authority blinds + classical conditioning for friendships
The other day I had lunch with the president of my company and we were discussing the NBA playoffs. He was telling us about the Denver Nuggets star Nikola Djokovic [sic], who's apparently been spectacular this season.
I sat there thinking, Isn't he talking about Nikola Jokić?! Djokovic plays tennis... Heck, I'm positive he's talking about Jokić. But of course I kept my mouth shut, hard as it was to hear him wax poetic about the basketball skills of the world's greatest tennis player, because what good could come from correcting the most powerful person at the table over something like that? Everyone else at the table seemed to have the same idea, because we all knew and said nothing.
He probably just misspoke or misremembered, but this silly little incident seems to me as a perfect example of how people high up in the corporate ladder can have a totally different perception of the same company as people further down it. When you think about situations like these happening over and over again, it starts to make sense why the people at the top can be so blind to the what's actually going on in the company. It's very difficult to speak up to anyone who wields power over you, even if you have the best intentions, because your livelihood is at their mercy. Even if they can't dismiss you outright, they can make your life miserable. And so it's almost always easier to just shut up and take their shit, maybe even vent with coworkers on other teams, rather than risk the consequences of getting on your manager's bad side.
There are ways to combat the effects of this power dynamic, like actively encouraging critical discourse and receiving it gracefully. This will probably never happen at most companies, mine included. The people at the top are too narrow-minded, indifferent, and thin-skinned for that. But I try to apply this philosophy to my personal friendships and relationships too. When friends give me feedback on how I can be a better person, I try my best to swallow my pride and take it well, even if it might sting in the moment. I know if I don't respond positively, they might be discouraged from telling me similar things in the future. And the last thing I want to do is condition the people around me to not bring up uncomfortable or sensitive topics, because that's where opportunities for growth lie.
It can be eye-opening to apply this 'classical conditioning' lens to other aspects of your relationships too, not just specifically for constructive feedback. How do you respond when people reach out for help, lash out at you, try their best but fail, or let you down? How does your reaction affect their future behavior? Is it helping you encourage the behaviors you desire in others? Viewing repeating situations as feedback loops like this and altering your behavior accordingly can help you approach friendship conflicts in better ways.
I am so sorry to all of you who read these posts in the hope of seeing what New York is like... But at least I can give you a life update while I'm here. I've been so busy at work I canceled the day off I took on Monday to catch up. I know doing this sets a bad precedent for my work-life balance (or lack thereof), but I really feel like I needed that day to work.
I went to the outdoor gym near my apartment to exercise today and this wide-eyed ten year old came up to me and asked me if I was a Shaolin monk. I'm flattered, I guess? I entertained him for a while, which mostly consisted of him going betcha can't do this!! and me demonstrating that I could, in fact, do said things. We did pullups and dips and pushups and squats for a good half hour. Watching him try to do pull-ups made me smile, because he was having so much fun. And it's not that I don't enjoy doing calisthenics, but like most adults I approach it as a workout, not as play. We have so much to learn from kids... their joie de vivre is a sight to behold.
thank you for reading; write to me at
yourstiramisu 🐌 proton dot me