaking specifically about social situations and "exploding relationships," and asking why nobody seems to like him. These situations are not debates. There is no value in "winning" these situations. Being factually correct in these situations carries no value.

In addition, if one's unable to back up their argument when disagreeing with you, that means their argument is possibly deficient. People may have their own opinions, but nobody is in possession of their own fact.

This is, simultaneously, all three of the following: true, fundamentally irrelevant, and a perfect demonstration of exactly what I'm talking about.
posted by ook at 10:14 PM on July 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


I don't intend to be harsh to you, OP. I think others have pointed out, and you'd likely agree, that you were an asshole with the food thing and the computer thing.

Family stuff is different, but you should probably assume that you aren't being as gracious as you could have been/should have been.

Just remember that your Emotional IQ and your Social IQ are just as important, and sometimes more important than the booksmart smarts.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 10:23 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


People like you are often just exhausting to be around, what with worrying that every little thing coming out of our mouths will be evaluated for its truth and factual origin and we might be called to defend any or all of it. Ultimately, most people are just going to figure you're more trouble than you're worth. The actual blow outs are probably not about the thing you're arguing about right then (except for the stuff with your family which sounds like some other dysfunction) but about them just being fed up and realizing that they don't need to hang out with you and deal with it anymore. Most of these problems could just be solved by shutting up.
posted by marylynn at 10:25 PM on July 5, 2009


You'll notice that there's an exasperated edge to many of the responses. Don't take it personally. The edge probably exists because so many have done what you're doing... and are learning, or have learned, to stop.

This needs repeating. This may look like, and for all purposes be, a pile on. But I can guarantee a lot of us are replying so strongly because we see ourselves in your post.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:58 PM on July 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Your question reminded me of one of my favorite quotes (and apologies that I cannot recall whose it is):

It is always easier to be right than to be helpful.

This is one of my favorites because it's so easy for all of us to get so wound up in proving how right we are that we forget how to treat each other as humans. You are getting into trouble because your first instinct is to prove that you are right. But you are the only one who cares about that. No one else gets gratification from learning that they were wrong and you were right. Your friends, your family... all they care about is if you can show them that you love them. Put them first and put the ego away. Another way of looking at these scenarios: your ego isn't who you are. If you can let go of your ego, literally swallow your pride, you (and all of us) gain so much.
posted by ohyouknow at 11:29 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ook really nailed it with their last comment.

sometimes it is fucking difficult to figure out whether it needs to be argued about or not.

No, it's not. Ask yourself if the person is looking to debate the point. If they are, then go ahead and argue; if they're not, then treat it as an opportunity to learn what they think; if you can't tell, err on the side of social gracefulness.
posted by fatbird at 11:41 PM on July 5, 2009


The closest, dearest person in my life was a variation of you, and it is over because of the dynamics you describe, OP. You are not "arrogant" by your own volition. It's quasi uncontrollable. You have difficulties at taking perspective (otherwise known as troubled theory of mind). When you are being "nice", as you indicate, you are acting from scripts, but as time passes, you face situations that are more complex, involve more personal investment/responsibility, and there are no scripts to apply, and logic fails. Wise people will see your logic fail, inevitably. There are many levels of logic, take a humble stance where you cannot make sure you are at the top level.

As to the way to go: do not spread yourself thin in all these interactions. Concentrate on your primary relationship - your wife, as nurturing this relationship is your one priceless chance to grow. Next possibly come your professional endeavors.
posted by Jurate at 12:11 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I used to think everyone corrected "wrongness" all the time and the reason they corrected me less was because I was wrong less often. No, I was wrong about that. They corrected me less often because they had better social skills than me. To put it really simply- and it took me a zillion years to learn this and I still forget frequently, but here is the new rule for you: CORRECTING PEOPLE IS JUST NOT ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR IN SOCIAL INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER ADULTS. Do not do it any more- you hear me? Never correct another adult ever again unless they are specifically paying you to teach them something- and your social life will improve dramatically.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:50 AM on July 6, 2009 [23 favorites]


I correct people, but mostly people I really don't like who I wish would go away. You know what? They often do go away.

I'm guessing it's probably related.
posted by nat at 1:01 AM on July 6, 2009


You are EXACTLY like someone I work with, and I can tell you that working with her is a waking nightmare. You are the type of person who only likes people who think you're fantastic.

The incident with the 'specific regional cuisine' is most telling. You jump down his throat with threats to surf wikipedia and scan Google images to prove him wrong in a conversation where it is obvious the other guy doesn't even remotely give a crap.

This is your problem, it is the 500lb gorilla in the room that you know is right, and yet, its absence in your post is just as telling as if you had written it in 72 point caps.

You are extremely insecure about yourself.

But rather than try to fix that, you find it easier just to shit on those who seeme more well-adjusted and happy with themselves (read: 'everybody else').

The tone of this post might seem harsh, but I actually feel sorry for you. The fact you can't disengage yourself from the people around you is a shame, a real goddamn shame. And it comes from such a deep core inside you that its going to be very difficult for you to fix without some major restructuring. In fact, I am willing to take a Pepsi challenge that you will ignore all of the good advice people have given you here. Because that would admit that the problem is entirely of your own creation and that you are, *gasp*, wrong.

Good luck.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 1:11 AM on July 6, 2009


I think your problem is that you are very egotistical.

It is hard to make friends if you are very egotistical.

You have to learn to be more selfless if you want people to stick around.

"But I am being selfless!" you say. "I helped my friend with his computer!"

No, you would have helped your friend if your friend found the OS acceptable. Apparently, he did not. In which case, you COULD have helped your friend by saying, "I hear you are unhappy with your computer now. I'm sorry about that. I assumed you'd be thrilled with it, and apparently you aren't." But no, you told him to stop talking shit about you. Why? Because it seems your feel your reputation is more important than whether or not you actually helped anybody.

Message you are sending to the world: "If you don't like the way I helped you, too bad. And don't talk to other people about it, either."

