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Why I Quit Being So Accommodating (1922) (mikecanex.wordpress.com)
866 points by Tomte 235 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 316 comments

For anybody learning to say "no" currently - learn to say "no" gently and kindly. I'm quite bad at this myself. I let people impose stuff on me, and once I have had enough, I have a very rude way of telling people off. One reason for this rudeness is a fear that I will lose something when declining (e.g. a relationship or money), so I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place - I don't want to help, but I feel I should not decline. Most of the times, my rudeness while finally saying "no" is out of place, e.g. when my fiance needs something from me that actually makes sense, or a customer who needs some small task that they would actually pay for.

Watching other people (esp my fiance) saying "no" ever so gently has me wondering how easy life could be if I were able to do the same. I'm practicing it, and I think I'm getting better at it. Telling the other person the root cause why you say "no" helps a lot to instill empathy for your situation. The root cause always stems from a need or necessity that you currently have, like need for rest/food/time to think/time to finish this or that task properly/... Even if you are lazy and simply don't want to help right now, remember that this laziness also fulfils one of your needs - probably you need to rest or think.

ADDED: Telling people that you just cannot help _right now_ also softens the blow. Also, if it's a customer then delaying might even be more beneficial than just declining - you might need the billable hours in the following week.

One method I found works disturbingly well is to have a busy life or cultivate the appearance of a busy life. It's counter-intuitive for some and obvious for others, but people will value you more if you are less available whereas they will treat your time with increasing contempt if you can be reached and interrupted easily.

With this reputation in place, people are much less likely to try to trick you into doing what they want, and more likely to try to get you to do things with them.

You have to be a little careful though. If you don't have much social capital to begin with, it could backfire into being ignored altogether. If you overdo it, it may also be counterproductive.

> One method I found works disturbingly well is to have a busy life or cultivate the appearance of a busy life.

There is nothing original about this. Practically everyone is doing all they can to pretend to be busy, to the point that many people actually believe that they are, and all to avoid meaningful interactions with the people around them. Meaningful interactions are risky and costly and modern people have lost their nerve. It's so much easier to watch Net Flix when you want to feel. I'm sick to death of this. I want to surround myself with people who live deeply and with meaning.

Think about it, how many people, other than your family, really give a shit if you live or die? For most people that number is close to zero and it's not going to change if you buy in to this bullshit that the solution to your problems is to guard your time or focus more on yourself. In my experience, the only people who say they need to start thinking more of their own needs are the ones who have always done so.

>Think about it, how many people, other than your family, really give a shit if you live or die?

That is actually one of the crucial realizations that helped me change my behavior towards others. It may seem hard to believe, but once I understood that interactions were more transactional than I had previously thought (in the sense that you always have to create some form of value for others since people don't care about you otherwise), I was able to have a richer and deeper social life because people fundamentally changed the way they responded to me.

I had the exact same goal you've described in your post. Like you've hinted at, the current trend in society is along the lines "however cares the least wins" and the sad truth is that you have to play the game to some extent to unlock richer interactions. People who don't respect you will rarely have meaningful interactions with you, if at all. I know this because I've been on both sides of the aisle.

>In my experience, the only people who say they need to start thinking more of their own needs are the ones who have always done so.

I agree, since I used to be this person. The only thing I'm suggesting is that for people to consider you a certain way you have to act a certain way to meet their conscious and unconscious expectations, even if the charade is irrational as a whole. Think of it as a way to get a social baseline that will in turn help you have a more meaningful existence. In fact, in my case I started to like people more and more since I ended up with fewer mental burdens and negative feelings.

"The only thing I'm suggesting is that for people to consider you a certain way you have to act a certain way to meet their conscious and unconscious expectations, even if the charade is irrational as a whole. Think of it as a way to get a social baseline that will in turn help you have a more meaningful existence."

It is oftentimes limiting too much - their expectations costs you. I get what you are saying and that it works that way, but it oftentimes forces you to pretend you don't like things you like or to avoid things you would like to try. I mean, yeah, they would respond to me better and I would have more meaningful social interactions, but the cost is too much.

I had similar thoughts as well at first. I chafed against the effort involved in dressing better, being more sociable, and a whole range of other habits. The surprising discovery I made in that case was that I started to like things I previously disliked (certain types of social activities) and lost interest in things I previously spent a lot of time on (mostly escapism). As I engaged more with the world my attitude changed, even though I retained the same core personality. I effectively passed a threshold beyond which the effort started to pay off in terms of satisfaction, to the point where it no longer seemed like a burden at all.

Of course, this is only my own experience and will not be relevant for most people. However, it's certainly a counter-intuitive notion that merits investigation. At the very least, it's quite helpful to critically evaluate your most common habits and patterns.

I think we go through this arc where when we are young the world revolves around the opinions of others, then we think it resolves around us, and finally we realize that nobody gives a shit.

The virtuous cycle is to learn what and who you care about. The vicious cycle is to shake your fist at the TV.

There's a lecture by Richard Hamming that I feel is quite relevant to your post.


Most of it is about research proper but he also includes a passage relating on how to respond to other people and which battles to choose.

It is disturbing to see people standing on both ends of the spectrum and arguing. And assuming everyone belongs to either. Author claims clearly to have gone through difficulties his whole life for being so "accommodating". While he was so wrong if he were advising against being "good" to people in general, it is also not acceptable that someone who hasn't tasted any bitterness for being eternally "good" to outright negate author's views. I would expect more sense on HN.

To quote Seth Rogen - It is not binary

> Practically everyone is doing all they can to pretend to be busy, to the point that many people actually believe that they are, and all to avoid meaningful interactions with the people around them.

This is a big generalisation. Perhaps true in some specific contexts but certainly not in general. "Practically everyone" is not pretending to be busy to escape meaningful interactions. But many people are indeed pretending to be busy for the reason Bakary stated.

> Think about it, how many people, other than your family, really give a shit if you live or die?

Several tens at least. If you maintain good friendships and have a healthy work environment there is no reason why this wouldn't be the case.

I think you may be onto something here but I'm not sure.

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

To me, it's a good idea to always carry two sacks of something when you walk around. That way, if anybody says, "Hey, can you give me a hand?" you can say, "Sorry, got these sacks."

This actually back-fired for a real-estate broker recently.

One of his good friend's used another real estate agent to buy a house.

The broker, upset that his friend had not contacted him, asked why?

The response, "we thought you were too busy."

This happened two weeks ago.

Friends probably (almost certainly) were lying.

It's generally a good idea, as a rule of thumb, to avoid mixing family/friendship with business(1) - professionals should already know/understand this and respect it. Friends may have copped out with "thought you were too busy" to avoid further offending broker who clearly doesn't understand professionalism and personal boundaries.

Absolutely consult with your friends/family but tread very carefully when considering hiring them. Never, ever, question why a friend doesn't hire you or take it personally - business is business, friendship is friendship.

(1) I have a friend who learned this the hard way when they hired a mutual friend's dad to cater an event. God, that was a disaster that almost ruined a good friendship.

It was probably a "polite" lie.

When looking for a real-estate agent, one of the top pieces of advice is: DO NOT use a friend or family member. Just, don't. Nothing personal, it's just not how you go about looking for a quality real-estate agent ... even if they happen to be a great one.

That's a good point. Some tradesman I've known for years tell me that they do all they can to take all the work they can, even if they're crushed with work, because once you say no, people get out of the habit of calling you. Not sure how much that applies to the kinds of stuff HN readers do or care about, but for old-time trades it makes sense.

I would contest the label of 'good friend' then.

I would add also that people will be more grateful when you offer your help, and that will help you feel more appreciated.

This issue of "making oneself unavailable" is very well described in The Teachings Of Don Juan. Read all about it.

It's an incomplete charade. Feel free to wear noise-canceling headphones, sunglasses and a hat and close the door, the needy jerks will still suckle attention for their time-sucking, futility from all directions... the Mormons, Amway distributors, recruiters, parties, the help me move a couch, help me do this and that, on and on.

It's better to be a "grayman:" blend-in by being as boring, generic and forgetable as possible. Disappear, not seek to social climb, because that will only attract different sorts of "stalkers" whom also will have demands.

It's possible you may not have cultivated the right impression. It took me a while to figure out the psychological aspect of it and achieve the "I'm busy and I have things going on" look, but once I hit the sweet spot, the before and after difference was astounding. When I relocated to another country and a different professional and social circle, it was like I was perceived to be a completely different person, even though my actual behavior and personality had only been slightly adjusted.

I essentially molded my behavior on that of people who I myself perceived to be busy and "important". In some cases, I wasn't even consciously aware that I treated some people with more respect and others with less (those who showed the same accommodating behavior I did, or worse) until I critically examined my relationship with them. It worked like a charm.

The most encouraging development was that after while I actually became a person with "things going on". Of course, this was only the natural progression of increased confidence, focus and free time.

From your perspective, what specific traits or responses did you cultivate to give off the impression you mention? Which were most important for changing other people's perception of you?

A lot of it is hard to explain in a useful way because I learned it through imitating more charismatic people. I recommend applying this method yourself as there is likely no substitute.

I would say the single most effective response was to change the way I responded to people via electronic means. You have to artificially delay and shorten your responses (whether through emails or text messages/chat apps) and interact much more sporadically in some contexts (for instance, greatly decreasing the volume of your social media presence while not disappearing altogether). The first is common (even basic) knowledge for anyone younger than 35, and the second is a little less obvious but no less significant. It works in both a social and professional context, and I've seen it work for people of all ages, from my elderly boss to some of my friends in their twenties. Ironically by responding to a bunch of comments here I've clearly not followed this rule of thumb.

The most effective general trait was to conceal any trace of eagerness and idleness, while at the same time being present and in the moment. Being aloof and relaxed while at the same time not pushing people away completely. This is also common knowledge, but hard to apply consistently.

It sure looks silly and duplicitous when typed out like this (and it is!) but it works.

>You have to artificially delay and shorten your responses

Delaying responses in a professional setting can hamper your actual productivity though – and appear inattentive or disrespectful, not busy.

For one, there is a general reciprocity of responsiveness, i.e., the faster you respond to them, the faster they'll respond to you. And of course, that's relative. They won't necessarily mimic your response time, but your time will affect where their responses are in their normal range of response time.

I've witnessed this firsthand numerous times. A colleague will complain Bob takes days to respond, whereas I typically get a response the same day – and the inverse too. It's not hard data, but the pattern seems true.

The other part is that I see no real benefit in delaying a response. I happen to be in a legitimately busy phase right now, but I still try to be fairly responsive. The nuance is that my quick responses are sometimes just me saying that I'll respond in depth by the end of the day/week/whatever and to please let me know if a response is needed sooner.

I can imagine scenarios where that's not appropriate, but in general, that approach makes more sense to me. It still communicates that you're busy but doesn't artificially delay things or unintentionally disrespect people.

There's a book called "The Like Switch" which is written by a former FBI behaviorist who has devoted his career to answering questions including this specific one. It has specific answers to your question complete with studies and war stories to back it up. Fun reading!

[1] http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21412226-the-like-switch

I found it oftentimes easier to say no without saying reason. The issue for me was that when I state reason, people wanted to negotiate, attempted to "advise" me on how organize my time better and so on and so forth. Overtime (at least against many people) I found it much less draining to simply insist on politely stated no without further explanation.

This is my dad's strategy. He's a pretty affable guy and often willing to help, but he has a way of saying "no"--and just "no"--that makes it sound like he's declining a second serving of ice cream. It's calm, terse, and inarguably final. More importantly, it contains not a trace apology. On the rare occasion someone asks why he just says "I'm not going to do that."

Counterpoint: when people do this to me, I instinctively assume that the true reason is laziness. On top of that, I feel alienated – what, you think you're so important that you can brush me off just like that, and I'm not even worthy being given a reason?

Be careful with this one. It's very much possible to state a reason and still express that you won't change your mind on the matter. Although it is more effort, you won't lose people's goodwill.

> what, you think you're so important that you can brush me off just like that, and I'm not even worthy being given a reason?

If you're a family member, friend, coworker, etc.--i.e., someone who has a reasonable expectation of my putting aside whatever I'm doing to consider your request--then this response would be reasonable. (But even then you have to respect the other person's time.)

But that isn't what the author of the article was describing. He was describing people who had no valid reason to expect him to be at their beck and call, still treating him as if he were at their beck and call. Such people are not entitled to a reason, because they're not entitled to any claim on your time in the first place. A polite "no" is enough.

(I should probably also clarify that by "friend" I don't mean "someone I just met on Facebook" or "someone I have a few beers with once in a while". I mean someone you have known for a fair amount of time and with whom you have mutual trust.)

> someone who has a reasonable expectation of my putting aside whatever I'm doing to consider your request--then this response would be reasonable. (But even then you have to respect the other person's time.)

