Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Quizzes and the Contradictions of Conscience

Within minutes of one another, two great blog posts just appeared in my news reader.

Rajesh Setty at Life Beyond Code wrote a list of reasons why someone might retreat from a fight.

It is a well-written, thought-provoking list, but my first reaction was, "Why are you starting fights?" I don't know the author, but I have read his blog for a while. He seems like a level-headed person whom I doubt ever intentionally starts an argument.

In my experience, a person who actively starts fights, rarely engages in the introspection necessary to use this kind of information.

A few minutes later, I read a quiz about how to tell if you make other people unhappy, written by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project.

Unfortunately, I can't imagine anyone who habitually makes others miserable reading or taking this test. In the unlikely event that he/she did, it would probably be to evaluate the other people in his/her life. ("Boy, does so-and-so fit the bill. He sure makes me unhappy. I think I'll forward this url to him.")

She also shared the link to a new device being developed to warn you if you're boring or irritating. How many boring or irritating people do you think will want to test it?

This irony reminds me of all the earnest, loving, doting, committed, caring, wonderful parents I know who live under a perpetual storm cloud of guilt. This cloud rains down at frequent intervals, causing the umbrella of a statement, "I'm the worst mother in the world...." to preface the confessions to the smallest of parental missteps.

Meanwhile, no such anxiety seems to threaten the horizon of those who perpetrate the most egregious of crimes.

Earlier this week at Dr. Aime Ragen's Psychology of Clutter a discussion began about how to respond when someone tries to take advantage of a relationship, asking you to babysit more often than they're willing to reciprocate

What struck me about that discussion, and many like it, is how unlikely the offender is to read articles about how not to offend.

In all of these cases, it's the person whose boundaries are being violated, who is rushing to self-evaluate and avoid further offense.

Does working conscience always generate bit of neurosis? Is angst a prerequisite for good behaviour?

I tend to think so*. I view life as a test**, and the struggle with our consciences as why we're here.

* But then I begin to wonder I'm just re-framing my own insecurities as an advantage. I spent enough time in software design to have internalized the phrase "that's not a bug, it's a feature."

** A test, as opposed to a quiz!

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