Is this the kind of person you enjoy being? Is this the kind of person you want to be?

You seem to lack a generosity of spirit towards people. In each of your scenarios, it seems like there was a more generous, noble way to act, and you took the more small-minded route. Read over each of your scenarios. What would a more magnanimous person have done?

You seem like a man clutching a bag of pennies. Each penny represents a time in your life when you have been right about something. Your fist is clenched around this bag, it's all you ever think about. Meanwhile, you miss entire chests of gold lying along the side of the road. You can't even bother with those chests of gold...you are convinced you must protect your bag of pennies.
posted by thisperon at 5:01 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm wondering if you might be using questions over the facts of the case to distract yourself from the emotional heart of things.

Pretty much nails it, I think.

Your people problem is this: you're not one of them. In your post you hardly sound like a human being, more like a robot. You show no feelings (indignation and righteousness don't count), and you don't even seem remotely aware of your own emotions in certain situations.

It's unlikely you will be able to sort this out yourself. Find a decent therapist to talk to. Get to know yourself. Ask yourself, for a few years, why you act like a dick around people (it's hard to admit, but this is what you do). Answers will come. In the meantime, stop arguing, and be humble. Practice at having feelings.
posted by NekulturnY at 5:12 AM on July 6, 2009


I see a lot of people say that it's never okay to mention that someone is wrong. This isn't entirely true. Sure, some people may never want to be questioned, but a lot of folks are totally fine with that. People make mistakes, after all. The key is tone. Let's take your food anecdote as an example.

You ask about the food, and your friend says that it is X. You think that X is something else, so you said "No, you're wrong, that wasn't X." This is confrontational, extremely dismissive of them, and implies a certain rigidity of thought. That it is someone else's duty to change your way of thinking, not that you're asking for information which you can use to change your own thinking. Now, in that situation, I'd have the same basic response as you. However, I'd phrase it something along the lines of "Huh, I thought that X was something more like this other thing." This can take the conversation in many directions. Most importantly, you are saying that you are willing to learn more information, but not demanding it. Perhaps your friend has nothing more to say on the matter — maybe he ordered X and they restaurant screwed up and gave him Y, so he doesn't know any better — or maybe he can supply more information — perhaps this restaurant does X really differently than most places or perhaps X can refer to two things (see galette, for an example of this) — or, maybe your confusion can even jostle his memory and will be able to say "oh yeah, no, that's Y." The key is that you are merely putting out a social cue saying "I'd like more information on this, if you have it and care to share" instead of "Defend yourself, wrong person!" Doing it this way allows the other person to also influence the social interaction based on their interest and knowledge. Allowing people to guide the interactions they are part of without being shamed or condescended is probably the single most fundamental aspect of politeness.
posted by Schismatic at 5:26 AM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


Plain fact is that most people just don't like arguing, especially in a social situation. If you argue a lot, they won't want to be around you.

sometimes it is fucking difficult to figure out whether it needs to be argued about or not.

2nding that it's not too difficult. I can only think of two situations where something needs to be argued about:

* If someone is talking in favour of a political/social perspective which you find not just disagreeable but abhorrent or dangerous, (e.g when you find you have inadvertently dropped into the summer barbecue of racist bigots R Us).

* If they are being unjustly rude about someone you care about.

Otherwise, keep it to disagreeing politely and good-humouredly once or twice if you have to, and then make a polite excuse and withdraw, while making a mental note to avoid them in future because they're not your kind of person. It sounds like that's what people are probably doing to you.
posted by penguin pie at 5:50 AM on July 6, 2009


Consider getting therapy -- I'd like to reinforce this point. You yourself realize that your fetishization of "the truth" in all of your encounters is likely a consequence of your toxic, chaotic home environment while growing up. (The inclusion of the only marginally relevant example of you and your father's debate over the car seems to reinforce this fixation.) You're still playing out the maladaptive defense mechanisms that you developed as a child to deal with a lack of solid reality; this sucks, but now it's making you into a narcissist.

Many of the perspectives and suggestions for how to modify your behavior or usefully reframe your perceptions in this thread are very helpful, certainly. However, until you analyze yourself--not in this Varsity Debate Team Style, because that just leaves you one step away from yourself and then you don't really have to deal with it as it's an intellectual object--and identify your emotions and go through the pain of tracing how the demons of your past are turning you into the demon of today and make a hard plan on how to change yourself (if you really fucking want to)... well, I have some doubts as to whether you'll really change.
posted by Keter at 6:04 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


He tells me people don't even want to meet me because they hear I always start fights over little things. Left unresolved and brewing.


I think your friend's roommate was doing you a solid by telling you what your problem is. Don't start fights over trivialities. I have this problem somewhat as well. I'm not really correcting people to show them they're wrong and I'm right, it's just that the right answer pops into my head, and I can't help but blurt it out. I got over it by spacing out a bit and listening more. People may be wrong on the details, but they are usually right on the overarching big things that matter -- love, friendship, kindness. Focus on the person as a person instead of just a series of small facts. That's all I got. Good luck.
posted by bluefly at 6:28 AM on July 6, 2009


I haven't been through everything above, but I suspect part of the problem with this rigorous devotion to "truth" is that you're using it to control interactions and shape them for your own comfort and to your own advantage. You're not interested in all facts, just the ones that help you. Much like a politician who ignores a direct question and instead stubbornly returns to his own talking points, you seem to be ignoring the concerns of other people and denying them the chance to express themselves by hitting them over the head with undeniable but irrelevant facts. This sort of behavior conveys two implicit messages -- that you're out for yourself, which makes you dangerous, and that you don't trust other people, which many will find offensive.

You're happy to talk about breast implants and fancy cars, but you're unwilling to accept that your sister (and/or her family) simply doesn't want to spend $1200 to be at your wedding. You're using facts about their spending to rationalize your refusal to accept facts about their priorities.