The remark in parenthesis is pretty important here. A lot of people seem to feel entitled to your full and immediate attention 24/7 just because they're family or know you for a while. I suppose GP feels that too ("what, you think you're so important that you can brush me off just like that, and I'm not even worthy being given a reason?"). There's this strange phenomenon when people in some sort of relationship start treating the other party with less respect they'd show to a stranger.

I spent a lot of my late-teen / young-adult years teaching people around me that yes, I'm always open to help, but if you want me to consider your request, please respect my time and focus - it'll be better for both of us. I even translated PG's "Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule" just so I could show it to my mom (and some other) in order to explain why I don't respond well to being asked to do trivial errands at random times during the day.

At work I simplify this - when I want to signal I'm concentrating, I just put on over-the-ear headphones.

And mind you - I'm probably one of the more accommodating person you'd met. I find it very hard to say "no" when people ask me for help nicely. What I wrote above is the result of dealing with years of frustration and eventually deciding it's too much.

> I even translated PG's "Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule" just so I could show it to my mom (and some other) in order to explain why I don't respond well to being asked to do trivial errands at random times during the day.

I had not even thought of doing this, it's brilliant. I often run into this issue with my mother when I visit, even though I am her adult son. I will certainly try this.

It was important for me back in my university days, when I was still living in family home. Now, when I visit my mother, I just block off that chunk of a day (preferably the last part of the day, because conversations with her and my younger brother are so interesting I stay hours longer than I planned...).

Anyway, for people from Poland who might find the essay useful, here's the translation: http://esejepg.pl/eseje/makersschedule.html. There are also some others (in particular, I wanted to have "What You'll Wish You'd Known" available too, to show to my younger siblings).

(I'd also love to get some help with translating more of the essays. After some personal issues back some 4 years ago I lost the drive to continue the work; since then, however, I've been told those translations are actually being printed out and given to people in some business classes, which sounds like they're useful to someone.)

I don't like giving reasons anymore because they're usually a lie. I don't write up a list of pros and cons and find there's only one con and that's the one true reason for not wanting to do it. Reasons are complicated and hard to know yourself. By saying it, the other person can find a way to show it's not true, or get another reason out of you which shows your first reason wasn't complete. People have sometimes used my reasons against me - "remember that time you said you did X because of Y?, Now you're saying Y wasn't true, so you were lying back then!" They miss the fact that there are multiple reasons, and they aren't binary ("I want to" and "I don't want to" can both be true at the same time!) and I miss the fact that I cherry pick reasons that seem placating and omit the reasons that might seem rude.

It's not rudeness, but honesty that makes me dislike giving reasons. Sometimes I give the reason "I don't want to" which seems about as correct as I can understand.

"Reasons are complicated and hard to know yourself" -- this is especially true for complex decisions. Sometimes you don't know yourself and trust your gut instinct. The real reason your inner thought suggested a 'no' reveals to you slowly. By explaining your reason to others you risk closing that loop. Some thoughts are better unsaid.

edit: I have found this especially true in family/personal matters

It's a confidence thing. You don't need a reason to say No.

If somebody thinks you lazy, so be it. But you don't owe anyone a reason.

Reasons, as you see them, are often "excuses" to the other person. Mught be even worse. Now you're not just lazy, you also make excuses.

Personally I'm bad at this too. I often give reasons/excuses when there's no need and even more often I say No by not saying anything at all and waiting for the thing to pass.

I think there's only a fine line between a reason and an excuse. An excuse is said with a culpable face and body language, while a reason is given neutrally, or maybe extra confident. You give excuses because you feel guilty, or give reasons because you know that you are right. I often force myself to do the latter - keeping an upright posture and a straight face helps a lot if you cannot get rid of the guilt feeling.

It's much more clear cut than that. An excuse is for something that you committed to. If you manage your time properly then you will only have to make excuses in extraordinary circumstances and you will develop a reputation for integrity. If you try to please everyone you will fail and eventually develop a reputation as a flake.

It is not so much about me being important, it is more about me guarding privacy/autonomy/independence. It is not about your worth either, usually it is about that person negotiation tactic. Even if it would be laziness (or need for rest), you are still asking some extra time I don't ow you from me.

If saying the reason would not lead to people taking advantage of it, I would say it. But with many people it does.

But I would not just brush you off, actually. I would attempt to find a way to help you if I would see one or attempted to redirect you to someone who can help. So even if I wont do what you want, unless I have bad experience with you personally, I would try to figure out alternative solution.

Regarding favours: People that feel entitled to one's time can go think about their own attitude. The goodwill you mention is not good will at all. Whether the declining party's true reason is laziness is literally none of your business - unless you have one of a very few types of relationships.

> Counterpoint: when people do this to me, I instinctively assume that the true reason is laziness

It depends on who you are in the scheme of things. If you're a friend, colleague or family member you have the expectation that you can depend on a person because of your proximity to them in a social network. No usually does need to be qualified in those cases. But if you're not closely tied to a person in a network and request something from them, to expect a reason or explanation for non-compliance is unreasonable.

Social networks often act as ledgers for who owes whom what and when you're asked by someone who is a distant node in the network to do something the risk is greater that your actions won't be reciprocated in some form, even if its simply an acknowledgement of what you did for them, because you can't appraise their character.

Caveats: Money is a shortcut through all of this social-ledger malarkey. My explanation ignores time as a cost factor. I can't back any of this up with facts.

Money to social networks is IMO like "System 2" to "System 1". We're wired to handle the "who owes whom" in small groups; money lets us scale this to a large society.

So I guess we're at System 3 with crypto currency? A ledger for every item/exchange and plotting their movement/consequence through the course of time?

I apologize, I forgot to clarify in the original comment. I mean "System 1" and "System 2" as introduced by Kahneman. To quote from the Wiki[0],

> "System 1" is fast, instinctive and emotional; "System 2" is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow

If the true reason is laziness, isn't that still a perfectly valid reason? I just don't particularly feel like moving your damn couch right now, I'd rather watch Netflix.

When I'm imposing on your time it's only normal that you get a chance to say 'no', whatever the reason for it.

You know what, I put that poorly. You're absolutely right, laziness is perfectly valid.

There's nevertheless a psychological difference between (variations on) "sorry dude, too many things on my plate this week" and "No.". There's nothing about the former anyone one can argue with, but it shows that you value basic human mutual understanding.

If the couch-owner truly lacks self-awareness, to the point where they constantly badger you with unreasonable requests (we all know that one guy), then a "No." isn't going to enlighten them either – in that case, you do them a favour by respectfully but explicitly informing them that their request is unreasonable.

Yes, but then laziness is not a highly valued human quality, so next time whenever you need help, people might feel about it the same way. And if someone gives that reason on a habitual basis, it might just actually mean he is not a helpful person. However, if you give them a short genuine reason of why you can't do it at that time, may be you'll have some hope.

Seems like that's at least partially on you.

I have a friend like this and, while we get along great most of the time, he is always interrogating people who say no to him and you can just tell he's assuming 'the true reason is laziness'.

People make complex decisions and they shouldn't always have to explain why. Especially with someone you trust.

When I feel someone is thinking this way ("true reason is laziness"), I instinctively react in an unpleasant way. I've been using a phrase "you treat me with less respect you'd treat a stranger" to remind them that empathy goes both ways, and I'm not their servant but independent human being.

I.e. if in the way you ask you show you're expecting them to comply, you're doing it wrong. Show respect to people's need for autonomy, and they'll be more willing to help you out.

Here is my strategy: Say "No" without a reason, but give at some reasonable alternatives. I will not lie.

"No, I can't do that for you at 5pm on a Friday. I can have it for you by noon on Monday, you can ask X to do the work, or you can invent a time machine and go back 24-hours and give the work to me yesterday."

This still puts the 'requestee' in a bind. Why should s/he have to think-of/figure-out an alternative? The requestor should be able to take a "no" for an answer and not feel entitled. Of course gentleness and politeness (usually) go a long way in making it easier.

Yes, always be polite. I find if you give some reasonable alternatives, they often take one of them. Sometimes you need to let them talk a little more to find out really what they are trying to accomplish and what the priorities are.

I have incorrectly assumed that time or money were the priorities, but with a little more information found out something else was really driving the request.

Sometimes the person making the request is entitled - they're in a management role and they're giving you a task. In that situation it's a good idea to show that you would do it if you could, but at the moment you can't. That allows the manager to do their job (assigning priority) and makes it clear the decision to reassign work was theirs, not yours.

>Counterpoint: when people do this to me, I instinctively assume that the true reason is laziness.

What about the laziness of not handling the matter yourself? Talk about entitlement!

No one owes an explanation to anyone.

True! I regret the way I put that.

Heh, don't sweat it. Just driving the point you've made further (that such an assumption can backfire).

How much do you ask of people that people brushing you off is a common occurance?

I don't think I'm more important than you, but you bet I think I'm important enough to say no to anybody without a reason.

You're pretty entitled there -- not only are you demanding things from other people, but if they don't fulfill your requests, they have to give you a reason to your satisfaction or you think poorly of them! You should really think about learning some boundaries, and that you're not entitled to things from other people.

How I regret the way I phrased that! Coincidentally I'm a shy person, and probably too afraid of asking other people for help with even the smallest things.

Yes, unfortunately true. It gives the other person a signal that says "I feel like you have enough power in this situation that I have to justify this decision to you".

And if they are the type to push people around whenever they are able, you've basically just told them they are going to win this battle, so go ahead.

I couldn't say better.

If saying "no" without giving a reason does not alienate people, then you are probably very good at this game :) Do you probably add a compassionate "Sorry I cannot help you here" or something?

Yeah, I usually try to communicate that I understand that it is important for them and take them seriously. If possible, I would also attempt to find another solution or something like that. Also, if you are someone I have good experience with I would give you a reason.

Yet also, I help if I can and if it does not cost me all that much. It is not like I would be saying only no to everyone around.

This strategy is largely the answer to specific people I deal with and their strategies. It does alienates them a bit sometimes, but it is not possible to keep everyone happy all that time and I am very unhappy with that negotiation I am trying to avoid.

No tip: Say "No, but..."

I.e "Can you just take on $LARGE_TASK?" -> "No, I'm currently overbooked. But I can put you in contact with X, who might be able to help"

"Can you fix dinner?" -> "No, I need to wrap this up. Maybe we can cook something together after?"

It doesn't always work - sometimes a plain no is really called for - but in many cases, it takes off the pressure of flatly declining.

This is interesting. Potentially, inserting the "because" keyword could enhance the effect.

See [1] "The Mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of `Placebic` Information in Interpersonal Interaction".

> Langer had people request to break in on a line of people waiting to use a busy copy machine on a college campus. The researchers had the people use three different, carefully worded requests to break in line:

> “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine?” [60% compliance]

> “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” [93% compliance]

> “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” [94% compliance]

> Using the word “because” and giving a reason resulted in significantly more compliance. This was true even when the reason was not very compelling (“because I have to make copies"). The researchers hypothesize that people go on “automatic” behavior or “mindlessness” as a form of a heuristic, or short-cut. And hearing the word “because” followed by a reason (no matter how lame the reason is), causes us to comply.

So, maybe:

"Can you just take on $LARGE_TASK?" -> "No, because $RANDOM. But I can put you in contact with X, because $RANDOM"

"Can you fix dinner?" -> "No, because $RANDOM. Maybe we can cook something together after?"


[1] https://jamesclear.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/copy-machi...

I've read this research before. It's really very interesting, but I have to wonder where the line is.

At what point is using this kind of method just clever, and at what point is it highly manipulative and antisocial?

That's an ethics call you have to make.

In the "no, but" approach, I see no harm in it - compliance does not result in a negative result for the other person. You're not going to do it anyway, but they're going to feel better about it than just a simple "no".

In "because I have to make copies"... your call. I wouldn't, because I'd consider this improving my result at the expense of yours.

Maybe I'm off my rocker, but isn't this exactly what "white lies"[1] were invented for?

You don't actually always have to be 100% truthful with everyone. (That will also serve you badly in other social situations, BTW.)

[1] Point being that even if people eventually find out that you did tell them a "white lie", they'll actually usually be very understanding because that's the societal norm and they realize that you were just trying to "spare them" from embarassment/awkwardness/losing face/whatever.

Very true! It's hard to argue with another person's feelings or needs though. I can always need a bit of resting (who doesn't?), so it's not even a lie if I say "Sorry I feel a bit worn out, so I can't take this right now. I have this and that task to do later and I will have to give my everything to do it properly. I hope you find a solution for your problem."

The white lie would be "Sorry my foot hurts, I had an accident yesterday, so I cannot help you. I really wish I could, but you know..."

