Monday, March 13, 2017

Got into a brief conversation this morning with some fellow rats about self-defense, and everyone’s assumptions about how much it was necessary to prepare yourself for violence.  One participate said that it rarely occurred to him that violence was a risk he’d be facing, in the cultural context of middle-class Britain.  I realized over the course of that conversation that I have a lot of habits and assumptions about my personal safety that I haven’t examined for a while.  So I’m going to lay out the important factors here (or at least the ones I consider important). 

I.  Personal Background/Culture

I grew up in Eastern WA, and spent a large part of my childhood in southern Idaho.  My maternal relatives were Southern Baptists, lower-middle class, and fairly devout.  My biological paternal relatives were also Southern Baptist, of the Louisiana flavor.  My adoptive, paternal relatives were a mix of Catholic and Mormon.  Grandpa's side of the family is Hispanic.  They were more firmly middle class than my mom's side of the family, but are also from Idaho and shared a lot of that pull-yourself-up-by-bootstraps" attitude.  

I was exposed to guns at a young age.  The safety talks started when I was really little, and I think I was nine or ten the first time I got to shoot a handgun.  I wasn't that interested in shooting, myself, until I met my husband-to-be and he took me on a few dates to a range.  I'm still nowhere near the hobbyist he is, but I like target shooting and carry a small Ruger LCR that I got for Valentine's Day.  Despite all the guns I spent time around, random gun violence wasn't really a thing.  

My dad was a pretty serious martial artist, and practiced a number of styles.  From age four onward, I was periodically involved in one martial arts class or another.  He also did occasional drills with me at home, and talked to me a *lot* about practical self defense.  

Most people I grew up with were exposed to guns and martial arts as kids, too, and nearly all of my hometown friends have looked into self-defense to some degree.  

II.  Some Assumptions I Have About Defense 

The steps I take to keep myself safe depend on my environment; if I'm going to be in a dangerous area, or around a lot of aggressive people I don't know well, I'm going to think a lot more about how to project a "don't fuck with me" vibe.  I'm not necessarily preparing for violence, which I don't think is a well-understood concept when some people hear the phrase "self defense."  I'm putting inconvenience in the way of bothering me at all.  It would be a failure of self-defense to permit escalation up until the point where I have to use my gun or pepper spray.

Making myself too inconvenient to mess with is one strategy, but another would be to fly under the radar entirely.  I don't have to posture to keep people from messing with me; I just have to do whatever it is the locals to that results in their general safety.  If a British friend says "In my town, you can walk down the road totally wasted in the middle of the night, and no one will bother you," that falls into the range of acceptable safe behavior.  Preferably, I would be able to confirm this with more than one person.  Sometimes, it's enough to be with a local.  Sometimes you just avoid the place entirely.  

An example of something I might actually do where I live: if I'm going to a bar, alone, and don't want to have to fend off drunk dudes, I won't drink enough to get intoxicated and I might throw up the bitch shield a little harder.  I have to accept that I'm going to a place with lots of drunk people, and some of those idiots are going to bug me.  I know from experience that dropping my murder-face means I get bugged more often, so I don't.  I will make a note of exits and any bouncers, and make friendly conversation with the bartender.  Now I have a friend, and I look like a cunt to any dumbasses who might get ideas.  This is a fairly safe situation to be in.  If I have other female friends with me, I usually take the role of "scary friend."  I'm not a small woman and I apparently scare people shitless with my resting face.  

If being a bitch isn't a credible deterrent in some situation or another, that is a bad option for personal safety.  Some environments, the bitch shield is an escalation in itself, I so avoid it.  

Obviously, avoiding dangerous places would be the safest option, but that's just no fun.  

This all sounds like I'm in Constant Vigilance mode, but I'm really not.  Again, if I don't have a reason to believe that a risky situation will arise, I let my guard down a lot.  But I do think about this, fairly often.  It seems naive or negligent to not do a quick scan of your situation and see how risky it is.  

One last time for emphasis: violence is much rarer than potentially violent situations, and it's the latter that I'm really trying to avoid.  I don't want to shoot people, I don't want to run from attackers, and I don't really expect to.  But I treat it much like driving.  Car accidents are way more common than car accident deaths, but I still wear a seatbelt when I'm in a car.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Indefensible Friendships

I posted this on Facebook today:

It's true, and it means that I often find myself in the middle of two friends who really, really hate one another.  Or at least see the other as useless, stupid, get the idea.  I also often find myself unable to defend them.  It's not because I don't think the friend under examination isn't worth defending, obviously!  It's just that the reasons I keep them around aren't taken seriously by the questioning party.  I don't need people to have all of the qualities I want in one person.  Those qualities aren't universal throughout my social group, even the ones I find very important.