Your friend didn't find the work you did on his computer useful. You focus on the fact that you did a lot of work that was intended to help him (making you look good) but you ignore the fact that it wasn't actually helpful, because that doesn't reflect quite so well on you.

You are willing to talk about verifiable facts like the market value of your car because doing so might be profitable, but you don't seem nearly so eager to consider related and relevant facts that don't serve you, such as the likely fact that having to care for your car for 2 years has been an imposition, or that selling a car at its market value demands a lot more work than selling it cheap, and is thus a further imposition unless you're giving your dad a fat commission.
posted by jon1270 at 6:29 AM on July 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


Whew! A lot of great answers on this thread. I don't think that anyone's said this yet, though (apologies if I missed it), and I think it's important:

Engaging everyone you know in arguments, or, to use kldickson's language, "reasoned debate" is neither logical or rational.

You're operating under the premise that "If I show people evidence, then they will tell me that I'm right." That might be a valid argument, but it's not a sound one, and your past experiences with either people generally or the specific people involved should have taught you that. I mean, you say this of your parents:

For what it's worth, I think a lot of this comes from surviving as a child in a household where black was frequently called white. My father and stepmother have a very fundamental problem telling, and maybe even knowing, the truth.

Why, for the love of Christ, would you think that things would be any different now? Do you really think that rational debate and evidence would sway people who have a "very fundamental problem telling . . . the truth"? Clearly, these people don't care about reason, evidence, or research. If you were evaluating the situation rationally, you'd be able to see that--and be able to see that engaging them in debate is going to be at best frustrating and unsuccessful, and at worst unsuccessful and potentially relationship-destroying.

However, you're not approaching these situations rationally. You're approaching them emotionally. If you were approaching them rationally, you'd be able to see these "discussions" as the meaningless nit-picking that they are, be able to give up when it's clear that neither participant will be convinced, be able to let it go. But being "passionate", not letting things go easily is actually often the opposite of rational behavior. It's highly emotional behavior and shows an inability to emotionally divorce yourself from the situation and make the proper choices to have functioning relationships with other people.

Have you ever read Plato's Symposium? If not, I think you should take a look--you'd enjoy it, because it's about a bunch of guys dicking around at a party, giving speeches on the meaning of love, but I really think you should read it to take a close look at Socrates' behavior. The other Athenians take turns giving their speeches, and Socrates listens respectfully. Though it's clear that, if you look closely at his words, he doesn't agree with them, he never says so outright--on the surface his speech seems to praise and compliment his companions. In fact, he prefaces his own speech with discussions of his own inadequacies. And of course, his method of argument hinges on questioning others, on having them agree to his premises before he proceeds to make an argument at all.

Which seems logical and respectful and probably works better for argument than passionately insisting that you're not only correct but being logical and rational. There's no problem with being logical or rational, as long as you examine your own actions, and not just the insignificant stuff of your argument under those terms as well. Take a lesson from Socrates: sometimes, with some people, you might be able to hold forth and kick the ass of whatever argument you're having. But sometimes the only rational course of action is to shut up and hang out with the flute girls, who wouldn't care if you're right, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:39 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


I would disagree with the suggestion that you can't ever correct someone. I actually like being corrected, as do most of my friends. We have nerd fights all the time, but it's done in a way that makes clear we all respect each other. In my opinion, Schismatic's really got the right idea on how to make conversations about information sharing rather than beating your opponent.

Someone very close to me can get a little aggressive in the manner you're outlining here, and for me, it can be exhausting in the way that andraste describes. Sometimes I'm just shooting the shit, you know, and am happy to disagree but might not necessarily be up for a full-on forceful debate-with-statistics-and-sources.

I think it's often best to state things humbly, because you really could be wrong. And you might learn the most interesting things from other people.
posted by lillygog at 6:56 AM on July 6, 2009


You sound like a classic INTJ to me. Do some reading about Myers-Briggs personality typing. That helped me temper my extreme INTJ-ism, and it's made a world of difference to me. I don't always get it right, and I still get very frustrated sometimes when things don't go the "right" way or people insist on being "wrong" but I've learned to accept that there are things worth letting go. Someone giving the wrong name of a dish of food is one of those things.

In short, pick your battles. Don't pick the ones you can win--pick the ones you NEED to win in order to survive (ie, if they're not about your immediate shelter, food, etc, you can let them go).
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:08 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not bothering to read all 112 replies, but simply you have to learn to pick you battles. Your description honestly reminds me of myself. Coworkers remind me constantly that I have an argument for everything. I was home last week, and my mom commented, "I forget that when you're home, I can argue the nebulous!"

Years ago, I made a concerted effort to question everything. I've since learned 2 things 1) pick my battles. Namely, I try to know the people beforehand and if it is even worth arguing. If I know they don't care about what I have to say, I don't bother. If I know arguing will upset them, no matter how batshitinsane they are, I don't bother. 2) Grow a thicker skin. I had to stop caring a long time ago what people thought about me. Sometimes it's a good thing...sometimes it's a bad thing.
posted by jmd82 at 7:13 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think pseudostrabismus's rule is on the money, but I also think that having a strong friendship generates some flexibility. In other words, the only time it's acceptable to correct another adult (who isn't your student or otherwise expecting correction from you) on something non-life-threatening is after you've established a relationship with him and know how best to communicate with him, not while you're trying to develop a relationship and get to know the person.

Once a good friend of mine kept mispronouncing a very simple word, and it was driving me batty, and I finally said, "You know, I've always heard it pronounced [word]." She got a little annoyed because I really didn't have a good reason to point it out to her other than my own selfish preference, but since we had an otherwise positive and friendly relationship, she responded more or less to the effect of, "Huh, you're kind of being an ass, but ok, I'll pronounce it your way." Our being friends didn't make my comment totally ok and polite, it just meant my friend was patient with me despite my obnoxious comment.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:16 AM on July 6, 2009


Logic.