Regarding your addition about white lies - I personally very seldomly lie in a detectable way, because I am very embarrassed if the other one finds out. You are certainly correct that white lies are easily forgiven, but IMO the perception of a "white liar" changes if you find out about the lie - I look at them as cowards, because they are too weak to just say no - does that make sense?

Both of those sound terrible and regardless of your feelings I might tag you as unreliable. Is there a third way?

Unreliable is great! I don't want to be relied upon for things I don't want to do.

Why would I want to come off as reliable for things I don't want to be doing in the first place? That's a great way to get to do even more of the things you don't want to do. Sounds terrible.

Align your interests with mine, then we can talk about reliable.

In the words of one Richard Feynman : http://www.deliberate.rest/?p=685

> So I have invented another myth for myself—that I’m irresponsible. I tell everybody, I don’t do anything. If anybody asks me to be on a committee to take care of admissions, no, I’m irresponsible, I don’t give a damn about the students—of course I give a damn about the students but I know that somebody else’ll do it—and I take the view, “Let George do it,” a view which you’re not supposed to take, okay, because that’s not right to do, but I do that because I like to do physics and I want to see if I can still do it, and so I’m selfish, okay? I want to do my physics.

90% of the time, being "reliable" goes against my best interests in terms of career and goals. My value is that I can hunker down and make stuff. My value is not "tasks".

> Unreliable is great!

Anecdote: It only goes so far. There are quite a lot of people who will be quite pissed off with you (passively) if you're unreliable. I mean, friends will tolerate it, but let me tell you, as someone who's quite "reliable" (punctual, do what I promise, etc.) it's quite stressful to have to rely on someone who isn't. So stressful, in fact, that I wouldn't actually interact very much with this particular person I'm thinking of right now if I wasn't forced to (via circumstances beyond my control).

> [Snip Feynman] anecdote.

Feynman could get away with a lot of shit that almost nobody else would have done because he was a genius (and was recognized as such by his contemporaries).

Are you at "Feynman"-level?

> 90% of the time, being "reliable" goes against my best interests in terms of career and goals.

^ I don't see what the above...

> My value is that I can hunker down and make stuff. My value is not "tasks".

... has to do with this. Can you explain?

There's a difference in actually being unreliable (which I'm sure Feynman wasn't) vs projecting the negative of "I will help everyone every time".

It boils down to finding enough courage to focus on your priorities in life and not feeling guilty about it. Respect yourself (your time) and people will respect you.

True, maybe we're just getting bogged down in wording.

> ... has to do with this. Can you explain?

I think we might be talking about two different kinds of unreliable.

When you hire me to do a job, or I agree to build something for you, or something along those lines. When that happens, I will stop at nothing until it's done. I might be off in my estimate of how long it takes, and I might come back to you and suggest a revised plan if I think new information significantly changes the scope/cost of the project. But in the end, it will be done.

You can rely on me to take things to completion.

But you'd be a fool to rely on me to answer your email within 1 hour, or a day, sometimes at all. You wouldn't want to rely on me to pick up the phone when you call. And you definitely don't want to rely on me to make it to drinks or dinner exactly on time. Unless there's a very hard external deadline (like theatre tickets), I'm probably going to be a few minutes late.

And you wouldn't want to rely on me to, say, buy your airplane tickets. Or random little things like that. I'll get around to doing "Random low priority task" at some point maybe. Don't rely on me for those.

The whole point of this unreliableness is so that you won't even ask. If I say I'm gonna do it, I'll do it, probably riiiight before the external deadline. But I'd prefer you don't even ask. And you'll be much less stressed about it if you don't.

Hell, I hire a VA for stuff like that because even I don't want to rely on myself to do such things.

The lateness, that's a bad habit. It comes from losing track of time when I go into deep work mode. It happens a lot and very easily.

The dropping of small things I consider low priority and/or irrelevant. Well that's just prioritization, if I'm working on something I think is important and there's no time left over for your email or message or phone call or random little task. Tough. I have a laundry list of my own little tasks that I also didn't get to.

> Are you at "Feynman"-level?

Probably not, but the US government does say I am an alien with exceptional ability in the arts or the sciences so there's that. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Oh, I see what you mean now. Thanks.

I definitely agree that there's a difference between "generally unreliable" and "unreliable until committed". Coincidentally the person from my anecdote is also "your type", but unfortunately it's really hard to tell from the outset if he's committed or not, so...

As long as people are very clear about when they're committed, I have absolutely no problem with "unreliable" people :).

> unfortunately it's really hard to tell from the outset if he's committed or not, so...

I think that stems from an "avoiding confrontation" place. I grew up with a mother that would take it very very poorly if I said "No" for things, so I got used to saying "yeah sure uh-huh" without even hearing what I'm agreeing to.

Sometimes I still do that. It's mostly frustrating for my girlfriend tho, doesn't happen in other contexts. She'll get upset about why I didn't do something I said I would and I won't even remember what she's talking about.

Potentially something similar exists for your friend person. There's a spectrum between "uh-huh" and "Yes, this is amazing, I'm starting right now"

Let me preface this with: I'm quite drunk, and this is probably a lot more ranty than I intended. I have read it through a couple of times and I think it holds up even when sober, but I'll let you be the judge of that. I don't think I'm being dishonest or frivolous.

As you say -- as far as I can tell -- it's probably "just" about honest communication... or maybe you're just irresponsible! (That was a joke!)

Just out of curiosity when+why didn't you "do something I said I would"? Of course you mention that you don't remember her saying it, but that just leaves the question of... why don't you remember it? I'm not trying to be an asshole, I'm really curious about this dynamic.

My "troublesome" friend person is probably very similar to you -- not having access to your or his internal monologue, I can't be sure -- but honestly, I think maybe he's just prioritizing badly, if you know what I mean? Maybe he lacks empathy to see how much distress his procrastination sometimes causes?

I should also add that "we" have obligations to third-parties[3] which means that his procrastination sometimes means that "we" + "others"[2] have to do 24h+ shifts just because he didn't prepare/do-it-in-time. Just out of curiosity, is this this something you would do (intentionally or not)?

(I won't lie, that shit is stressful. Even if you want and are willing to get it done on time this "$X isn't quite ready" thing is extremely stressful until "you" get it done.)

[1] Because Psychoanalysis is mostly bullshit.

[2] External accountants and that sort of thing. It's absurd how far this procrastination (about fully known calendar dates) is.

[3] Think drug cartels... or the Tax Man. Take your pick! :)

> Just out of curiosity, is this this something you would do (intentionally or not)?

To be honest, it's probably happened before. When it involves other people, I make sure it doesn't. When it's just me and I am willing to bear the risk, yeah, bureaucracy def gets done late.

As for brushing people off with "yeah sure". That happens when you bug me while I'm deep in thought on something. Like I'm in the middle of writing an article or I'm coding something that takes a lot of focus. If you bug me during such a time, I will often agree to things without even listening to you because it makes the distraction go away faster. I'm not ready to have a conversation about it or to deal with your protestation when I say "No", so I just say "uh-huh".

It's very obvious to everyone when this happens. And we all do it to an extent. Like when somebody is in the middle of furious texting and you say from across the room "Honey can you take out the trash?" they'll often say "ahuh" but then not do it becuase they don't even remember the interaction.

Almost everyone I know does that. My girlfriend included.

When it comes to important things, I should hope that adults would understand when it is and when it isn't a good time to make the ask. Like, if I'm scrambling to put my things together because the taxi is waiting downstairs to take me to the airport, don't use that exact moment to be like "Yo dude, the cartels are coming on monday, you have to get X Y and Z ready by tomorrow".

Basically, make sure I'm paying attention to you before you ask me for things that you intend to rely on.

Ya know?

Thanks for those answers!

I definitely understand the "yeah sure" bit, even as a "normal" :). Well, actually, I don't think I'm a "normal", I'm probably a "hyper", but... whatever.

As long as there's no mistaken signals, everything's cool. I mean, I sometimes "go rogue", I just tend to announce it a few weeks in advance ;).

No need to reply to any of this, I just found it very interesting to read this experience "from the other side" and from an "honest" perspective.

totally agree on this....for years my SO has pimped me out because I work in Info Tech....the first time i said "NO" to a simple task of copying some data off a HD for one of her mates.......she got pissed..and I got relief! was like a form of freedom....and if someone chooses to view this as 'unreliable'...fug'em. that is their own issue.

Yes and without lies: "sorry, I have already other plans."

Although, it doesn't work with very close people that are expecting a concrete justification unless you want to enter in white lies' territory.

My approach is that if close people expect some justification, I'll enter the "let's figure this out together" mode. If they're not willing to work with me in this mode, they get a clear signal that I'm not cooperating in any other way. If they complain, I point out they're showing me less respect right now than they'd show a random stranger, and we're supposed to be very close, i.e. care about each other.

I try to be very consistent about it - they really can work out pretty much anything with me in a respectful and rational way, so the above is not a dismissal, it's enforcing communications protocol.

Ha, that's one of the reasons why I often do what people ask of me instead of saying "no". It might be a problem of my own making - if I would not mark other people as unreliable just for declining, maybe I would not be afraid of other people thinking the same of me.

What's the effect of you marking me as unreliable? Will you stop considering me for certain tasks, or will you cease any relationship with me?

No, neither would be even somewhat true. Of course it's open to interpretation as all language is, but "so I can't" heavily implies there was nothing more to be said about it, because everything else is apparent from context. With regard to the parent, that's a lie in the sense of obscuring ulterior motives. An apt phrase to describe this is lie by omission. In your sense, it's to weasel out, for lack of a better word, because it implies you are too worn out to even argue - without alleging you had ulterior motives.

Yes just replace "I can't" with "I rather don't want to". I don't know anybody who would imply hidden ulterior motives in this case in real life, since "I can't" is not necessarily as strictly interpreted as you are trying to do.

You can tell who the white liars are. They have so many coincidences and accidents.

I just say "ooohhh, I'd love to, but I have an excuse :(".

Most people don't get it, but they're confused long enough for me to escape.

My current go-to is "I'd love to, but I can't because I'm folding t-shirts at that time". Humorous rejection for those who get it, passes the photocopier 'because' test which actually suffices for many, and achieves your confusion/escape route for most of the rest!

"I have to wax my cat"

I have no idea where I got that line from, but it's stuck because of it's absurdist hilarity.

I don't say this as a serious reply of course. It's intended to communicate that the nature of the request is such that I feel I shouldn't even have to decline it. In practice usually it just generates friendly confusion, which benefits all parties.

disclaimer: I don't have a cat. Nor would I wax one if I did.

That's almost as useful as "Look! Over there! A distraction!"

Very useful indeed.

That's quite meta, if I do say so myself.

I would, but I don't want to.

My memory is so terrible that I dare not tell even white lies, so I am forced to tell the truth, preferably in a way that preserves the requester's dignity, not just a blunt "no."

The truth is usually along the lines of "Sorry, I would like to be able to help, but I have too much on my plate right now and more keeps being added to it every day."

Mark Twain — 'If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.'

But can't we decline politely while still telling the truth. Lying seems unnecessary in this situation. I think white lies are more for things like when someone asks you what you think of their cooking and you tell them it's delicious no matter how it tastes.

Well, it definitely is situational. My point was merely that it's usually better to say "Oh, I'm sorry, I can't, I have to attend [implying dullness] a party with my parents that day" rather than "No, I don't want to go on a date with you". The key is that it allows BOTH parties to avoid an unpleasant interaction and to save face. (Assuming that they both take the hint, obviously.)

It's basically plausible deniability (or "denial", if you will) for social interactions... which is at the basis of most of human interaction, if you think about it.

EDIT: Of course, if you're laboring under "Depressive Realism"[1] then all of this is pretty transparent, but if you buy the DR hypothesis then most people actually don't notice this type of thing going on (at the meta level, obviously sometimes they'll discover they've been lied to, etc.).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depressive_realism

>"No, I don't want to go on a date with you". The key is that it allows BOTH parties to avoid an unpleasant interaction and to save face. (Assuming that they both take the hint, obviously.)

I think the key there is "assuming that they both take the hint. Which is that the other person needs to get the message that it's no, is it's not really allowing them to avoid unpleasant interactions, because they're still getting a no no matter what. It's really just allowing us to save face and avoid unpleasant interactions.

Wouldn't it be much more pleasant to say something like "I'm sorry I don't think of you in that way," or "I'm sorry you're not my type" or better yet"I'm sorry but I'm not interested in going out on a date."

For the other party these are not much more hurtful than "I have to attend dull party" and they eliminate the ambigiousness that might have the other party second guessing or thinking there is a chance if you lie and tell them you have other arrangements. Worse yet it will create a worse situation if they see or hear about you hanging around town on the date of your dull party.

