Monday, November 25, 2013

Being 'thin skinned' as a form of criticism...

This is one of those 'deep thoughts' that goes through some logic on a topic I have thought some about, but haven't really said anything.  It may not be 'spot on' just yet, but I thought I'd get the conversation going, and see where it leads.

I actually typed this post first as a response to a comment on a post I had made about how a request (articulated as a requirement) that I fill out a survey bothered me because it seemed more coercive than I like.  However, due to the limitations of 'blogger' I couldn't post the whole comment in the comments section, so I've made it a new post here (and referred to it as a link).

The initial comment on the blog read as follows:

NR said...

I was google searching for Dr. Roger's contact info when I came across your blog. I am new to Utah and am amazed at what seems to be a Utah culture/habit behavior demonstrated in your blog, that of taking offence when none was intended. It seems to be sport here in Utah to read offence into everything. Maybe I feel this way because I have witnessed it several times in the past two weeks while observing interpersonal relationships among Utahns, each time being a different individual & in a variety of situations. Any idea why this is such a problem here? Maybe living at this high altitude gives people very thin skins. I've always lived at sea level so that could be why I have never seen this behavior in so many adults.

Here is the response I made.  Let me know what you think:

Hey NR--  Thanks for the comment.  Sorry it took me so long to get it "approved".  I wish I didn't have to do any moderating, but I've received some weird links posted here, so I moderate (once a year or so, apparently. :$) 

To answer your question, fist of all, I agree.  Choosing to be offended (especially where none is intended) can be cultural.  What causes it?  I think two things:  First, some (ill conceived) notions of self worth are validated by the practice of coming off as smarter (or better) than someone else.  The easiest way to do that is to express offense at others' methods or ideas.  It's 'easy' because it's hard to argue with someone's right to feel offended.  Taking offense is a choice, but it's a choice that has a critical edge.  It works because most criticism (no matter what the source) does, indeed, put the subject of the criticism, at least to some extent, on the defensive--even if it's only in the mind of the critic.  When someone is on the defensive, superiority is assumed (again, at least in the mind of the critic). 

The second reason it occurs (and the thing I think explains WHY I was personally inclined to make any kind of point about addressing my--probably false--interpretation of Dr. Roger's 'strong handed' phraseology) has to do with choice in contribution versus authoritarian requirements of the same.  It has been my observation that most people tend to respond better to requests than to directives.  The 'you're not the boss of me' syndrome is common when an individual who (through experience, study, or otherwise) has become sensitive to the effect of authoritarian directives, and wishes to guard against them.  I have perhaps personally developed such a sensitivity through the following: 

1.  As conclusions I have drawn through my study of the founding of the United States of America, and the principles of autonomy verses coercion I believe are part of a truly free society.

2.  As a matter of politeness in addressing individuals respectfully regardless of status, and in a way that does not assume one 'class' or another. 

But your biggest question seems to revolve around WHY this method of illogical self aggrandizement exists so prevalently in one area or another area (presumably because of cultural implications in that area)--in this case, specifically in Utah.  While I confess I am likely guilty of both causes of such behavior (probably more the second than the first--but does it really matter?), I beg to differ that such behavior is unique to Utah.  Have you heard the pride in the voice of an East-coaster boasting of the superior quality of education their children receive?  Per them, it's difficult to fathom that any of us West of the Mississippi have somehow learned to count.  Even the interpersonal conversations that judge others--even friends and family--as inferior because of personal behaviors are very strong.  The biggest difference I have seen in those realms versus here (and I've had plenty of opportunity to observe such behavior--from Beijing to Mumbai, Cairo, London, and the islands to all across the United States in roles that give me great access to interpersonal communications that ALL seem to include personal judgements)...  everywhere I go, there is a sense of PRIDE that requires human behavior show how one's individual choices and methods of life are somehow superior to other's.  It's the baffling conundrum that all 7.126 billion of us in the human population all think we individually 'have it right' when it comes to our personal paradigm on life. 

Whether it's "I'm offended by the way you addressed me" or "your children will grow up stupider, less fulfilled, and have nothing of value to offer society because of their inferior education", we all criticize one another.  What makes the 'taking offense' route so popular in Utah?  Well--I can't speak for the rest of the stereotype we're trying to impose here--but for me, it's because it's the easiest way for me to get others to consider another opinion WITHOUT trying to make it about superiority.  Being offended is MY choice; and it's not necessarily someone else's responsibility to conform to my expectations of proper behavior.  Even so, my hope is that perhaps my expression will get them to consider different behavior all the same. 

Hope this was helpful.  At least for me, it was a good opportunity to consider the question you raised.  Thanks again for your thoughts.