Is it logical to try to reason with a lion that's about to eat you? No. Because you're not taking into account some fundamental facts about the nature of lions. And that's a failure of your logical process.

Many geeky types -- myself included -- mistake logic (a set of reasoning tools) with "being logical" (a sort of stoical stance that denies a key facet of human nature: the fact that humans are emotional animals).

There's even a "Star Trek" episode about this. (As my uber-geek days are long past, I forget the name of the episode.) Mr. Spock is in charge. He keeps making "rational decisions" that fail to take into account other people's emotions. And everything he tries turns out badly. Why? Because he's NOT making rational decisions. A rational-decision maker takes ALL the facts into account. Yet Spock fails to take into account the emotionality of his colleagues. In other words, he acts stupidly. Yes, the emblem of "logic" acts stupidly!

Many geeky types (including me when I was younger) make the Spock mistake, and I have a theory about why this is. I suspect it's because we're scared by, confused by, and bad at interpreting emotional information. We deal with this by pretending that it's not relevant. That people who are being emotional are simply failing to make the "logical" choice. And that lets us off the hook. It means we don't have to learn about emotion -- a subject that would challenge us way more than Political Science of Philosophy. (How ironic that our FEAR -- and emotion -- leads us to believe that emotional people are damaged! Our emotion is clouding our judgment just as surely as their emotions is clouding theirs!)

Yet emotion is the FOUNDATION of being human. Literally. Emotion is housed in the "lizard brain," which underlies all our "higher" cognitions. Believing that it's "illogical to be emotional" is like believing that it's illogical to have hands. Having hands is part of our nature.

It is true that -- sometimes -- emotion can cloud our judgment and cause us to make bad decisions (and confirmation bias makes it easy to find examples of this and hard to find counterexamples). It's also true that some people are "gifted" (cursed?) with the ability to separate their "emotional brain" from their "rational brain." Maybe you're one of these people. If so, you didn't make a choice. You just got lucky (or unlucky). Other people had different luck.

If you accept the fact that emotion isn't a dumb choice -- that it's an integral part of being human -- then what are you (a rational, intellectual person) supposed to do about it? Do what comes naturally to you: study and learn!

It seems strange to have to study emotion, because it's not part of the traditional curriculum. Also, studying emotion implies that the studier is emotionally stunted. One shouldn't have to study it. It should come naturally! Well, to some of us it doesn't. Get over that and hit the books. (Many geeks simply aren't interested in studying emotion -- or they're scared to do it, probably worried they'll fail or have to give up their lifelong stance that logic rules all and that logical people are superior to emotional people. If this is your stance, think about whether or not your avoidance of the subject has helped or hindered your life so far.)

If you choose to study emotion, there's an industry waiting to help you. It's called "psychology." Here are some recommendations:

- "Games People Play" by Eric Berne. Berne creates a model of human interaction that is, in my view, overly simplistic. However, it's a good model to start with if you're not gifted at interpreting emotional interaction.

- "You Just Don't Understand" by Deborah Tannen. Tannen studies communication styles as if she's a biologist, studying animals in the wild.

- "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely. Ariely is an economist who studies the ways people are PREDICTABLY irrational. In other words, he studies the biases that are BUILT IN to human cognition.

Having said all that, I share your feeling that it's painful to let an incorrect fact remain alive. It's not that I want to be superior (or believe that I am); it's just that if someone says "Manhattan is the capital of New York state," it's like there's a nagging imperfection in the world. It's like there's a crooked picture hanging on the wall, and it would be so easy to reach out an straighten the picture.

"Rational" people like us are fixers. We don't like leaving things broken. However, as you've learned, the cure is often worse than the disease. So you just have to live with the disease. You have to live with a lot of crooked pictures.

I live with it by giving myself points for NOT straightening the picture. My friend says, "Stephen Spielberg directed '2001'!" Now, I could correct him, which would make him look stupid in front of everyone. That would earn me 10 points. Or I could master my urge and not correct him. I could do the noble thing (help my friend save face) and allow a crooked picture to remain in the universe. That would earn me 100 points!
posted by grumblebee at 7:19 AM on July 6, 2009 [49 favorites]


On the food thing.

For years, I went to the same restaurant for lunch every Friday. My favorite dish was something that they called "Mandarin Chicken".

After they closed, I went to a different restaurant and ordered "Mandarin Chicken". What I got there didn't resemble what the Bayon served in the least. I have not been able to find what the Bayon called "Mandarin Chicken" anywhere else; that dish was surely and demonstrably not "Mandarin Chicken" as it is generally prepared.

However, if I brought it to your house and you asked me what it was, I'd have called it "Mandarin Chicken". I imagine you'd think I was wrong, and apparently I would have been with regard to what the rest of the world considered "Mandarin Chicken", but that's what the menu called it. If you want what I brought, you'd go to the Bayon and order "Mandarin Chicken", and all the googling in the world wouldn't change that fact.

So, I'm right that it's "Mandarin Chicken", even though I'm also wrong.

Who cares?
posted by chazlarson at 7:26 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


What a fascinating read this morning, and I can't believe that with all the other spot-on points that have been made, I still might have something to add. I think showbiz_liz had it - your self worth is tied up in your being "right". I'm not saying this fits like a glove, but it's the first thing I thought of when I read your question:

http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Byler1.html


What am I doing that's pissing everyone off so bad?
"Right-Fighting is an acceptable form of violence or aggression. Because the right-fighting pattern usually ends up one sided and includes a winner and a loser, the effects are similar to those of physical abuse. Learned submission on the part of the children and often the other parent/spouse is inevitable. "Right-Fighting" is in fact a form of emotional abuse."

I'm a friendly guy, really, but I feel like I drive a lot of people away.
You think you're friendly, I think I'll quote "Best Friends for Frances": "It's better to be friends than to be careful."

What rubs you so wrong?
What rubs me so wrong is that right-fighters seem to be unhappy, and interactions with them drain me of my own ease. When I want to be right, I feel agitated and I hate feeling that way.