Being a "logical" person, I think I basically agree with you, it's just that the "real world" (aka. majority of people) don't seem to work that way.

EDIT: There's also the whole "Oh, I've been rebuffed, but thank $DEITY that $OBJECT_OF_MY_DESIRE didn't really know what I was asking". That is, people think that they've got the "secret code" to get away with asking X (by saying "innocuous" Y) thinking that the other person doesn't realize what they're really being asked.

Of course there's the more transparent ones like "Do you want to come up to see my etchings?", but also the rather more ambiguous "Would you like to come up for some coffee?".

(There's a lot of instances of people just not getting the hint. For loads of examples see: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/6d53vz/ladies_wh...

... but that is kind of the reverse of what I'm talking about, I guess, so YMMV.)

My wife and her aunt just had a conversation about this recently. It boiled down to this phrase in the end: "That's not going to work for me." Whenever she has to tell someone "no" and knows they're likely to argue, that's the answer she gives. When they ask why, she just repeats it until they realize that the answer is obvious but would be rude to say.

Personally, I think it's still rude, but it works for her in ways that being bluntly rude don't.

I had a manager who told me for about a year straight that I had to stop telling people "no" so bluntly, but instead offer other suggestions for their problem. She said I was just shutting them down, and they ... felt bad or something. I forget what she said. The point was that I shouldn't just shut them down, but I should try to help them with their problem.

This was so hard for me to learn because when I ask a question, I really do want the answer to that question, and it infuriates me when they dance around it or try to guess what question I really want to ask and answer that. Newsflash: That was it. I'm very literal.

I've found a bit of humor in many responses above that advocate helping the requester find some solution other than ME doing 'it' for them.... that seems to me like the Exact Same Thing. If i do not wish to do some task or request/etc...then that should be my answer. Period. Not "let me exert some more of my own time/energy in helping YOU find a solution to YOUR issue..." ..... hmmmm

Being able to say no without saying no is only learned through experience. It took me a while to learn how to do it. It sort of follows the 5 aspects of death: denial, frustration, anger, sadness, acceptance. You must pass all.

You can say no and still help with a solution.

When I ask, "Is it possible to draw 7 perpendicular lines?" I want the answer, "No." If I want to know why, I'll ask why. If I want an alternative, I'll ask for it.

Instead, what was happening was that after they asked their question and I answered, "no," they'd walk away and not attempt to get my help again with it afterwards.

For the longest time, I thought they were like me and that they were looking to have their question answered. They weren't. They were trying (clumsily) to get help with their problem.


> When I ask, "Is it possible to draw 7 perpendicular lines?" I want the answer, "No."

Depends. Are we assuming you can't draw in seven dimensional Hilbert space?

Yeah. I can barely draw in 2-dimensional space, and drawing in 3-dimensional space requires equipment that the company won't provide. There's no way I'm going to manage 7-dimensional drawing.

Regarding saying no - I really like the way described in "The Power of a Positive No" by William Ury. The main idea in the book can be described as: Yes! No. Yes? When you say no to something, there is a reason. For example, you say no to working late, because you want to spend time with your family. The first yes is the yes you say to being with your family, and it is the reason you then say no to working late. The third yes is the effort to keep the relationship positive, even though you have said no.

This formula is a great way of saying no in a positive way, and the whole book is spent explaining the formula and how to apply it. There are many examples throughout the book, and William Ury does a great job teaching the reader how to say no in the best possible way. Even if you don’t normally have a hard time saying no, it is still valuable to read, because the system he lays out is so well thought out. It’s a quick read, and all the examples make it even easier to understand.

Indeed, this is something I have found to be true as well. To add to your point, when preparing to explain the reason I have to turn down a request I find that it forces me to reevaluate. Sometimes I find that the request is actually reasonable and my real reason for turning it down was only an emotional reaction to feeling otherwise overwhelmed rather than a problem with the request itself.

In those cases I may still turn it down but often I find that I can make a compromise at that point that satisfies both parties.

Fear of losing something really does impact social interactions, especially when it comes to asking for what you want, confrontations, or just saying no. I'm working on expressing myself more gently. Yet, sometimes, depending on the situation, I feel being a bit harsher, or more firm, is appropriate.

"when my fiance needs something from me that actually makes sense"

Be careful with that, friend :)

Over the last year, I have been doing some introspection. There have been events where I help my friends a lot. Even while it pushes me into a very frustrated mental state. Mostly because it is hard to say no. Trying to keep up with my general helpful attitude. I have not started consciously to say no yet, but I feel it is very much required. Thank you for your thoughts on this :)

Telling people 'no' is only the smallest part of the problem, and doing it gently isn't always the best way: the alternative to being exploited isn't success; there's a third option, being ignored.

Just out of curiosity, how did you ask her out the first time? Did she politely say, "No"?

You know partners only start saying "no" once the honeymoon period is over ;)

No is a powerful and liberating word.

It's ok to be accommodating as long as you have learned to be introspective. We all have demands of our own time and money. Introspective accommodating people are able to help others in a generous way while protecting the time and resources they need to help themselves. It's a difficult balance to achieve.

Through experience, I've come to believe that this holds true in long-term personal relationships, too. While many will tell you that compromise is the key to a successful marriage, I think that standing up for yourself and who you need to be usually is more important.

There's a needle on the gauge of life that experiences pressure to move from both directions. When you are too accommodating or compromise unequally, the needle moves towards you and establishes a new norm for expected behavior. Your job should be to push back just enough to keep the needle balanced at a point where you retain a full sense of self and the space within which to exercise it. That requires a strong sense of introspection and can take years of adult life to develop.

You want to compromise on the stuff that other people find important and hold fast on the stuff that you find important. Goes for both relationships, friends, teammates, and business associates.

Most people come into the world assuming that their desires are everybody's desires. We live life by the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." This obscures that there's often a wide variety in the things we would like others to do unto us, and that assuming everybody wants what you wants often leads us to do exactly what they don't want.

It was a revelation when my therapist told me "You need to show love in the ways that other people want to receive it, not the way you want to send it." It hadn't really occurred to me before then that things I considered really inconsequential - checking if she got home okay, or leaving the porch light on for her at night - might really matter to my girlfriend (now wife), or that things that I considered really important - like listening to my latest theory on reality, or showing enthusiasm when I show her my latest product demo - might be considered inconsequential by her.

Many people have this intuitive idea that service & favors are a zero-sum game, but in actuality, some actions cost you a lot less than the recipient benefits from them, and some cost you a lot more than the recipient cares. It makes a lot of sense to perform favors that are cheap for you but benefit the recipient a lot. It's on you to figure out how much the recipient cares and how much time & energy you can spare for them.

>It was a revelation when my therapist told me "You need to show love in the ways that other people want to receive it, not the way you want to send it."

I'm curious, was it along the lines of this? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Five_Love_Languages

Similar - you can bet that most therapists have read that and incorporate it into their practice. My wife and I are fortunate enough to share the same primary love language, but like with most couples, there are a bunch of little things where we differ. This is why they say communication is key in a relationship - if you're not communicating, you never learn that the other person might come into the relationship with subtly different values or experiences, and then when they do things that make you feel ignored or hurt, you attribute it to malice rather than ignorance.

Great little book. A friend gave me a copy... and I bought a copy for another friend.

>You want to compromise on the stuff that other people find important and hold fast on the stuff that you find important.

Isn't the definition of "important" what people disagree over when it comes to compromise? My girlfriend can say X is super important to her but in my eyes Y is more important than X and hence I will have to let go of X and hold on to Y. Convincing someone of why X or Y is more important than the other is where most of the conflict happens.

>"You need to show love in the ways that other people want to receive it, not the way you want to send it."

This is true and easy to follow but it doesn't capture my concern above which seems to be much more complex than this scenario.

In many cases you can have both X and Y, eg. if X is camping and Y is hackathons, go camping one weekend and go to the hackathon the next weekend (or have one partner go camping and the other go hacking, if you value the individual activities more than the time spent together). If X is a clean apartment and Y is more time spent programming, throw money at the problem and hire a cleaning lady. My wife and I had a fight early on in our relationship over whether the Brita should be cold or lukewarm, and we solved it by buying a $1.50 pitcher, putting my drinking water in the fridge, and putting hers on the kitchen counter. Or for a more complex example, if X is kids and Y is a startup, you figure out what else needs to change in your life to accommodate both (eg. pay money for childcare, set boundaries on work time, babysit the kid while answering support emails so your partner can take him when you have to do customer site visits) and make it happen.

There are some issues that really are mutually exclusive, mostly because they cut to the heart of what a relationship is. If one partner wants kids and the other wants no-kids, there isn't really a way to resolve that and still have what people would consider a marriage. If one partner wants to live on a farm but the other wants to live in the city, or one is a neat-freak and the other is a compulsive hoarder, you're headed for problems. If one wants the kids raised as Orthodox Jews and the other wants them to be fundamentalist Christians, this is probably insoluble within the conventional definitions of those religions. These are beliefs where you really want to make sure you match before you get married.

But even a lot of things that look totally contradictory at first can have solutions if you're willing to give up other stuff. I know couples that live in different cities and only see each other on weekends, or ones of different religions where they've just decided to mash their different cultures together and create their own religion for the kids.

> We live life by the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." This obscures that there's often a wide variety in the things we would like others to do unto us, and that assuming everybody wants what you wants often leads us to do exactly what they don't want.

That's a brilliant insight. Thanks for sharing!

Accommodation and compromise are zero sum. You're leaving a lot on the table if that's the extent of your paradigm.

Here's a sample model: http://righttojoy.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Assertive-v...

Collaboration is value-generating. It takes more effort and yields more return. Rather than 'pushing back' you work together to understand what is important to each party and find ways to meet those needs. This must be built on an equal foundation - your needle in the middle - for most effective good-faith negotiation. Your partner needs to be reasonably intelligent and reasonable for this to work.

You need to teach people what's important to you, rather than expecting them to read your mind.

Highly recommend the negotiation book 'Getting to Yes' for a thorough treatment of these concepts.

> Your partner needs to be reasonably intelligent and reasonable for this to work.

Most people are capable of being reasonable and behaving intelligently; they may just not be used to it. I figured this out some time ago. The way I do it if someone doesn't behave reasonably is to politely make it clear that working together on a problem is the only way they can get something from me.

"Getting to Yes" is a good book, I second the recommendation.

How do you collaborate on something like a technical decision which is black or white?

If your technical decisions are black or white, you work on trivial problems - collaborate to tackle a bigger issue where you need to consider tradeoffs.

You talk about it. Either you reach a decision you both agree on or you don't. In the latter case, it's usually more important to keep the ship sailing than to have it your way, so one of you will have to give up. If you both can't, agree on a fair procedure - like asking a third party or throwing a coin - and stick with the answer. If you disagree with the decision, you can always say your disagreement explicitly and refuse to take responsibility for it, but that's totally orthogonal to supporting it when the decision has been made.

How do know there is such a thing as a technical decision which is black or white?

Like this:


Your technical preference is a position you take to achieve your interests. To collaborate, you have to be willing to reveal and effectively articulate your underlying interests.

Indeed, as Mark Manson puts it[1]: "For a relationship to be healthy, both parties need to be able to both give and receive rejection". Eye-opening for me, and explained many of the unhealthy relationships in my life (including employee-employer dynamics).

[1] https://markmanson.net/books/subtle-art (quasi-NSFW)

I am at work, but I don't give a fuck.

This is the best thing I've read for a long time:

"Because when we give too many fucks, when we choose to give a fuck about everything, then we feel as though we are perpetually entitled to feel comfortable and happy at all times, that’s when life fucks us."[1]

1. https://markmanson.net/not-giving-a-fuck

Isn't that just repackaged Stoicism?

And I choose to feel okay about that.

Come to think about it, it would be ironic if you didn't!

Very strange! I recently read a similarly-titled book by a certain Sarah Knight! I think my friend meant to recommend Manson's book, and i ended up ordering and reading Knight's months ago, and only figured out now that there might have been a miscommunication. Haha, thanks HN.

"Introspection" is not usually associated with standing up for yourself or your needs. It just means looking inward, which does require that you not be run off your feet taking care of others, but I've never heard it used to refer to the tactics necessary to acquire that space. "Self-advocacy" is one phrase that might be close. Or assertiveness?

In my experience, it is easier to advocate outwardly for yourself than it is to look inward and evaluate what you actually need from yourself in order to be happy. In that sense, I meant introspection. I feel like the more able I am to understand the needs and desires that drive my self-advocacy, the more effectively I can find balance in life.

I'd argue being able to know what you need is actually the critical part of the marriage – standing up for it is only one route – but it's the self awareness (or lack thereof) that seems to drive so many relationships (marriage and business) into the ditch.

So, I think your point really was spot on. Introspection is critical.

