4.16.2008

Another Poll on Humanity

See-sawing between deep, introspective questions and funny cat videos seems to be a good trend, so here's another introspective question for you (the kind you really need to be asking over a beer, 'cause that's where it started):

Do you assume people will be good and then give them "demerits" for things like, dishonesty, untrustworthiness, pettiness, unkindness, etc.
OR
Do you assume people will be bad and then give them "credit" for kindness, thoughtfulness, honesty, unselfishness, etc.

Generally, I fall more into the latter category, though my starting point is usually midrange. I expect people to be human (which is to say, good in general, but self-serving when the chips are down -- which is neither good or bad, just is), and then they get credits or demerits for extraordinary kindness or unkindness from there.

How about you? Are people black with white stripes? Or white with black stripes?

18 comments:

vince said...

Unless there's a good reason to do otherwise, ie., I have evidence of weaselness, for example, before I've even met them, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. But I'm also a firm believer in "trust but verify."

Although I have Guinness in the apartment, I feel a bit Captain-ish tonight, so I shall go have one or two in honor of introspection :-).

hubs said...

i give the benefit of doubt (almost to a fault). another way of asking this question: optimist or pessimist?

Jeri said...

I tend to believe folks are good unless they prove otherwise. That would make me an optimist, I guess.

It's one of my main points of separation with the traditional Christian religion. They teach original sin, or man is born to evil as the sparks fly upward. I believe in tabula rasa, or man is basically good.

I realize you didn't ask the question in the theological sense though. :D

The Grabill Family said...

Firstly, thank you for the Shel Silverstein insert. It was lovely to recite along. :-) Reminds me I need to buy those albums so I can live them forever!

I think you could have guessed my answer. When I meet people, I believe they are good unless they prove otherwise. But I do also know that everyone can be self-serving sometimes, but (like you) I don't put that point in the good or the bad category. I have a very hard time moving people so far into the demerits territory that I put them in the bad category. There are very few people that I do not like and/or think they are a good person.

Jeri, I believe Tabula Rasa is the 'Blank Slate' theory. So neither good nor bad. But I agree that that theory is definitely in opposition to the whole 'original sin' belief. Poor babies don't have a chance with that on their shoulders!

Janiece Murphy said...

If I've actually met someone, I give the benefit of the doubt until there's no more possible doubt.

If I havn't met someone, like a politician, for example, then I assume they're an asshat until proven otherwise.

Weird, huh?

Anne C. said...

hubs, interesting correlation to optimism and pessimism. I guess that would make me a realist.

Here's an interesting side effect to being in the good with bad times category (this came out of the original real life discussion) -- if you really expect people to be good, that can sometimes mean that you don't give credit for being good/kind/thoughtful. Example: Sometimes I am crabby when I'm stressed (those of you who know me well can roll your eyes at the "sometimes"). I try not to, but it happens. I'm human. Coworkers who work near me know I'm not usually like this and aren't crabby back or (as far as I know) complain to my boss. I REALLY appreciate this. I don't really expect them to see and understand the circumstances. I don't really expect them to not feel hurt or angry. I give them credit for being understanding. From the other perspective, one might think -- well, of course they behave that way. They are adults and realize that not everything is about them. You don't get credit for that!

Hmm... using that example makes me think that my starting point is based on an assumption that unpleasant behavior that I have experienced to this point is the norm. I *have* had trouble with coworkers who (also feeling crabby when stressed) complained to the boss. I appreciate when people don't do it.

I guess my philosophy falls under the adage: Hope for the best, expect the worst. This is not a great strategy for someone who believes that your mindset and perceptions can affect your reality, but I'm trying to reconcile them.

Anne C. said...

That's a good one, Janiece. I'll have to think about where I am on that one.

Stacey said...

I expect people will behave in the manner befitting the situation. When they don't, its a tad dissappointing. That being said, everyone is human and has bad days, so I guess the real answer to my question is innocent until proven guilty.
I always thought a optimist is just an pessimist without all the facts :) Like Anne, I consider myself a realist. The glass isn't half full or empty, I just wanna be out of the kitchen before someone asks me to wash it.