Are you like me?
I am - a bit. My daughter is - a lot (but without the facts to back her arguments up, but that's a kid for you). I recognize now that the person I want to be doesn't engage in petty arguments with either friends or five-year olds. So I try harder to be a kind person, and that tends to supersede my desire to be right.

What are your coping methods?
Honestly, avoidance. I avoid people like you, and people who remind me of the worst parts of myself. And I try to remind myself that I'd like people to remember me well, and fondly - and that things that don't bend often break.
posted by peagood at 8:15 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I meant all this kindly - by the way. You're obviously not unlikeable - just an acquired taste. But if this is bothering you enough to seek opinions, there are some great ones here and if I had to stress one point of mine, it's that people get tired of having to be careful around some people because they have to manage themselves better. Don't be that guy.
posted by peagood at 8:24 AM on July 6, 2009


I think you know exactly what your "people problem" is. You've explained it very clearly in your question. What I sense from you is a reluctance to admit that an aspect of your personality, clearly a problem in the sense that it is complicating your relationships, is a problem in the sense that you are doing something wrong and must change.

This is how I read your question: you're a good guy. You may have your faults, but you're aware of them and compensate for them. You are happy with yourself as you are. But people keep getting mad at you. So the "problem" is not you, it's everyone else. The people who are upset with you are the problem. They're wrong to be angry because you're not doing anything bad. So you're tired of having to deal with their illogical feelings, and you have no idea what to do about it... since you've ruled out the possibility that you're doing something wrong. Because you're fine, just as you are.

You have to decide whether your ego is more important that the relationships that are being affected. I suggest that you make an honest list of everything that you like about yourself. Write down all of your best qualities. If always being right is not at the top of that list, strike it out and concentrate on the other ways in which you establish your worth and self-respect. If always being right tops the list, think about why that is so important to you, and whether it is worth changing.

Do you care about whether the people around you are happy? If your being right, or factual accuracy in general, does not make your friends and family members happy, is it worth clinging to?

My intuition is that when you need to reassure yourself that you're an OK person, you find something to be right about. If you find a different way of liking yourself, you'll be able to let go of the pettiness.
posted by prefpara at 8:40 AM on July 6, 2009


It looks like you've got a ton of feedback here, a lot of it very good.

Your post reminds me of three different people I know: all extremely bright, kind, loving and loyal people, but each of them habitually dominates conversations, exhibits know-it-all qualities that don't quit, and can't stop one-upping people. The result: people tend to move away from them in social situations. It's a shame, since I imagine that their behavior comes from a desire to connect, and not knowing quite how.

At least one of these people is a friend of mine, and she tends to have difficulty maintaining friendships, which distresses her. I like her, but I can only take her in small doses myself.

I believe the key is simple...listen, absorb, and remember that other people like to have their say as well. It's repeating what others are saying here, but a simple and conscious change in behavior can mean a change in your relationships with others.
posted by knmr76 at 8:53 AM on July 6, 2009


I don't think you are an asshole or a narcissist OP. And though you seem to think you're right about most other things, you do recognise that you are missing something here, and are very sincerely asking for help.

I'm defensive, but with a thick wall and many doors that open with a little bit of cool (or) reasoned thinking by the other person.

To recap, I feel I have embedded safeguards against being accused of being too aggressive, pig-headed, know-it-all or whatever. I hold my ground but move with my "opponent" if they have any real interest in fact-finding.

You seem to see interacting with people as battles - it is all over the language you use in your description. And I don't think you just want to attack them - your language feels to me to be fundamentally defensive. This may be from your upbringing with your family, but I think it's as a few others have pointed out much more of an underlying emotional issue for you. Good therapy, if it is available to you, would I think be very helpful.

Notice when you say I feel I have embedded safeguards against being accused of being too aggressive, pig-headed, know-it-all or whatever, it doesn't appear that you are actually concerned about being too aggressive, pig-headed etc.... only that you wouldn't be accused of it. Again, a battle. But more than that, it's not actually concern for other people, and how they are left to feel on the receiving end.

How do you cope with it when other people tell you you are wrong? Have you ever been on the receiving end of people being rude to you in telling you you are wrong? And have you ever reacted defensively when people tell you you were wrong, only realising later that they were right?

I find it hard to imagine you haven't been on the other side. You're a human being too. So try to remember back to those times - that's how you're making others feel right now.

You repeatedly state that you are defensive. But so are other people. You've been through shit in your life that made you defensive - so have others. And they may not be defensive in the same way. Maybe they were repeatedly told during their upbringing that their opinions were worthless. So when you challenged them, it triggered something in them. Understand this: if you have a right to be defensive - why don't they? You don't get to have all the interactions on your terms. It's a matter of compromising and accommodating for each other's issues and sore spots.

Further, if you really know so much, you should really know just how much you don't know. That's what I seem to find anyway - the more you learn, the more you realise how much there is to learn. Your starting point in your description seems to often be: I know shit - can you prove otherwise?. But if you were really intellectually curious, if you really understood how much you don't know, wouldn't it be I know this, but I'm not absolutely sure, because there's so much I don't know - can I learn something from you?

Take your friend's mother's dish: how could you have been so certain? There could be many names for the same dish. If you had approached it from a point of curiosity, of learning: Really? I always thought it was called Y! Do you mind if I look it up on Wikipedia and see? I imagine it might have gone better.

And the other thing of course is to be sensitive to the other person's discomfort: if you even get a hint that the other person doesn't want to know, drop it. There's no sense in pushing further at this point. Maybe your friend's mother had got it wrong all her life, thought it was called something it wasn't, and been telling people that all along. Maybe it was her signature dish, even, that she was enormously proud of. Do you see why it would be considerate not to push for the truth at this point?

The other side of it is, I relate to the part of you that cares about the truth, the facts, and about what's right. It depresses me, all the people who say Who cares? And it's true - I find that most people value social harmony much more than what is right. I find that kind of frightening, for so many reasons.