I agree, I don't think it has to be an either-or type of thing. I started out being too accommodating but have gradually learned to say no more and more. Sometimes it surprises people who are used to you being overly accommodating, but if you have enough self-respect and respect your own time the surprise usually doesn't last and typically results in . Someone who is too used to you being accommodating might escalate the situation and try to challenge you but that hasn't happened to me.

My new formula is to be accommodating when it doesn't negatively affect me and if it does, make it clear that some request will be effort and I'll have to consider whether I can accommodate it (which assumes of course that it isn't an official duty). Its not about trying to force people to respect me, if I respect myself enough (for valid reasons, this doesn't excuse baseless bravado or anything) it doesn't really matter, I won't allow myself to be taken advantage of and generally that means the same thing. In a relationship (new or old) it can be as simple as when asked to do something that isn't something you would be expected to do just asking more questions about the thing. When exactly is it? How long is it going to take? You aren't being a dick by trying to factor some request into your own time, you have other things you want or need to do and 99% of the time people will respect that. Just following a request up with questions about the specifics of the request shows more self-respect that immediately being like "sure I can do that, when is it and where?", which says that you'll work around their request rather than the other way around.

I've even applied this to how I drive - I used to be much more concerned with people who were in a Great Hurry in the left lane, I would find a spot to get into the right lane even if I had to slow down to do so (usually getting me stuck behind someone who then somehow seems to be going 10mph slower than I even realized). I did this partly out of politeness and knowing how frustrating it can be to be stuck behind people, but a fair percentage of the time the person in a hurry is going 20mph+ over the speed limit and I'm probably already going 10-15 and I am passing people on the right at a fair clip and chances are there isn't even much space ahead to take up. I used to be stressed by these situations when I was less secure but now I'm not going to put myself out and dodge in and out of traffic for someone who is driving unreasonably and it doesn't stress me out to have someone raging behind me because chances are that person is going to be raging at someone no matter what, might as well be me. I'll get over for them when its safe and convenient and let them by but not at my own expense. I know this is kind of a trivial situation but it was kind of a big realization for me when I got over being stressed out by having other people be displeased with me.

I don't think it is a trivial situation. I think you are being pragmatic moving over if some dude gets antsy behind you.

Road rage is serious business. I think intent is hard to guess and we err on the side of caution. You are right that you open yourself up to mistakes if you weave and dodge through traffic. Tough call sometimes.

I'm going through this change right now.

Some words of hard earned "wisdom": make sure the pendulum doesn't swing too far out in the other direction.

I went from being an accommodating person to an intense asshole - trying to dial it back now but it's hard, especially when you notice that people definitely respect you more for good or bad reasons when you're like that. Take it too far though, and it will of course go all the way around and bite you in the ass.

There's a great 5 minute clip of the clinical psychologist and professor Dr. Jordan B. Peterson talking about the dangers of being too agreeable:


His entire lecture series, which is available on his youtube channel, is absolutely fantastic and worth every minute. It is probably one of the most engaging and enlightening bodies of work I have experienced in any format.

Just wanted to say thank you for this. I've already watched several of his videos this evening and started a monthly Patreon donation. So good!

Did you follow any kind of playlist? Could you provide a link?

There should be a sibling post in this thread with a playlist link.

Can you point me to the videos that you found enlightening?

I would recommend starting with the 2017 semester of his Maps of Meaning course. The first topic is a discussion of the themes and philosophy of the story of Pinocchio. It's really good.


His two podcasts with Joe Rogan are the best. Joe himself said as much.

Absolutely. I also am a big proponent of his Self Authoring program.


That was a solid, quick presentation of key ideas that could impact people a lot. Most psych links I see people post aren't like that. Great video! Thanks for sharing it.

If anyone reads this it will be downvoted but he is a transphobic asshole.

Thank you for sharing this!

the trick is to finely calibrate your bullshit meter through life experiences.

what people tend to respect innately is a genuinely nice person who can instantly turn into a no-holds-barred asshole if bad intentions are detected.

IMO, the trick is to have control over the level of accommodation you present to different people and different situations. The key quote from the article:

>I gave to them for years, at the expense of those who had a far better claim upon my generosity.

There's a life skill getting pointed at here. Specifically, comparing the demand to the level of obligation you want to fulfill, and reacting appropriately. There's another higher-level skill of figuring out what the results of different obligation levels are and strategically choosing them.

Basically, saying "yes" implies saying "no" to the alternatives, and sometimes those alternatives are far better.

> the trick is to have control over the level of accommodation you present to different people and different situations


For many people, it's not about detecting someone with bad intentions. It's about not liking conflict so much that they don't know how not to accommodate by default. Over accommodation of a good person you're close with can be just as detrimental as over accommodation of a shitty person.

I'll second this. If you're over accommodating with your partner, it's just as detrimental to your own mental health and the health of your relationship as it is with a shitty person. The danger here is that we tend to be more accommodating with people we like than those we don't and so we don't even realize we're doing it until it's too late.

People really respect power. An accommodating person has none because they say yes to everything.

Yeah. If two people ask for things that are mutually exclusive, there's a huge problem if you can't say no to one of them. If there's no concept of "no", then "yes" becomes much less meaningful.

In social dance contexts, I'm usually happy when people decline to dance with me. It's dead obvious when someone isn't enthusiastic about the dance, and much less fun than getting shot down. Similarly in business contexts - an unreliable "yes" is worse than a "no", because you can get burned relying on the "yes" you did get rather than trying elsewhere after the "no".

the trick is to finely calibrate your bullshit meter

Not really, the "trick" is actually contained within the wisdom of the last paragraph of the piece.

"I went from being an accommodating person to an intense asshole "

I have gone through the same process. Maybe it's because I am getting old, meditation or I just don't care anymore, I have slowly learned what's really important to me. I am generally pretty accommodating but for some things I won't negotiate and just say "No" without any further explanation.

This seems to work reasonably well with most people.

I don't really know what I am trying to say but maybe it's to have your priorities figured out and be flexible with unimportant stuff but firm with important stuff. That is, stuff that's important to you, not somebody else.

"People never trust an accommodating man with important things. That may sound harsh and cynical, but check it up in your own experience. If you have a severe illness, for example, you turn to the busiest, most exacting doctor in town. The fact that he is busy and can’t be bothered by little things gives you confidence in his ability and judgment."

On the other hand, you have all those non-accommodating nerds who wonder why their more accommodating colleges with less skills are being promoted.

Also: the busiest doctor in town is the one who did not said "no my schedule is full" despite being overworked already.

Well, there's also the fact that the best doctors are the most in demand, so a doctor who isn't busy isn't that in demand, which is a good indicator that he isn't the best.

I know this is just a metaphorical doctor, but i don't think there are any doctor's who aren't busy

Sherlock Holmes was written by a doctor who wasn't busy, and who therefore had time to write.

"I couldn't save your wife sir, but I wrote a hell of a novel!"

Lmao. Depending on the marriage, that could've changed the man's life for the better. ;)

He also believed in faeries.

Also there can be a zero correlation between being busy, productive and good at what you do.

and of course we all feel comfortable being helped by "the best" doctor after they had a triple 16-hour shift.

It's quite crazy how hard medical professionals are overworked. It's impossible there's not plenty of mistakes happening. Whether you'll ever hear it is something different.

Part of the problem is that “good manners” only seem to be considered in one direction. It is time to redefine “rude” to include people that do not know how to communicate their needs very well and/or are just super-entitled.

Why am I the one considered “impolite” by not dropping everything and helping you immediately, if you haven’t bothered to do things like:

- Indicate everything you have tried already (or worse, you haven’t done any basic research yourself)?

- Consider the possibility that I can’t respond instantaneously because my Inbox has dozens of other items already? Or that I didn’t answer my phone or your text because I was actually busy, or in a bathroom, or due to some other totally reasonable explanation?

- Consider that you are basically asking for free help, when there are people who pay for my time?

- Show even the slightest interest in helping others yourself?

I agree with you, but I think it's important not to take the bait. If someone is implying you're a rude person for not doing what they want, and you know you're not that, you can simply disregard. What they think of you is their problem and not yours. Always maintain the frame of what you think is right and what is best for you, and do not buy into their frame.

Of course, it gets trickier in different situations for different reasons. But basically, people try to use shaming and emotional blackmail to get what they want, don't let them.

One other thing: I think about the fundamental attribution error / actor-observer bias a lot. You're an asshole because you won't do the thing I want, but when someone else asked me for a thing and I said no, it was because I was busy and etc etc. This dynamic influences so much of what people think about others and themselves.

I'd consider myself accommodating and people often come to me for all sorts of advice. Or help with their new amazing idea. It's nice having a reputation of being able to do a wide variety of things, including building companies which many people fantasize about. I have a successful SaaS with a partner that brought me an idea/opportunity because I had built a reputation as collaborative/knowledgeable/accommodating. I'll invest my time and expertise to explore opportunities and people know I'm candid.

However, I get ideas brought to me from everywhere, incl. friends of friends of friends. I'm happy to provide detailed thoughts and notes but now I make sure to challenge the person and the idea.

If it's a good idea, I want them to do some work upfront before I put anything else into it. Sad to say that most people start really excited about their idea, then I'll note that there are companies doing the same or nearly the same thing already, that they need to differentiate, what it's going to take to compete, etc and they will get completely deflated. Most of the time there's no follow up. That's why most people can't be entrepreneurs.

I've helped out way too many people in the past only to have them give up so easily. So if you're in this camp - I'd recommend challenging those that want your help - it's a great filter and also a way to say yes and no at the same time. You'll end up wasting less time and you'll still be open to great collaborations and more rewarding experiences from helping others out.

I've been using this to great benefit also - require the person to put a decent amount of effort into the idea first. Some people resent you for it, but those that are destined to succeed and are able to make it will keep persevering.

I used to not do this and wasted a lot of time in the process. Do you find it hard to shake the reputation you had from before? I know I do.

Yeah it's definitely hard but what helps is to really be upfront and candid about how limited my time is from the beginning.

So if someone refers someone to me, I'll tell them that I'm happy to assist however I can at this point but that my time is limited for the foreseeable future. You can do that directly or just by letting them know what you're currently working on. I want to keep the opportunity open while being honest about how I might be able to assist. Down the road it may even make sense for me to shift my time from one of my other projects/companies to the new opportunity that was cultivated from the reputation.

If it's an area that I'm not interested in, I'll say that too - "the restaurant (tech) business is tough and I don't have expertise in that arena so it's not for me". But I'll usually provide some strategies and let them know that the dialogue is always open with me.

When you're trying that hard to please every trivial whim of anyone, regardless of the cost to yourself: what are you compensating? Who hurt you? Who lied to you? I mean, there's gotta be something that made you rate the approval by others so highly, and your approval of others so unimportant. Something or someone that stole you from you. Would you take 2 weeks of the life of one person to save another person 5 minutes? Unlikely, and it isn't so different when you are one of those persons.

We'd be super weirded out if someone in front of us in the queue in the supermarket committed suicide so we could pay faster. Apart from that probably increasing checkout times for everybody -- just imagine the chaos -- we wouldn't even appreciate "the thought", we'd be like "how DARE you use me for this?". Most of us don't mind being catered to or even pampered, but we don't want others to just throw themselves away for us. There are limits, even though it's kind of invisible most of the time, there is a line where hurting ourselves too much to help others a little bit actually hurts society, and offends others, correctly so.

Last but certainly not least: this over-the-top, dysfunctional selflessness in the sense of having no self (or rather, not respecting one's self) attracts not only knights in shining armour, but mostly baaaad types. You might say abuse breeds abuse in that someone who for some reason is playing doormat is emitting pheromones for people who like to trample on others. I really don't mean this to victim blame at all, but it's sadly true. And the less you let others violate your boundaries, the clearer your sight becomes for what you can freely give for mutual benefit. E.g. don't spend 2 weeks to save someone 5 minutes, but do spend 5 minutes to save someone 2 weeks.

TL;DR: you can't be a good friend to others without being a good friend to yourself first.

Unsure why you're being downvoted; this is one of the best comments on the thread (and I remember this story from the last time it was posted).

You might say abuse breeds abuse in that someone who for some reason is playing doormat is emitting pheromones for people who like to trample on others.

This is absolutely true. Perhaps some readers were confused by your metaphorical use of 'pheromones' to mean signalling in general. A great example of this is griefing behavior in MMORPGs (and trolling in general, but in games it's already quantified and thus far easier to measure). Most games implement some sort of safe zone and/or NPC policing function to prevent griefers from hassling new players to the point of wrecking the game, which is the griefers' underlying and often unconscious objective (so as to 'own' the territory of the game space even if this is poisonous to the growth of the player pool).

