That’s what she wanted. She had been waiting for me for almost two hours, when I came wandering up. Where was I? Why didn’t I call? How could I do this to her, didn’t I know that she felt like a fool standing there all alone like that for so long? What must people think about her?
Calm down, I told her. We’ll get to the bottom of this. I showed her the text she’d sent me last night, and showed her my watch. Not an “in your face” kind of thing, but a gentle “here’s is the evidence that you may be incorrect” kind of thing.
Maybe that wasn’t the right course of action. Now she was angry that I was late, had been stewing about it for two hours, and just found out that it was he fault. Still needing somebody to blame, she tried to ask me why I didn’t call to confirm, to send a text back reminding her of the time.
Seeing as how I was totally innocent, it took a lot of willpower not to throw some snappy zingers in her face. I waited until she was finished.
“Well, it’s three O’clock, and we’re here. What do you want to do?” I asked, more than half hoping she’d stomp off in anger. This didn’t have the makings of a pleasant afternoon together.
“Whatever. I don’t care.” She said coolly. I had learned a long time ago, (albeit through several slow and painful lessons) that hoping somebody would change their attitude by telling you didn’t like it was useless at best.
I figured I’d give her one more shot, and a chance to save some face.
“Well, the movie starts in thirty minutes. Should I buy one ticket, or two?” I asked as calmly as possible, keeping myself completely open for either answer.
I was reading this book once that was talking about emotions. The guy was saying that humans have this strange way of thinking. We have thoughts, and then thoughts about those thoughts. And thoughts about those thoughts. And every step of the way, we have an emotional reaction to the thoughts.
They used to think that emotions get in the way of thinking, and decision-making. That emotions are completely separate from logic. It used to be generally accepted that if you were more like Spock, you’d be able to make much better choices and decisions, and wouldn’t be swayed by powerful emotions like anger, embarrassment, guilt, or lust.
By some brain surgeons decided to do an experiment. They were doing surgery on this guy. They were removing a tumor, and in order to get to it, they had to cut through several areas of his brain they thought were responsible for emotional thinking. This was only a temporary part of the surgery. They figured as long as they were in there tinkering around, they would test this logic-emotional theory.
Since brain surgery only requires general anesthetic (there aren’t any pain sensors in the brain) the guy could be awake, and responsive to questions. They figured they’d ask him some logic-based questions, starting with easy ones, and then getting to more and more complicated ones. Ones that most people have a hard time answering because of their moral and ethical considerations, like if you are in a boat and you only have on life preserver, who do you save, the President (who is opposite of your political party) or your favorite pet (or some other emotionally convoluted question).
These doctors had theorized that since this guy’s emotional circuitry would be temporarily disconnected, he’d be like Spock, and spit out purely logical answers.
But what they found was the opposite. Without emotional input, he couldn’t even make the most basic decisions. Without the emotional juice fueling the options, they seemed to him like a question of preference between a banana, and six. Later he said he couldn’t even begin to know how to answer the questions given him.
This, of course, sent neuroscientists into a tizzy, as it gave some great insight into the human decision making process. Of course, this was only one single case, and they can’t very well go off messing with peoples heads and disconnecting their emotions just to see what would happen.
But it does make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Humans evolved to make decisions for a reason, not to pass the time through idle philosophical discussions. Pain or pleasure, safety or danger, simplicity or complexity, these are all emotionally fueled ideas that power all of our decisions.
But according to that book I mentioned before (Mind Lines by Dr. Hall) we get into trouble when our emotions are based on judgments not on reality, but on our interpretation of reality. Someone cuts you off in traffic, and you make a judgment about that. You assume they are a jerk. Then you have a reaction to your judgment of them being jerk. Then you feel a certain way about that. Within a few seconds, you get angry at feeling guilty for being judgmental about some guy you assumed was a jerk that cut you off in traffic.
So when she had been standing there for two hours, getting angrier and angrier at me for being late, it didn’t matter one bit to her that it was her mistake. Of course, when I posed my question to her, it invoked the power of commitment and consistency. (See Cialdini, Influence, Science and Practice). She’d been waiting for two hours, she wasn’t likely to just up and leave five minutes after I finally showed up. (Finally according to her frame.)
I suppose the moral of the story is that whenever you come up to someone that has been building layer upon layer of emotions, it may be a good idea to simply give them an either/or option, take a step back and see what happens.
At the very least, it can be fun to watch.
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