But there's a middle ground somewhere. There are many people who are interested in discussing and debating ideas just like you - but they are still human beings, just like you and me, and they are still going to be defensive about some things and in their own ways, and you will still have to compromise and accommodate them - if you want them to accommodate you.

As for your other "blow-ups", the theme I see is you don't seem to be really able to see things from others' point of view, or empathize with them: how your friend might not find Ubuntu helpful (and what makes you think “please stop talking shit” is "relatively polite"?? A hostile response is going to get one back.); how your friend and his mother might not appreciate being told they were wrong; how your sister's trip would have been expensive - though I can understand how you might feel she doesn't prioritize you as much as you want her to, you have no idea what she needs to budget for and what pressures she's under. How she chooses to spend her money is none of your business, let alone something as private and potentially embarrassing as breast implants - it's hardly surprising that you making her talk about it led to a blow-up. And with your father and stepmother, though you don't really give us enough information, they might've thought they were doing you a big favour taking care of your car and sorting out the sale for you, and that you were ungrateful. Doesn't mean they were all right and you were wrong in every one of these situations - but it's give and take sometimes. You've got to make room for the needs of other people.

I really do think some therapy would be helpful - it would give you some insight from an independent observer into how you choose to interact with others. And the better self-help books do have some good insights into human behaviour and social skills - I myself have learnt a lot from them. And of course, be an observer - watch how other people do it. All the best - I know you mean well.
posted by catchingsignals at 9:14 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The residue is that maybe I just don't automatically trust the information in conversation as much as is likely normal.

Nobody "trusts" the information in conversations automatically, other than in a polite way in order to keep the conversation from turning into an argument.

You're not the only person who notices how wrong-wrong-wrong people are all the time. Everyone notices. But 99% of the time, they make a quick decision not to argue over it.

It's a shame this is anonymous. Your posting history would probably help everyone understand.
posted by rokusan at 10:11 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Nobody's going to love you for being right often, and especially for letting them know. You are smart and are often correct. It's okay to know that, but not necessary to share it. Ask.Me is an excellent outlet for your know-it-all ways, and sometimes you will get nice favorites and checkmarks as the Ask.Me form of validation.

Listen as well as you can to other people. Being heard is deeply comforting, and people will love you for listening.

Judge less (lest you be judged). People have different strengths and weaknesses. Instead of being judgmental because a quotation is incorrect, look for a story well told, a nice bit of humor, an interesting use of words. Then compliment the person. Do not use false compliments; don't say "That's a terrific story" if it's not. Do say "I like the way you described the scene" or whatever else is true. People love to be complimented. It makes them feel good. What a nice little gift you can give to people at no cost whatsoever.

Try to disagree as blandly as possible. "I'm confused. When I order Pork a la Ooohhlala at Wang's, it's not at all like what I ordered at Big Woo's - got any ideas?" The world is full of surprises and new information. Keep your mind open to the likelihood that other people are right, too.

People don't enjoy being called out. If you're smart, people will figure it out. I've had a couple interesting jobs & life experiences. I don't always talk about them. When somebody who's met me a few times learns that I have a Nobel Peace Prize interesting background, it has way more impact than if I bragged or brought it up out of context. Until there's a Nobel Prize for Slacking, I have not/will not be awarded a Nobel Prize for anything.

Maybe you grew up in a crazy household. Maybe you try to use knowledge and facts to protect you from random craziness. It's not working.

Be nicer to people. They like that.
posted by theora55 at 10:52 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I get the feeling I understand where you're coming from. The truth is important to you, and there's something trivial and uninteresting about conversations where the truth isn't the important thing. It feels insincere, and patronising, to "let" someone else be right, even if they're wrong.

Thing the first: The evidence shows that that strategy doesn't work well. The Carnegie quote mentioned earlier explains why.

Thing the second: You aren't always right, and it's good (and polite) to always embrace the possibility that you could be wrong.

Thing the third: If you have a reputation as "the guy that always has to be right", it devalues everything you say, including when it does actually matter. Kind of a "boy that cried wolf" deal. It also puts people on their guard whenever you open your mouth.

You have your way of approaching the world, and not everyone shares it. To deal with this, I would suggest two things.

Numba one: Change your strategy in the areas where it has negative consequences. Learn to ask more questions, qualify things even if you, personally, are certain of them. When you attack someone's arguments, you attack them- even if that's not your intent.

Numba two: There are people like you in the world, cultivate their company. Let off your steam on the Internet on sites where that kind of thing is common practice.

If you're a goal-oriented, score-keeping person, add "Diplomacy/Cultural Camouflage" to the things you try to optimise. It's a skill like any other: try to be good at it. Bonus points if you can cede something which is absolutely factually true and tested by experiment without being passive aggressive.

I think most of this has been said by other people. I'd like to add one last thing. If you can lose the reputation of being "that guy", you have the leeway to put your points forward (with humour and diplomacy) every so often. You don't have to relate on a superficial level, just a subtler one.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:24 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


2nding that it's not too difficult. I can only think of two situations where something needs to be argued about:

* If someone is talking in favour of a political/social perspective which you find not just disagreeable but abhorrent or dangerous, (e.g when you find you have inadvertently dropped into the summer barbecue of racist bigots R Us).


Don't do this. Yes, racism is bad, but this is another example of "you're not gonna change anyone's mind and will probably get beat up in the process." This is just another aspect of social sensitivity--trying to change someone's mind is best done privately or by example over a period of time.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:45 AM on July 6, 2009


Tons of responses here. I have a suggestion for you: start reading some fiction so you can perhaps see the other person's side and how their argument makes sense from their perspective. Reading fiction improves empathy
posted by Dukat at 12:06 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


If someone is talking in favour of a political/social perspective which you find not just disagreeable but abhorrent or dangerous, (e.g when you find you have inadvertently dropped into the summer barbecue of racist bigots R Us).