Denied the ability to pick on newbies, griefers then usually collect in small packs and lurk around entry-exit routes to danger zones (whether from NPCs or territorial conflict) where there's a possibility to target outcoming damaged players or incoming ones pushing up against their skill envelope. Griefers like to think of themselves as apex predators, but typically lack the self-discipline and strategic vision required to organize as such, so more often than not they occupy the same environmental as scavengers such as hyenas, vultures etc.

I haven't kept up with the latest research on this, but I recall that EVE had an economist on staff several years ago and I'd imagine that the larger participants in that market are open to or already working with sociologists, game theorists, and other quantitative social scientists to better understand the dynamics of their virtual ecosystem.

For 'nice' players (in games and in life) who don't comfortably slot into large teams, the usual advice is to be more of an asshole. And while that's partly true, being an armored up lone wolf will only take you so far. Unless the system as a whole is dysfunctional, individual lone wolves are never competitive against anything bigger than a small-medium team. However, lone wolves can team up and be very effective; to do so they (obviously) have to overcome significant trust barriers, but can succeed by maintaining smallish flat structures and growing hierarchies below those.

As someone who trends towards heavily accommodating, I often seem to find my actions that I judge as selfish or arrogant are the ones that I get respect for. Definitely a phenomena I don't understand, but its real so it should be very valuable to learn where to draw the line.

Put it in the context of dominance and submission among apes and it becomes clear. The one who does nice things for you is displaying a submissive posture and trying to win your favor. They are probably your social inferior: beneath you in the hierarchy, or at most, a peer. The one who doesn't care about you and does what he wants, shows that he's above you in the hierarchy. And some people just can't resist their internal ape tendency to think "wow that's sure an impressive alpha ape right there." But some, who consider themselves alphas themselves, will take it as a challenge. Etc. etc. etc. All somewhat dreary thoughts in the light of soaring techno-optimist talk about the glory of the human spirit, but I think we're all still apes and I've said so, enough times on HN, that I'm at risk of becoming known as the "ape guy."

Manners are in fact detailed prescriptive means & methods for being submissive, or rather for sending submissive signals, as the default behavior in societies where there are more humans living together than normal, i.e. anytime after 1800 when the population really started to shoot upward and to urbanize. It ends up being very practical to train people to be submissive in an urban industrial society, because if you have a thousand supposed self-declared alpha-apes constantly fighting it out "out there," things become a mess very quickly.

Edit: to the respondents, I am intentionally keeping morality out of it (decency and so forth), because a strictly moralistic right/wrong judgment-based view didn't seem to be enhancing the parent's understanding. But dominance & submission, like morality, is just another narrow rubric for viewing the world, doesn't describe the whole world, and isn't the only way of describing the world. So it's best not to take it too far beyond a blurry big-picture view!

This equating of manners to a submissive posture is odd to me. One wonders what is meant by "manners". Saying yes, please, thank you, and holding a door are by no means submissive acts. Table manners, or not acting boarish while dining, is not submissive. Conducting oneself in a respectful, cordial manner is not submissive.

However fawning and currying favor may indeed be submissive, but are not proscribed by any idea of "politeness" I am aware of. Excessive accommodation to the detriment of yourself and your interests would also be submissive in my view.

This equating of manners to a submissive posture is odd to me. One wonders what is meant by "manners". Saying yes, please, thank you, and holding a door are by no means submissive acts. Table manners, or not acting boarish while dining, is not submissive. Conducting oneself in a respectful, cordial manner is not submissive.

I disagree, I think it is more submissive than doing the opposite. But that's not a bad thing - people who are never submissive don't fit into society. They have terrible manners and drive dangerously, like you point out.

A certain amount of strength is admired, but too much and you're almost unilaterally rejected.

Yes. Always and never submitting will both cost you your freedom. If you always submit you'll never get to to do anything you want, if you never submit you'll literally go to jail.

But some people might be so submissive by nature that "Never Submit" is good advice for them, because in those situations where they really should submit it will never even occur to them not to.

Some distinctions need to be made here about manners, I think. Manners is largely social grease to keep interactions working smoothly; it is supposed to be about acknowledging the other person and treating them with some basic and fundamental respect. Real manners, in other words.

The manners you speak of are the hypocritical sort - e.g. calling Trump "Mr. President" even though he deserves no respect in any sort of situation, just because he is "the President". It is this sort of manners where people (i.e. the talking chimpanzees) get upset because social protocols are being violated - the social protocols used to enforce submission, dominance, and status. These social protocols are used to cover up all the bullshit talking chimpanzees like to get up to.

Manners are also a way of preventing two dominant individuals from coming into conflict over irrelevancies. And, if you don't think manners can be used aggressively...

This reminds me of 'Human Zoo' by the zoologist Desmond Morris, which is a fascinating read.

Nice perspective. Also an ape guy (love reminding telling people we are just silly monkeys), and I think there is probably a lot of truth to looking at it this way.

Curious about your thoughts on evo psych.

I think it explains a lot of things nicely, as a good theoretical framework should. But I'm also a little cautiously skeptical about it, because you're working backwards, without benefit of any real-time experimental data, so it's almost impossible to keep "present-day bias" out of it.

Have you heard Apeman by The Kinks? I think you would enjoy it! Its the same sentiment in musical form, always really resonated with me because its so true.

If you have a strong bias towards accomodating, then the rare instances where you choose a different approach are presumably ones where it is strongly called for. It would make sense that you get respect for taking the right course of action.

Someone who is almost always selfish may find they are the most respected when they accomodate.

I think it's probably related to the fact that, for most people, there's a right amount of selfish and that amount isn't anywhere near 0. People would much rather get a no than a reluctant yes, even if they themselves don't realise this.

I often seem to find my actions that I judge as selfish or arrogant are the ones that I get respect for.

A lot of timid people are attracted to strong people. You say the things they wish they had the bravery to say, and they respect it. It's aspirational.

Do you have a concrete example?

> “You are thirty-five years old,” I said to myself. “More than half of your life has already been spent. Who is living your life, anyway? Is it actually yours? Or is it a kind of public storehouse of odd jobs? A pile of days and hours put on the counter of the world with a sign inviting every Tom, Dick, and Harry to take one?”

This was probably the best part for me. We have longer life spans and so we trick ourselves into thinking that we have more time to waste on things we don't really want to do. We can procrastinate all we want but in the end, we still come back to this question without a single clue of how to answer it.

That line struck me as unexpectedly grim. You forget that it used to be most people didn't make it to retirement.

I was explaining this point of view to a good old aunt of mine one afternoon and she exclaimed: “But, Joe, it is so selfish for a man to put his work ahead of everything! It’s unchristian.”

“On the contrary, it is Christian in the very finest sense,” I replied. “What was it that Jesus said when his parents rebuked him for his failure to keep his engagement with them on that first journey down from Jerusalem? ‘Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’ He demanded. He had work to do — great work and little time in which to do it. Even He was no exception to the eternal rule that achievement comes only through the subordination of every power to a great ideal; and that no man is really obliging who does not first discharge in full his obligations to his work.”

These types of arguments on whether something is or isn't Christian or so prevalent on my FB feed, especially in regards to current politics, even being posted by non-Christians trying to convince their Christian relatives and friends to renounce a policy or politician.

My take would be - this is arguing within a nonsensical framework, and we are prolonging the hopefully last stages of the superstitious demon-haunted world era of humanity.

You seem very secure in the belief that, once the "demons" of which you speak are gone, naught but pure cool reason will replace them. One can only assume such optimism stems from a complete ignorance of history.

One can be secure in the belief that a battle is worth fighting, even if nobody has ever one one before. Our future is not determined only by our history.

Whence came you by this remarkable idea that the battle against religion has never been won before? - not permanently, to be sure, but nothing else ever ends, and why should this?

I find little in the results of past such victories to recommend the conflict be reopened. Should you care to take the time, I'd be interested to hear what leads you to view the matter so differently.

I didn't say it hasn't been won before, only that it doesn't matter whether or not it has.

Anyway, what leads me to view the matter differently is that I do not simply look to the past to inform me of what will be effective tomorrow. I also look to the potential that flourishes in microcosms of today. And to the increasing efficacy of our culture's ability to promote and propagate the valuable ideas of individuals and small groups. How we communicate today distinctly different than in the past, and it opens some doors in a big way. And it is far too soon to say whether this is a good or bad thing, so we may as well do what we can to ensure it is a good thing.

You might believe war doesn't ever change, but it can change quite quickly when a new weapon is developed. More importantly, even if the victory is temporary, the results of a temporary enlightenment can guide the development of society for ages after the war has been lost. Greek democracy failed, but still lessons where learned. Enlightenments wane, but the world is a brighter place even so.

Yet the belief persists that there can be such a thing as a single, unitary culture, somehow satisfactory to all. But perhaps you're right that this idea actually is amenable to simple reason and persuasion, and it's a mere accident of history that, in every prior case where it's been at issue, the issue has eventually been decided by means of force.

Well, firstly, the ability to make rationally optimal decisions is not merely a matter of cultural preference. Promoting the ability to make decisions which marginalize errors generally - under arbitrary goals - does not inhibit anyone from having a satisfying culture. Rationalism doesn't choose your goals, it determines the optimal way to achieve them. Now, it does inhibit people from participating in a culture which promotes their death as some 'ideal' state of being, as most religions that promote an idyllic afterlife do.

I mean, if you put me on a raft out in the ocean and ask me whether we should shoot and eat the Christian or the Atheist, I'm going to ask "which one of them asserts their death will result in a state of unending glory and euphoria while preserving the 'existence' of their mental state?" Because that's the one that should be killed. And these kinds of biases pile up over the long term, leaving a distinct mark of fragility and unnecessary risk on the entire culture. You have ability to choose that, but I cannot advocate that you ever should.

Secondly, it is not a historical accident that this issue has been decided by force. It is not even really true; far more violence has been carried out in the name of spreading religion than has been in the name of eliminating it. And again, this is of little relevance anyway, because the past has been more violent in general, and we have better understood and more widely available means of achieving goals through peace today than any time in human history.

> if you put me on a raft out in the ocean and ask me whether we should shoot and eat the Christian or the Atheist, I'm going to ask "which one of them asserts their death will result in a state of unending glory and euphoria while preserving the 'existence' of their mental state?" Because that's the one that should be killed

See what I mean when I talk about progressivism? Heretical it may be, but the truth of God shines through nonetheless. For all the wrong reasons, from all the wrong priors - you misunderstand the nature of death and that which follows after, and the nature of life and what it means to follow Christ - yet we still come up with precisely the same answer: "This is my body, which is given for you."


Vouched so I can point out that yours is an obsolete line of argument; consciousness can be suspended, yet the organism retain intelligent function, by means of transcranial magnetic stimulation. Certain lesions and traumas can produce the same or a similar effect, but permanently - Cotard's delusion, for example, in which that part of the mind which calls itself "I" becomes unshakably convinced that it is dead, and assumes the body must be also because it cannot conceive of any distinction between the two. The materialist explanation of conscious experience, then, is quite straightforwardly that it is an epiphenomenon of some kinds of brains but not others, and thus in no way suggests or implies there's any sort of mystical business going on.

I can't recommend attempting to argue against materialism per se; systems of faith are so strongly and intimately cherished that this is as much an attack as is the attempt to argue you (or me) out of Christianity. The idea is rather to believe what we believe, have the other guy believe what he believes, and manage to get along nonetheless. Our errant brothers and sisters in the "progressive" heresy have largely lost sight of this. We need not live down to their example, and we must not lose sight of the fact that they are our brothers and sisters, who have merely lost their way. Anger and opposition are easy - are we here to do easy things?

All else being equal, it'd be nice if we were all on the same page so that we could get past extremely fundamental arguments such as "should we teach our children science in school, or theology". Because one of those is useful in making our citizens and country competitive on the world scene, and the other is useful in decreasing our reputation on the world scene.

Otherwise, yeah, I don't give a hoot what you want to believe, that's your right. Just don't impose on the rest of us.

The Scopes monkey trial was quite a long time ago indeed. If a peaceful modus vivendi were the goal, one might reasonably imagine that enforcement efforts, whether legal, judicial, or cultural, would end when teaching the theory and evidence of human evolution ceased to be illegal.

The attempt to dictate that that, and nothing else, be permissible - utterly without regard, in this nation of better than a quarter billion people, for anything so completely irrelevant to the question as whatever local opinion on the matter may happen to be - seems, if nothing else, curiously at odds with the ubiquitous contention that those who persist in the attempt wish merely that "live and let live" be the whole of the law.

That said, before I conclude here, I feel it incumbent upon me to note my appreciation for your having chosen to engage with my prior comment, rather than merely downvote it and move on. I can hardly but acknowledge that the substance of that comment is not merely heterodox in the extreme, but very likely to get right up a lot of people's noses. Such commentary invites downvotes, and those who engage in it have no excuse to find this upsetting - but I do always find it preferable when someone instead takes the time to engage, and I thank you very kindly for so doing.