Recently, I was in of those mildly uncomfortable situations.  I've changed some details about the values involved, but it went like this:

Alice is a high-energy, aggressive individual who believes in truthseeking and agency above all else. She also believes that it's important to see how people behave in stressful situations, and gets accused of trolling while attempting to incite that reaction over social media.  I like Alice because, in addition to just enjoying her, her communication style helps me practice not being defensive in response to criticism, because she is very insistent on calling out dishonesty among her friends. Even when it's implicit.

Bob is a kindhearted individual who values truthseeking as well, but also loving-kindness in their social circle.  He has a lot of compassion for people who've had hard lives and advocates for lots of accommodations for the disabled.  He has been known to hide some things due to his anxiety, and is not very resilient to disruptions in his life.  Bob is useful to me as a source of compassion and caregiving, and is in favor of more social accommodation than most of my close friends are, so I get to see a viewpoint that I'm not exposed to that much.

Alice and Bob hate each other.  They've both asked me independently why I put up with the other, or implied that I shouldn't.  I didn't go into extensive detail about their value systems, but I gave enough to illustrate that while I find them both valuable, I can't defend one to the other.  The reasons I keep them as friends aren't enough to overcome their distaste for each other.  And I don't think there's much wrong with either of them.  At least, their flaws are the sort I can put up with well enough.

I started writing this to brainstorm ways to present my reasons in a way that's palatable to the offended parties.  This particular situation is one I've just ignored, but one of the individuals has recently reduced the amount of contact we have, and I feel like this may be why.  This is frustrating.  It makes me think that I should add a friendship criterion: When I say that I do get something out of a relationship, and they aren't hurting me, just fucking trust me.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

My husband and I recently had a very serious talk about communication issues.  Apparently he'd been under the impression that every time I was enthusiastic about something, I was seriously planning to drop everything and do it. This led to a model of me as a horribly impulsive person he had to hold back from disaster all the time, whereas I saw him as constantly shooting down everything I wanted to talk about.  For no reason!

Last night, he explained that he doesn't have strong, positive emotions about things until he's already decided they're realistic and probable.  I, on the other hand, have strong enthusiastic emotions about things without any sense of commitment at all.  Basically: I prefer everything remain on the table as an option until I might actually want to do it, at which point it will be evaluated for risk and viability.  He prefers that things not even go on the table unless they've been evaluated for risk and viability.

At first, when we were trying to figure out how to fix this in conversations,  he asked "Can you just tell me when you are or aren't being serious, and then I'll know how to respond?"

I replied, "That sounds exhausting, having to decide right then if I'm serious about the thing every time.  Like, having to decide if a small desire or interest is worth the effort, I'll usually decide it's not.  But then little ones will build up, and it's not like I can batch them all in one conversation, since they're all different."  It's obvious to me how this can turn into festering resentment over time; no matter how many little ideas and "maybes" accrue, the effort of resolving them the way he's inclined to would always be larger.

The work of evaluating how serious I am, or how risky something is, doesn't belong that early in my cognition.  I do the work, but not until much later in the decision making process.  I use conversation and hypotheticals (and what apparently looks like enthusiastic, committed planning) as exploratory world-building.  Unknowingly scaring the shit out of my husband.

The exploratory world-building itself is an exhausting time investment for him, so why would someone engage in it without being serious?  He thought every time I was excited about a new career idea, I was actually going to drop my current job and pursue it, or every time I saw a cool house on the market that I was playing with the idea of, I was actually going to try to move there.  I thought he was just being a wet blanket, ruining my fun by bringing up worst case scenarios for everything I wanted to talk about.  It took about...ten hours of conversation, all told, to find the crux of the issue.

I might generalize this to: different cognitive processes take different amounts of work for different people.  Deciding how serious someone is about something based on how hard their actions are for you can lead to a lot of confusing resentment and fear, not to mention bad predictions about their behavior.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

This is a messy list of social issues I want to fix.  It’s not complete but it’s been floating around in my drafts in various forms for a long time.  I might make minor edits to the formatting later. 

-I’m very focused on other people, to the point where their opinions influence me too much.  I’ve got a lot of bullshit in my head that’s tagged “credible” because it came from someone I wanted to impress.

-I tend to mimic when I’m around people I admire.  Mimicry is a lifesaver when you have no idea what’s going on, but it’s starting to lose its effectiveness as a tool. 

-I especially tend to mimic when I’m nervous.

-People I admire make me nervous.

-I tend to get obsessive over people for short periods of time (<6 months or so).  I consume everything they’ve written, and try to talk to them as much as is socially acceptable.  (what I see as) a socially acceptable amount of unprompted interaction is lower than the amount I want to have, so I find myself inventing pretenses to talk to them until they’re firmly in the “friend” category.