Don't do this. Yes, racism is bad, but this is another example of "you're not gonna change anyone's mind and will probably get beat up in the process." This is just another aspect of social sensitivity--trying to change someone's mind is best done privately or by example over a period of time.


Yeah, I was going to add to my comment that you should make your point while accepting that you're not going to change their mind (but thought I'd already waffled enough so I deleted it).

I didn't mean that you should argue the point endlessly, because as RikiTikiTavi says, you're not going to change their mind. Just that, for me this is one of the few situations where it's important not to just let it go for the sake of making the conversation go smoothly. Having expressed polite but firm disagreement, I would probably follow it up by executing a courteous exit to talk to someone else instead.
posted by penguin pie at 1:52 PM on July 6, 2009


I want to go back to what plombir said about lowering your expectations. I'm not exactly sure what plombir meant by that, but I know what I'd mean by it.

Let me risk the wrath of the "I"-counters by talking about my own situation and perspective, and maybe some of it will resonate. (Darn, I wish this weren't anon. I'd rather say this in memail.) Like you, I was raised by unreasonable people in an unreasonable situation. I came out of that more unscathed than anybody'd likely expect, in large part because I was able to use reason to defend my little patch of ground. (I am a raging INTJ.) I wound up with a great respect for reasonableness and ordinary facts.

To be passionate about the facts is a way of being passionate about the world. You know, the actual world of actual stuff, not the collective delusion that is primate politics. Letting fact and reason lead you is a way of being humble in the face of the real world. The desire to know more, see more, is a form of love for That Which Is. That love is the closest thing to spirituality I have. When you find someone with whom you can share a love of the world, that is a rare and beautiful thing. I am very grateful that I married someone who can share that.

But mostly people aren't all that passionate about the world around them. Mostly people just want to get by until they die without having to think too hard, work too hard, or feel too embarrassed. When you try to engage them with "Come, let us reason together!" they just get pissed off. They don't have the perspective that would let them join you in that, not to mention the energy that joining you would demand. They don't care whether they really are right; they just don't want to have to feel wrong. They think you're dicksizing. If they were talking like you are, dicksizing is exactly what they'd be doing.

Many will find this counter-intuitive, but in my native mode of behavior, I tend to express respect for a person by arguing the facts. No, seriously. Doing that, I'm implying that the person has a lot of value in my own value system: she's smart and (more importantly) interested enough in how things are to have that kind of discussion. Conversely, when I believe someone is truly beneath my contempt, I won't argue the facts at all and will often take care not to step on her feelings, because I consider her a coddled, dull, overgrown toddler with few real interests beyond her own need for status. You see the problem: my preferred social code (and, I suspect, yours, Anon) is exactly opposite of what most people perceive. They perceive respect as contempt and contempt as respect. While my native mode feels right and authentic to me, it doesn't work among most people.

So I had to give that up. (And mostly, I think, I have, though it wasn't easy and sometimes I slip.) But when I gave it up, I also gave up a certain optimism about most of my relationships, both current and potential. In meeting people where they are, and dealing with them in a way that is not going to encourage them to attack me, I leave a piece of myself behind. Now I do not hope to bring my whole spiky, truth-passionate, argumentative self to most relationships. This is what I mean by lowering your expectations. There's a certain degree of necessary grief there. I believe you have to feel the grief, then let it go.

Some, probably most people I'm fond of (not to mention the people I'm simply stuck with) are people with whom I will never have that wonderful relationship of mutual wonder at the universe. I had to give up denying how unlikely it was that we'd magically become great friends. I had to give up hoping for greatness and settle for making things pleasant or at least tolerable. My mother, for instance -- barring a miracle, the best I can do is manage our relationship for harm reduction through tact, flattery, and benign manipulation. I humor her narcissistic streak. While superficially we get along much better now than we used to, and there is the occasional moment of real caring between us, I had to let go of the hope of anything sweeter or more innocent. Through cynicism, I learned to get along.

My mother is never going to love me the way that would be best for me to be loved. She doesn't have it in her. Neither, I think, will your family ever be all that good for you. And most of the people you meet aren't going to meet you where you're at. I think you're trying to have that peculiarly beautiful kind of relationship with people who can't or won't hold up their end. Let it go. And be grateful for your wife.
posted by sculpin at 2:38 PM on July 6, 2009 [21 favorites]


Yes, those lesser people who are unable to keep up with one's Love of Truth are mere dicksizing untermensch!
posted by fleacircus at 9:42 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Your friend wanted to throw out a computer. That was what he wanted. That's an actual fact, as far as I can tell.

You did not check the menu from the take-out place. For all we know the dish is something that goes by various names and your friend was correctly recalling the name - or he was giving the name of the dish in his home town or his and his mother's favorite take-out.

You left the car at your dad's house for two years, and then expected to have a say in what happens to it? That doesn't seem logical to me.

You invited your sister to your wedding. She declined. The rest of the drama seems to be something you created with your idea of logic.

If nothing else, you should try actually being right. There's a lot of good advice here about trying to get along and you should take it. You seem to have a wife and friends and I hope you are able to keep and enjoy them.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:44 PM on July 6, 2009


fleacircus, I'm sure they have their own spiritual truths that are as inaccessible to me as mine are to them. And I am certain that someone has torn their hair over that damn Sculpin who is too much of a clod to appreciate the deep and fundamental significance of family ties, physical comfort, social ease, or whatever it is that makes them go. (Apparently you have some things to say yourself about what a clod I am.) People value different things differently, including factual truth. Different people can and do say the same things with wildly different intentions. And you can share only so much with people who don't share your basic values. That's really all it comes down to.
posted by sculpin at 10:10 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know if you're a clod or not, merely emphasizing the apparent blindness-to-self-reasoning-fail that some people display who are so sure they're above it. It's nothing personal to do with you; surely you can understand that?
posted by fleacircus at 10:15 PM on July 6, 2009


Oh, my mistake. I thought your reference to my wording meant that you were calling me out personally as a particular example of fail. Glad we cleared up that unpleasant little misunderstanding.
posted by sculpin at 10:30 PM on July 6, 2009


Fleacircus, there is a quote out there:

Everyone has their own opinion, but nobody has their own facts.
posted by kldickson at 9:19 AM on July 7, 2009


And in addition, I'd like to make another point:

If it weren't for people who had an interest in the truth, society never would have progressed beyond early agrarian days, at best.
posted by kldickson at 9:23 AM on July 7, 2009


What a great thread -- wish I'd read it when I was 15. (Of course I would've dismissed it cuz it would have meant accepting that I was fundamentally Wrong About Life.)