Sure thing, thanks for responding civilly.

The thing with what you seem to be saying (that the science camp is trying to drive religion out of schools despite their supposed adherence to "live and let live") is that public schools are a state institution, and separation of church and state is also incredibly important. You're perfectly free to set up religious schools (which exist), and also to home school your children (also common for the religious). What's explicitly not OK is trying to foist your specific religion in an institution paid for by public money. That's the entire distinction. Past that, "live and let live" is indeed the order of the day.

But then, I suppose you may view science as another religion, and I guess that's probably going to be a sticking point. I view it as mostly orthogonal except for the creationist stuff that has mountains of evidence against it, and requires rather convoluted reasoning about God putting the evidence there as a test of faith (my understanding of the reasoning, anyway)

I don't really think that either of us is going to convince the other on any subject of import; we just don't share enough priors - for example, I doubt you are very susceptible to conviction on the point of modern progressivism as an inherently corrupt Christian heresy, and while I did once share the same faith you expound here, it would take a book to explain how and why I ceased to do so. That book actually has been written - and in a pleasantly engaging and discursive style, yet - but it would be astonishingly presumptuous of me to require such a hefty prerequisite for mere conversation, and I will not do so.

I will, though, note that it's curious how you talk about public schools as though they were paid for with federal money - this being the usual meaning with which the phrase "public money", in this connection, is used. By the Department of Education's own accounting [1], the proportion of primary and secondary public school funding which originates in the federal purse is approximately eight percent.

Yet the federal regulatory apparatus insists on an approximately one hundred percent share of control over how all of these public schools, even the vast majority for which it does not pay, must operate. This is a remarkable disparity! In any other context, its mere existence, to say nothing of the desirability of its being suffered to continue, would require considerable justification. Perhaps I am a fool to wonder what makes this context so unique.

I didn't mention Federal money, I'm keenly aware that it's primarily funded at the local level, mostly via property taxes. I'm not sure how the funding source is relevant, though, it's still public funding one way or the other. Separation of church and state is a core American value, not only at the Federal level.

It is the privilege - in the denotative sense, the private law - of power to identify one's own faith so perfectly with the right ordering of things that you need not recognize that the distinction you cherish, between church and state, does not at present exist, and has not existed in living memory.

I should not like to see my own church take charge of the nation. I don't like that yours has done so, either, at least not now that I've become an apostate of it. Before that happened, I would've been fine with the idea, but, like you, failed to recognize the fact of it - not that that's any excuse.

Even when ignoring the weird claim about materialism unable to explain consciousness, what makes you think that Christianity is the answer and not some other non-materialist view?

You are mistaken. Materialism does offer a clean and consistent explanation of your experience of reality.

What point in a response which merely says "you're wrong"? I believe I covered the substance of the matter adequately in my own prior comment, sibling to yours; I must confess I fail to see what worthwhile contribution to the discussion you intend to make here. Perhaps you'd like to elucidate?

His drug store father example struck me - I don't really experience this "service worker" thing anymore, even when I was a service worker.

It seems to me the playing field is being extraordinarily leveled. When I was a bagger at a grocery store, nobody looked down on me. Maybe because of my town, but I was never expected to "serve" someone's whims - I was just expected to do my job, and when I did my job people thanked me.

Now whenever I'm out and about getting a thing done, I don't think of the people "serving" me as "serving me." I'm at the mechanic's, I'm pinging him for his expert advice. I'm at the carwash place, I'm asking them if they wouldn't mind doing the interior windows for a bit extra, etc.

Maybe I just am very lucky that I never underwent the brunt of service work torture because of my town, but is it still a "thing" to be asked to do a bunch of random shit at the convenience of others? Am I just so lucky in all of my jobs that everybody is respectful of eachother an their time?

I worked at a restaurant for a while and had a similar experience. I had no bad experiences with customers like the horror stories you always hear.

In contrast, I worked in tech support and had no end of terrible experiences with customers.

Yeah, this might be an locality dependent culture thing.

Maybe if you're talking nation to nation. We have all kinds of huge corporations or midsized firms in the U.S. that keep or gain market share with unreasonable for them amounts of customer service. I have a few near me. They'll straight up loose money on a single customer in the corner cases of business if it aids them in the long run. It does so far.

"I'm at the mechanic's, I'm pinging him for his expert advice. I'm at the carwash place, I'm asking them if they wouldn't mind doing the interior windows for a bit extra, etc."

You're asking your mechanic for free advice? You're asking the carwash guys for extra services they don't advertise or normally supply?

>Free advice

I mean, I'm paying him to fix my car, and then I'm also having a conversation with a human being. That was the whole point. I'm negotiating with the carwash guys because they're humans - if they don't wanna do the thing, they'll tell me.

This is kind of exactly my point - I'm not treating these folks like robots whose prices are up on a board in the front of the building.

Something I have concluded: Genuine respect is a two way street. People expecting things they won't equally do in return are not expecting you to respect them. They are expecting you to kowtow to them and be their bitch.

Those people can go to hell. They will never give back. They do not for one minute believe in a social contract where both people invest in the relationship. They are just using you. Doing anything for them just signals that it is okay for them to use you. This is a terrible social contract to make.

You can still do nice things for other people because it serves something you believe in. Just don't agree to be anyone's bitch, ever, for any reason.

On a related note is "reasonable". In English this word is routinely abused. I consider it a huge red flag.


"No, 4+4=8"

"Oh, c'mon, Joe, don't be difficult."

"4 and 4 is 8, 11 isn't correct.

"Be reasonable here. OK, let's compromise on 9.5, OK?"

This comparison falls apart the moment you're talking about matters of moral, conscience, or basically anything that doesn't have an epistemologically solid answer.

People can debate these issues, arrive at different answers, and still get along at the end of the day.

When those issues are compared to math, where one side is automatically Right and the other side is automatically Wrong and you are Unreasonable if you don't agree... not so much.

A part of being a reasonable person is recognizing this and understanding that the process you went through to arrive at the opinion you hold is not even a little bit comparable to the rigor and certainty of the answer to a child's math problem. The comparison is inherently dishonest.

I've never had a job involving "moral, conscience, or basically anything that doesn't have an epistemologically solid answer" except the moral issues that were clear-cut. E.g. flat-out illegal. Nor have I ever had anyone use the word "reasonable" that way in such a discussion.

I'm the technical expert wherever I work, and yes, the situation is pretty clear-cut. The abuse of the word in such clear situations is why I used an arithmetic analogy.

"I'm the technical expert wherever I work..."

Therefore my opinions are correct and yours, to the extent that they differ, are wrong.

Some of those things do have epistemologically solid answers, but our culture of 'agreeableness' has forced people to say otherwise for centuries on end, regardless of what the truth may be.

yep. it has become a weasel word where the speaker means to say "agreeable" but knows that "reason" has more social status than "agreement" in most contexts.

This rings a bit hollow to me, kind of reminds of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" -- a moral play, a fictional story passed off as autobiographical. Aimed to enforce our self-doubting instinct that we are somehow being a chump and letting society take advantage of us. Taking this literally is a path to regrets.

We can view it as containing slivers of truth, and then look at how to best extract those slivers and strengthen our mental models with them.

Of course, this is a lifelong and error-prone process :)

I have had a very similar realization regarding customer service. I used to think manners obliged me to be patient on the phone or at the customer service counter. That I should jump through all the hoops put before me. And finally if the outcome put before me was unsatisfactory that I should accept it and move on. But I've come to see that customer service is just as much something I'm paying for as the root service or good I'm buying.

Furthermore, the notion that an acceptable remedy to the problem that a company cannot have it's shit together enough to adequately service the occasional difficulties surrounding the transactions of its products is to impose upon me has become unacceptable in my mind.

I know this is going to sound entitled but think of it this way, it is also an entitled position to assume people should be obliged to fill out forms, perform extra steps or wait in line because of a mistake a company has made.

I'm not encouraging anyone to treat people like garbage but my threshold for corporate BS has become extremely low and I ask for issue escalation pretty fast if a company isn't fixing a problem.

I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention. Would you mind just putting in a ticket?

Old submission with more comments here:


Man, I'm a person that can't seem to say no.

Always eager to please other people before I even think about how it will affect me. Would you like to work two doubles in a row and potentially go insane? Ah sure... sure I'd love to!

Hey man, I'd like to catch this bus so I don't walk 6 miles home "Oh sure but before that, can you do this one thing..." ahhhhh

What happens when you let people walk all over you. It's funny too when I observe other people say no or F-off, people remember that and don't ask them to do things... hahaha. Ah well.

Someday my balls will drop.

I was an accommodating person until I realize what people value is not you doing what they want when they ask you. But it is when you doing something with them or for them with a motivation from within yourself, just because you want to or just because you feel like to or just because you think they deserve it or something like that.

To them I am just an all nice fellow who is kind to everybody. I earned their gratitude but not their love and in the process I hurt people that truly care and love about me.

Being accommodating is not necessarily a black or white thing. For me, it depends. I generally consider myself to be a nice easy going person who tries to be accommodating as long as it doesn't hurt me or others. Notice the "me" in my last sentence. Yes, be selfish and then be accommodating. Now, I can be a real jerk if I come across one. Nothing wrong with that.

Might want to read the entire article, it discusses that. The original author was more charitable and more effective in his charity towards others in the end.

Wow! This thought thread is a what's what on the list of horrifying and inauthentic bullshit.

When did we lose the ability to have authentic relationships?

If someone needs your help and you have the capacity to help and they haven't burned you in the past, why not actually be human and help them? Perhaps one day you'll need help and they'll return the favour. If they don't without good reason, then next time say "hey, you know what, I was there when you needed help last time and when I needed help you were nowhere to be found, you flaked out on me because you didn't take my needs seriously." or whatever.

If you're hanging out with flaky people who give you bullshit excuses for not helping you out when you genuinely need help and you're not helping out when they genuinely need help then you don't have friendship, you have acquaintances.

Being a friend is being there when your friends need you and your friends being there when you need them. If one side of that relationship isn't being honoured, it's not friendship. One or the other of you is taking advantage of boundaries that aren't being enforced or respected.

Kudos to everyone for wanting more time for themselves to find value in what they do but when you get to the pinnacle of whatever it is you're doing and you realize you've cast aside your friends and relationships for whatever shiny thing it is that currently has your attention, I hope the shiny thing is more valuable to you than your friendships, because you'll have none.

Addendum: I don't want to devalue those that are selfless and just trying to scramble back a bit of time for their own selves, I get it, I'm an introvert, I need time for myself to do my own things too, but don't lose sight of the fact that human connection is where happiness and love lays. If the giving of yourself to make those you love happy isn't making you happy, then you should probably closely examine the quality of those relationships and either fix them or end them so you are.

I think this more like prioritizing minimum to desired requirements for your own self versus others.

For example, my boyfriend and I are both engineers but hes working at a place short term over the summer with a 3 hour time difference. I work 10am-4pm, he works 9am - 7pm but with a three hour time difference.

Staying up an extra hour to talk to him very night after hes done with work means going from 6.5 hours to 5.5 horus of sleep, which means I don't get up and workout, eat a good breakfast and go to work feeling refreshed.

Luckily im dating an icredible person and he understands this, and that the unideal arrangement is short term, so we found a comporimise and work around, but I did have to say no I can't vid chat tonight I'm going to bed.

Doing a favour is easy, giving up something of yours, of which time by the way is very expensive for busy people, at the expense of your own personal time (which people think is not a requirement but I know for a fact now it is, and even some of the busiest CEOs etc take a no compromise personal time out each day or each week reagrdless of how many emergency events are knocking at thier door. They do this because they know in the long run they suffer, and their company and employees suffer from bad decision making)

so anyways, at the expense of your own personal time, health, mental health other relationships or budget.

people who also have healthy priorities will know this and understand. For example, I'm dating someone who actually cares about me and WANTS me to be happy, well rested healthy and do well in my career. So its not hard for us to find compromises around times we would normally like to talk for a few months so I can still maintain my morning routine which sets the tone by my mental and body health for each day and in general my life, without being sickly sleep deprived, and he can still enjoy the work culture with his team who rolls in late and works late and enjoyed working late as a team. I want him to enjoy this experience and benefit from it and grab beers a couple times a week after work with his work buds. I want him to do well, so its easy for us to do favours for eachother because our personal lives and therefore our happiness together benefits from this. Neither of us would be happy together if we felt we were compromising our ability to be our best, especially at this juncture in our lives, young 20s making or breaking reaching our goals.