I think you were right Anne, this requires an adult beverage and a table full of people to share viewpoints with. There are so many variables and since nothing happens in a vacuum, many choices of how to respond to that particular individual in that particular situation present itself.

Nathan said...

I'm actually kind of naive. I always assume everyone's being fairly honest and upfront until I see evidence to the contrary.

The thing is, sometimes I don't see the evidence even when it's right there in front of me. I did a number of jobs with the same Assistant Location Manager and she regularly pointed out other people's hidden agendas that I'd been completely blind to.

Maximo said...

is the process of getting to know a stranger really that cut and dry or mathematical? Do your expectations of "good" and "bad" predestine if you will like or dislike the person regardless of personality or circumstance? I.e., What if actions by people weren't inherently good or bad and only attained a qualitative value based on the perspective of the observer(s)? Do the things we like least about ourselves, our fears and discomforts, unfairly skew our perspective of a person during our interactions with that person? If you felt that each and every word/gesture/mannerism/word inflection/tone-of-voice was being evaluated by the other person as a means of judgment...would you develop a minimalistic attitude and turn into a robot, or would you turn into a huge extrovert, never holding back a thing and sometimes even emphasizing those attributes?

Stacey said...

Maximo, now I definetly need an adult beverage ;)
You answer fascinated me and made me want to think about this topic even more.

Michelle K said...

I.... don't know.

I think I tend to take people at face value, but try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

As an example, I deal with a lot of unhappy people with my job, and I've found that if I respond calmly and politely they will often quickly become polite and nice.

So in that way I'm an optimist.

But some people are just plain rude no matter what, and I'm not ever surprised to discover that.

And tabula rasa is "blank slate". I think it refers to people being neither good no bad, but just being.

Jeri said...

You are right, I even know enough Latin to understand what 'tabula rasa' means.

Actually, it's rather telling that I believe blank slate = good, as opposed to neutral or any other inclination.

Anne C. said...

Max -
I can see where you might say this appears to be a cut and dried process, but I don't see it as such. There's no list of point values and there's always circumstantial mitigations, such as being crabby when stressed. Is anything inherently bad/good? Perception and circumstance can completely change an action from bad to good (or vice versa). Knowing that is important. However, I don't believe most humans can exist without passing some kind of judgment on their peers. It's not always a good/bad split -- sometimes it's just "I wouldn't do that."

And you're right that our own perceptions and values unfairly colors things. This is part of being in the world -- managing your own perceptions and working around those of other people. My larger concern, as I meant to say in the original post, is that my perceptions change what comes to me. If I expect people to be dishonest, they will be (and also just appear to be) dishonest. Knowing that, can I change how people behave by changing my initial mindset? I think I can.

I *do* feel judged every day. It's part of why I wouldn't mind being a hermit sometimes. When I am feeling especially judged, I usually withdraw to protect myself and to give as little material for offending as I can.

It's not mathematical by any means. More like modern art. Only the painter can make sense of his/her own process.

Laura said...

Like a couple others have mentioned, I tend to believe a person is genuinely good until proven otherwise.

However, I am NOT an optimist. I usually consider myself a pessimist when it comes to my own situations. My old boss used to be kind and say I'm a realist, but I still think I tend to focus on the negative, annoying things (not the realistic things) my life before the positive. I have learned that this comes from my father - a big eye opening experience after his heart surgery last year.

I'm really trying to change that around now. It's not easy.

Maximo said...

'tis far from being cut 'n dry =)

MWT said...

I didn't really have a response to that, so I asked a friend for his instead. I knew his perspective was likely to be completely unlike anyone else's. So, anyway. 'Tis here. :)

Anne C. said...

I liked his last line best. All in all, an interesting take. What he said about risk is the perfect way to describe it.
Thanks for asking him to respond!