-I’m very unsure that people want to reciprocate interest, so it takes a while for me to be that comfortable.

-I’m so poorly calibrated about how I’m perceived that, even though I’m pretty sure I could be described as an extravert in the colloquial sense, I second-guess myself constantly and miss out on potentially high-value interactions.

-The second-guessing leads to things like not being very funny (thinking too long about saying things = screwing up the timing).  Also: missing opportunities for compliments, invitations, questions.  Sometimes I second guess, but decide to go ahead anyways, and then my timing goes from “eh, fine” to egregiously bad.  Potential solution there?  Maybe just killing the second-guessing habit would result in fewer moments like that.  On the other hand, having a classically autistic, encyclopedic memory and stereotypical “nerd” interests means I do moderately well in the con/anime/scifi geek scene.  That crowd’s humor is largely referential, and less dependent on delivery.   I still wouldn’t call myself hilarious but I feel more fluent there. 

-I get tunnel vision when I’m talking to people irl.  Don’t know what to do with my body.  Mindfulness meditation seems to help a bit, but I’m still 23 and just figured out how to exert instantaneous control over my facial expressions on a more regular basis. 

-I’m a bit faceblind, but that seems to be because I don’t look people in the eyes as much as I should.  I’ve been working on that and, surprise, suddenly I can recognize more people.

None of this is that severe (I’m functional, I have friends, I’m slowly approaching my Dunbar number for reciprocating friendships), but I want more control over what’s going on in my head.  A full 80% of why I’m writing this right now is because my current person-of-interest was talking about it.  My excuse is “well, I’m just better able to articulate it now,” but it really is that social motivation at work. 

What I want:

-To get the level of comfort I have with good friends more quickly

-Alternatively, to get to the level of comfort I have with strangers I don’t care about more quickly
-to catch myself when I start inventing reasons to talk to someone.  I’m a goddamn adult, I know what obnoxious people look like.  I am able to assess my own behavior if I pay attention.  I can look at a situation as a third party and know that one of the participants is annoyed or trying to blow someone off.  If I assess my own social situations while pretending to be a neutral third party, I should be able to do that for myself. 

-To be a bit funnier.  I would be happy if I could just get over my second-guessing.  Even if I suck for a while, I have to actually try if I want any kind of valuable feedback.

-To adopt valuable habits and knowledge that other people have without resorting to mimicry because I want them to like me.  It’s not a bad thing to mimic a little bit, depending on the situation I’m in.  It’s also not a problem if I adopt the genuinely good and useful traits of people I like.  But I need to be way, way more careful about tagging that information accurately and vetting knowledge independently. 

-To have high-value sources of social attention.  High-value meaning: I want the kind of attention I’m inclined to give to people. 

-To have more control over my actions in-person, in the moment.  I can achieve this when I’m very relaxed.  It’s probably not a coincidence that my social life has gotten better along with my anxiety disappearing. 

Things I can do:

-Notice when I start feeling inclined to listen to somebody more often than baseline interest. This is the start of a special-interest episode and those people have undue influence over me.

-Catch myself before inventing a pretense for interaction

-Behave like I would around “normal” friends, as much as possible.  That means: adjust down when evaluating how much someone’s social disapproval can hurt me.  I’m not in second grade and I have plenty of friends; I’m not going to get ostracized on the playground. 

-Make sure that people know that I’m open to criticism and expressions of annoyance or discomfort.  Reinforce this by not getting defensive when criticized.

-Kill defensiveness in general.  What do I have to protect that’s so sacred?  I am functional and moderately successful.  I will likely be quite successful and happy if my mental and physical health stay in check.  I’m pretty resilient overall, so getting stung in the ego should be no big deal.  Helpful analogy: getting my blood drawn.  It’s hardly ever as bad as I expect, regardless of all those good evolutionary reasons for avoiding things that pierce the skin. 

-Work on the two big projects that really do come from me (as much as anything can be said to be original).  They’re serious and interesting and I don’t really care what other people think about them.  It’s my fault if I can’t explain why they matter, eventually.

-Kill insecurity over becoming really invested in things that my people-of-interest do for hobbies.  Oh no, I like things my friends like, how awful and embarrassing.  What if they find out you like them?

-Get less invested in the autism diagnosis.  It’s useful when explaining my sensory issues, but at this point, I have enough social skills that crying “autism” is just a crutch.  I’ve already proved to myself that I can improve in this area.  The only excuse I have for not doing it has to do with my goals and how much time I’m willing to invest.  Anything else is a copout.