Ratha (papertygre) wrote,
Ratha
papertygre

Benevolent delusions

I've been listening to a pretty good audiobook, "The One Thing You Need To Know." I've only heard the introduction, but that part included an interesting nugget about relationships. The author claims he included that mostly because it provided a good example of his "One Thing" concept, but I can only assume he also did it because it's useful information in its own right. The idea is that a recent study suggested that most successful long-term relationships had a particular characteristic. When partner A is asked to rate partner B on a variety of scales, like outgoingness or patience, partner A always rates partner B higher than partner B rated him or herself (and vice versa). (Reference in the book.) This phenomenon can be described as a "benevolent delusion," a habitual distortion that acts to stabilize and strengthen the relationship. I've been thinking about this, because the author of the One Thing book claims that this is a counterintuitive result that can take work to assimilate. I actually find it intuitive enough, but it's kind of challenging as something to practice.

People often describe me as a "nice" person, since I have qualities like agreeableness and honesty. But I don't think I necessarily give people the 'benefit of the doubt' of the kind described by this passage. I certainly don't give it to myself, as a general rule. And one's behavior towards oneself synchronizes with one's behavior towards everyone else, sooner or later.

I have tried to make a habit of being realistic, because I tend to assume that looking at things with rose-colored glasses is the first step toward having a problem that everyone but you knows about, which seems like about the worst state of affairs imaginable. And, obviously there's a point at which a 'benevolent delusion' can become harmful, like in cases of domestic abuse for example. But it can be hard for me to acknowledge that there is usually a substantial amount of wiggle room inside the 'authentic' range, within which it is possible to interpret things any number of ways, favorably or unfavorably. Not only that, but people imitate other people, so your choice can have ripple effects.

I turned in manager feedback last week (it's mid-year discussion time at Microsoft) and the thing I thought of to criticize was my manager's tendency to take a view on things that emphasizes limitations rather than possibilities, since it can be a bit of an enthusiasm-killer. Really this is something I am equally guilty of, though. And when I think about it, it's scary to imagine stepping away from that tendency. It feels like there's a lot of risk attached. But here's the interesting angle: taking a proactive approach to defining and interpreting things in more positive ways can be something you do that benefits others. This means that people may be likely to help you in this effort, as opposed to cut you down.
Tags: attitude, books, relationships, self-improvement
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