Just to add a little to grumblebee's excellent explanation, among others... I think people have a sort of built-in argumentum ad hominem bias that goes something like this: You've presented an argument, but you made me feel bad. Therefore, you're an asshole and I will discount anything you say.

Your argument can be air-tight, but if accepting your argument will make the person feel lesser about himself, the argument will be discarded in favor of preserving their own self-esteem. It's entirely logical, if you accept a fundamental truth about humans: They exist to maximize their own self-esteem. That's it. That's the main goal in life. Maximum self-esteem. But here's the counter-intuitive thing: Give yours away freely, and it will come back 50 fold.

See, all those little negative things that you unconsciously snipe about to minimize other people's accomplishments and possessions make them feel bad about themselves. So they defend their self-esteem by concluding that you're an asshole whose opinion doesn't matter to them. Flip that around. All those little positive things you say about their accomplishments and possessions make them feel GOOD about themselves. So they boost their self-esteem by concluding that you are an awesome guy whose opinions they really should take seriously!

So if you really want to make friends, you need to go beyond just not making people feel bad about themselves -- you need to actively make them feel good about themselves. Like if your friend gets a new car, get a little excited about it with them! Don't mention that you would have gotten the GT model, or that black is going to be really hot in the summer... focus on the positive: maybe it has a great sound system or looks great in profile or whatever.

(But careful here -- it HAS to be genuine. You may do even more damage if they perceive your compliments as being condescending -- because that implies that they are beneath you, which will drop their self-esteem, which they will defend by labeling you an asshole whose opinions don't matter.)

And it's not just compliments. You'll want to do whatever you can do help people feel better about themselves. It might just be greeting them warmly every day. It might be introducing them to an awesome guy/girl. It might be hosting a party so they have something fun to do Friday night. This requires empathy, subtlety, and a lifetime of practice, so don't beat yourself up if you have some missteps. (You wouldn't expect to play Tarchovsky perfectly or throw 10 perfect freethrows the first time either!)

THEN, you lead by example. You hang your own pictures straight, and hey some of your friends will correct their own pictures for themselves. And you have built a little clout with them to subtly correct them in this or that, but now they will accept that you're being helpful and not trying to make them feel stupid. THAT, I think, is a big part of becoming a leader and, you know, righting all the wrongs in the world.

So congratulate yourself on having the self-awareness to ask for help, try to take what you can from all this great advice, and... enjoy your journey!
posted by LordSludge at 9:23 AM on July 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


Gah - I didn't realize this was an anon post. I was going to mail the OP that my answer was a dick move. Instead, let me say publicly that my answer was a dick move.

Way too harsh. Snippy. Not constructive. Awful. Sorry.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:36 PM on July 7, 2009


Everyone has their own opinion, but nobody has their own facts.

Close.

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." (Moynihan)

The difference is sort of pithily appropriate to this thread on a couple of levels. ;)
posted by rokusan at 2:55 AM on July 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


Wow, long thread. I got about 3/4 of the way through.

I know 2 guys who are very similar to how the OP comes across. One is so damn opinionated, and it's getting worse as he gets older, that basically ALL of his long term friends have abandoned him.

The other guy, an Irish guy, I still see regularly. He will argue about anything from whether that girl's blouse is white or off-white, to the cause of drought, to how the IRA "did terrorism the right way".

The thing is, he is so self-righteous and arrogant that we all make fun of him for it nowadays.

For example, just the other day, he, a 40 y/o guy, got into a long argument with a couple of girl friends, 25 and 23 y/o, about the lyrics of that "Feed the World" song. One of the girls was ONE year old when the song was released, the other not even born. Talk about pointless arguments!

But, the three of us, knowing how he is, were just baiting him, and discreetly laughing at him, looking at each other, rolling our eyes, etc. He didn't notice, of course, because he was too wrapped up in his own argument.

Sure enough, first thing the next morning, he sent us all an email linking to the lyrics on Wikipedia, proving he was right.

That is the only way we can deal with his opinionated rants. He takes himself so damn seriously. When you're trying to have a nice relaxing drink after work, most people DON'T want to debate endlessly. The only way we know how to deal with him is to laugh at him.

There is a big difference between being "fact smart", and "socially smart".

Kudos to the OP for realising something is wrong, and hopefully trying to fix it. Good luck.
posted by Diag at 8:03 PM on July 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


One thing to keep in mind is that people who are always pointing out that they are right are very often wrong about things, obviously since they give their opinion more often, but also because they refuse to process contradictory information. When your friend gave you the name of the dish, you dismissed it out of hand. But what if the dish was simply a variation on the dish? I've seen various dishes from time to time that differ from what my expectations for that dish were, and that happens with a lot of other types classifications.
posted by delmoi at 3:09 PM on July 12, 2009


I have an extremely hard time tolerating ignorance and incompetence. I do manage to tolerate it, but I have to work really hard to tolerate it (c.f. some people I'm working with as of late

It's "cf." Never "c.f."

This illustrates a common pitfall for the know-it-all, OP. When you set yourself up as "intolerant of ignorance," people react to your displays of ignorance with a smirk.
posted by palliser at 7:47 PM on July 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


He misspelled Porsche! He misspelled Porsche!
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:59 AM on July 15, 2009


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