Reflective Complaints

by Raemon 1 min read21st May 202020 comments

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Frequently, I'll be having an argument with someone. And I'll think "Grr! They are doing Obnoxious Behavior X!" or "Arg, they aren't doing Obviously Good Behavior Y!". 

Then I complain at them. 

And... sometimes, they make the exact same complaint about me. 

And then I think about it, and it turns out to be true.

Another portion of the time, they don't complain back at me, but the argument goes into circles and doesn't resolve, and we both feel frustrated for awhile. And later, independently, I realize "Oh, I was also failing to do Good Thing X, or doing Bad Thing Y."

Often, "Good Thing X" and "Bad Thing Y" amount to some kind of "not listening", or "not doing enough interpretive labor." It seems to me that I'm explaining something reasonable, and they're not understanding it because of some obvious bias, which should be apparent to them. 

But, in order for them to notice that, from inside the situation, they'd have to run the check of:

  1. TRIGGER: Notice that the other person isn't convinced by my argument
  2. ACTION: Hmm, check if I might be mistaken in some way. If I were deeply confused about this, how would I know?

And, typically, I haven't actually been making that same check, for myself. Or, I've done, it but in a kinda superficial way. 

Often, adversarial conversational moves beget more adversarial conversational moves. If someone is talking over me, I'm likely to respond by talking over them. If someone seems to be ignoring my arguments, I'm more likely to ignore their arguments. This means, by the time a complaint arises to my conscious thought, there's a decent chance there's been some kind of escalation cycle where I started doing the same thing, even if they started it. (And, maybe, I started it?)

This has led me to a general habit:

  1. TRIGGER: Notice that I'm about to complain to someone about a thing they're doing
  2. ACTION: Check if I'm doing that thing too.

I've mentioned this concept before in passing, but it seemed important enough to warrant it's own top-level post.

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