I know you guys might be getting kind of exhausted from all the oversharing that’s been happening on mathbabe this week. I am too. But let me finish the phase with one piece of advice which I hope you find helpful.
I call it “Cathy’s Wager” (h/t Chris Wiggins) in reference to a much more famous and better idea called Pascal’s Wager. That, you may remember, is the argument that you might as well be a good person because there’s either a god, who cares, or there isn’t, in which case you haven’t lost all that much.
So here’s my version, and it refers to how other people treat you and how you react. I’ll assume most people treat you nicely most of the time, and then sometimes someone doesn’t treat you nicely. How do you react?
My theory is that you always assume it’s something they’re going through, and you try to never take it personally. Here are some examples.
- You’re friends with someone and all of a sudden they stop writing back to your emails. Assume they’re going through something, maybe a depression, maybe a break-up, maybe they just fell in love or moved jobs. It’s not about you and you shouldn’t take it personally. Consider writing to them and saying you’re there for them if they need a friend, or just do nothing and let them take their time, depending on how close a friend they are and how likely each of those scenarios is. Err on the side of compassion, not blame.
- You’re trying to set up a meeting with someone professionally and they never get back to you, or even worse, they don’t show up for the planned meeting and never explain why. First, always assume this has nothing to do with you. Maybe the got into a fight with their significant other, maybe they just got fired. You have no idea. But in order to avoid this from happening, do remember to confirm business meetings the day of, if it’s in the afternoon, or the afternoon before, if it’s in the morning, especially if the meeting was made more than a week in advance.
- You have what you think is an interesting if provocative conversation with someone and they never talk to you again, and you hear 2nd or 3rd hand (or both) that they hate your guts. Again, it’s not about you. There was some trigger in that conversation, and yes if you want to be sensitive you could try to go back over the conversation in your head and figure out what the heck happened. Do it once, but if you are convinced you meant no offense, then assume that person is going through something. They might even get over it and want to make up someday. Who knows, maybe part of what they like in life is getting offended and complaining. For example, maybe they take this article to heart entitled “The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People.”
- Someone gets into your face and tells you you’re an awful person and are being mean to them for whatever reason. Not about you.
As I’m sure you can see, the assumption that “it’s not about me” is super useful and time-saving. I use it a lot, which means I don’t spend a lot of time second guessing myself or trying to change things that I can’t change about other people’s feelings. It’s kind of a selfish version of the Serenity Prayer, if you will, without all the religious stuff.
And this is not to say I don’t spend time trying to mend differences and reach out to my friends! I totally do! I just don’t feel personally affected if it doesn’t work. And I think that actually helps me do it more often in the end.
One caveat: the above examples work pretty well unless you are actually an awful person. I’m assuming you’re not. If you are actually a bad person, please don’t rely on Cathy’s Wager, thanks. Of course that begs the question of whether anyone actually thinks they’re awful, and if you go there, consider the idea that awful people are already using Cathy’s Wager, so you may as well too.