I've been in relationships with men who couldnt care less about my long term goals and would keep me up late, obligate me to do their chores and guilt trip me for not being arm candy at every fancy event they went to if it took away from my personal projects, working out, or me time, or guilt tripping me for staying late at work, not encouraging me to go get that new job because things are convenient if I'm unsuccessful and will be miserable enough to drop out of my career and have their kids one day.

You want to try to mostly limit expensive (in terms of time or sacrificing life goals or day to day health which can add up quickly whether its lack of sleep, personal you time, workout time, healthy food or skipping your mid day 10minute meditation or walk on your lunch break) to people who ask favours not too often, and you know there is a mutual benefit.

I don't mean that in selfish terms. I mean if someone continually doesn't do their job well and the favour is you continually give up your lunch break, which you barely take and cut down to a 15min walk in the sun to go over notes or fix another last minute repeated mistake from someone who feels entitled to your time or won't learn how to fish, and wants you to fish for them, then you should say no.

Another example, people have asked me "hey can you make an app for me, or go come meet me for a drink and listen to by business idea and give me your advice, feedback, business advice, network connections based on what I tell you."

Alot of times this person has not done their own due diligence, or knows I'm usually willing to help out and just wants my tech knowledge and connections. That's fine, but I find people who don't reach out with specific questions during a sepcific stage of development and won't send you an email about it, simply want you to meet up for a beer and let the fact you are in a conversation for an hour be free mentoring advice and social networking for them.

In regards to people asking about apps or websites and asking me to help them because they know im in tech but arent at all. I get how it could be confusing to get started or get help on an app if you run a non tech company, but the questions are so basic I now resort to basically asking them to google it.

Literally google it. If you have done all the work and have a question that you feel my specific experience/expertise could help you make a pivot point decision on a very developed situation where you have done your due diligence, and you want me to be a bouncing board, then go for it.

but I often find people like this are throwing a half assed or 20% thought 5% put in effort to idea/project, and they spend their time try to sell me on how I should be just as excited about it as they are, for the explicit purpose of me feeling its worth my time to jump in and offer more time and effort and help to advocate for their project, and always of course a good friend wanting to help people out, never a formal contract or consulting time.

Another example, I have a friend who owns a non tech company or not in the space of software, and they mentioned having a terrible time finding a good marketing firm to consult with and that at the end of the day they really just needed google analytics.

Through a very technical personal project, I was also using google analytics for something, and being that this group is run by a good friend of mine who genuinely is having a wreck of a time finding high quality marketing, I offered specifically to help out with their google analytics. Not anything else like graphic design, advertising, social media campaigns, just said yeh if you are so busy you don't even have 5 hours to go through google analytics analysis, and set up the filters you want and identify and prioritize some outliers who could be customers of worth, then I can atleast look at whats hit it already, put some security filters on it and give you a run down of what you have so far, and set up a few more things.

I figured 20 hours of work total over a month, and actually its very beneficial for me to get access to working with google analytics from a growing company perspective versus a personal website/project of mine for future.

All fine until I go to meet with their Director and find they have no financial, specific customer, demographic goals at all, much less for 1 month 3 month etc. So outside of setting up basic security, its very hard to utilize analytics if you don't know what youre analyzing or what your goals are, or the genre or even priority of customers since the potential customers span multiple industries all over the world.

if I offer to do analytics, I need to know what I'm analyzing. If google analytics is specifically analyzing people exposed to your company, then I need to know what youre interests are as far as people, targeted or widespread marketing, specific consumer groups, specific industries, specific locations, maybe atleast a profit or unit sales goal so then we could utilzie the hits to see who is most likely to provide that? Nothing...

So alot of people are willing to take free help, but alot of people don't know how to utilize that help to do something valuable or use it to teach themselves how to do it themselves or go find the long term help needed.

Alot of times what people are really asking just like when I've been asked to write emails is:

"Please review everything that exists currently, can be done and needs to be done, identify potential solutions, prioritize amongst existing priorities, document communicate, find the right people to do it, and of course since already noone else besides you is willing to do even this, if you want to prove your motivated, youll actually implement the solution yourself"

Thats what alot of times "favours" end up being when people say "hey, I want to go over this idea and get feedback from you" ....

I totally appreciate the effort you went to to write this.

You're quite right in that your time is valuable and a lot of people encroach on this time without any respect for just how valuable it is - it's the only resource we cannot renew, at least so far. So your taking the time and effort to write this instead of whatever else it is you could've been doing to further your success is evidence of how important this topic is to you as well. So thank you.

You are from the sound of things in a wonderful and respectful relationship that values your time and needs. This is worth keeping hold of; but many people have absolutely no respect for each others needs in this sense and so walk all over it with the expectation that their partner should be more selfless so they can be more selfish instead of both being selfless towards one anothers needs. Any affront to this perception is considered selfishness on your part.

"Oh you need time to yourself, I will make room and take on responsibility so that you can have that." returned by the favour of "Oh, you need some time to do X, Y or Z activity so you can be fulfilled, you know what, let me take A, B and C off your plate so that you can do that."

This is the difference between a selfless relationship and a one sided relationship where one partner is "You know what, I need this in order to feel fulfilled, so I need you to do X, Y and Z for me so that I can get that fulfilment." "What do you mean you don't have the capacity to do that? You think your time at the pub with your friends is more important than my mental wellbeing?" "Well, you want me to stop doing something that's good for my own mental wellbeing in order for you to satisfy yours."

From the sound of things, you've been on the receiving end of this too, so you understand both sides of this coin.

A balance definitely needs to be struck between the giving of yourself freely to those that are important to you and the expectation of payment in kind. Relationships are a two way street.

With regards to people who approach you for technical assistance in their projects - I've been burned a number of times: Kids with no due dilligence done expecting me to give my all for their success, right up to a sociopath who had done all her due dilligence and had used every developer she could get to do her bidding as stepping stones to her success while taking advantage, not paying them, setting lawyers on them to hand over code she'd not paid for and the whole 9 yards who approached me with a solid prototype, a solid business plan and an NDA that protected her and "a contract that's coming" but was never delivered who convinced me to work on good faith. She was a nasty piece of work. So I understand being taken advantage of and I'm wary of it having been stung for tens of thousands of dollars in payments I will never receive. Thankfully a solid understanding of the DMCA, Copyright Law and lucky timing saved me from her ever being able to publish my work, but that's another story for another time.

My point is: If your friends and business partners are taking advantage without any respect for your needs, they're not your friends. If any contract is too one sided without any consideration for your needs and there is resistance to your needs being met, they don't care about you, only themselves.

If your friendships aren't instrumental in your success and your success is where your personal fulfillment lies, then your friendships should be evaluated in such a way that they bring you that success, not stand in its way... and that's a two way street. You cannot expect your friends to be instrumental in your success without your willingness to be instrumental in theirs. You stand by them as you expect them to stand by you. If one or the other of you is not meeting this basic tenet of friendship, then you need to reevaluate that friendship.

This reminds me a lot of the posts by burnt out open source project maintainers, like the one about turning off github issues that was on the front page just recently, or one from a while ago about ignoring most github notifications and marking old repos as unmaintained.

It's important to remember what you are trying to do when you are being accommodating. You want to help others help themselves so that they are more capable in the end.

The author here took 100% of the work and pains from those around him. The people he helped were relieved of that task but are no more prepared for it should it arise again.

Personally I do try and be accommodating to those around me; but I include them in what is being done so they can learn from it. This give them back more than just result of the task and enables them to hopefully accomplish it themselves next time.

At eighteen I went away to college. [...] I had saved enough from a summer's work to pay the fees of the first term,

I guess college wasn't that expensive back then (or summer jobs were paying a lot).

That was true of state universities as late as the mid 1970s when I attended. It was the rise of easy credit for guaranteed loans that permitted the current runaway inflation in costs. College costs have grown faster than health care.

Your guess is right (the first part mostly).

The blog header is Diogenes, the Cynic (by an unkonwn artist) [1]. This suggests a possible misunderstanding of historical personalities. I believe Τimon, the Misanthrope, is the role model the author was really looking for:

According to Lucian, Timon was the wealthy son of Echecratides who lavished his money on flattering friends. When his funds ran out, the friends deserted him and Timon was reduced to working in the fields. One day, he found a pot of gold and soon his fair-weather friends were back. This time, he drove them away with dirt clods. [2]

I'm not being facetious: Diogenes, besides being a sarcastic old codger for which he is mostly famous, also displayed a complete lack of interest for his own person, so not quite the blazing firebrand of, the er, enlightened self-interest promulgated in the OP.


[1] https://mikecanex.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/new-year-new-head...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timon_of_Athens_(person)

A lot of the points touched on in the original article and this thread are conducive to deeper, creative and more meaningful work in general. You should say no to meaningless distractions. I just finished reading this book about it, so, good timing... https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted-...

Great writeup. It hits on age old wisdom - how do we strike a balance between saying 'yes' or 'no'?

The arguments for yes are obvious, probably best summarized by Wallace Stevens' saying: "After the final no there comes a yes and on that yes the future of the world hangs." (had to google for the exact saying :).

Logically and intuitively speaking, the degree to which our lives work is the degree to which we keep our agreements - it is the 'yes' (action) that moves us forward, shapes us as a person, far more than the 'no' (passivity).

In an infinite world of possibilities, what should one say 'yes' or 'no' to? This brings into the picture something we all struggle with finding for the better, if not the most part of our lives - _purpose_ and _meaning_.

I've no idea where your purpose and meaning come from - I know where mine do, however, if you want to be able to quickly sift through the infinite possibilities and readily come up with a 'yes' or a 'no' for what you commit to versus what you don't, then it is imperative that you seek out your purpose in life.

Generally speaking, the purpose has to be larger than what you can accomplish on your own, sometimes it might even span your life, or multiple life spans if your purpose is worth following by others.

Another way to achieve purpose or meaning is to surrender to another person, hopefully someone better than you. No, this doesn't mean becoming a door mat - it just means becoming vulnerable and coachable toward this person, whomever that is for you - could be a spouse, a higher being, whatever....

I'm starting to like HN even more when I see posts like this make it up to the first spot.

"People never trust an accommodating man with important things."

This is (a) incredibly true (in the original sense of incredible) and (b) a difficult and painful lesson to learn.

Being the one to go to with problems means that all you will see are other's problems---no one will look for you when they succeed. Being the one who makes crap work means that you will always be making crap work.

But saying 'no' isn't the biggest part of the problem. Saying no just means you do nothing. You need to have a positive plan. Something that you want enough to push for.

More importantly, you need to push yourself forward. Brag. Sell yourself. Advertise. Mock other people to their faces, even if you know they're right and you're wrong. The world is not a kind and gentle place. It does not reward humility and the meek are not going to inherit anything.

If you liked the writing/ideas here you'll love Seneca's On the Shortness of Life.


Or the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Both are fantastic...

As a counterpoint, I am also one of those people who spends a lot of time helping people out, both at work and in the community.

I do it for two reasons: firstly, to be frank - I enjoy it, I enjoy the social stroking it confers. I work with clever, talented people - but they have different skill sets to me. If I can do something in 5 minutes that would take them an hour - and show them how to do it - I get a buzz and they are grateful.

Secondly, getting a reputation for people capable, people come to me with interesting problems, which increase my skill sets.

Yes, sometimes I have just too much on, and sometimes they come to me with dull stuff.

But in general, the combination, of making people happy, recognition and interesting problems makes being accommodating worth it for me.

Reading this article was great for me. It provided a perspective that I needed with a compelling argument for it.

Reading the comments was a huge mistake. It mired the previous sense of insight with contradictory perspectives supported by compelling anecdotes but, crucially, no analysis more rigorous than the original article.

Of course, you can make a compelling case for anything if you have rhetoric and evidence isn't demanded of you, but I think there's a point where analysis is of negative value.

In a way, learning this lesson has been valuable in and of itself.

This was really good and most of it held up really well. I too was far too accommodating and when I thought I had it licked I got brought back in. It's a tough thing to avoid. In some ways you want to help everyone. In other ways that hurts yourself and, depending on how bad it is, maybe your family or career (like in this story).

People should certainly try not to be accommodating to everyone. It's something I still struggle with but no longer being a part of a start-up with unrealistic expecations has certainly toned down this significantly for me.

A little here and there can still be good, however.

Ref: Original article with lovely typesetting - https://books.google.com/books?id=kstZAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA3-PA13#v...

The whole issue is full of gems, like this one just a few pages away: "You do not have to like a job to succeed in it!"


Couldn't help but recall Peter Thiel's ideas on competition and why it's good business to avoid it. The author's father was stuck in competition and it drove a lot of what he did.

The idea in the article was that the competition was "imaginary" as in the salesman across the street didn't bother to try to do everything for everyone correct? Maybe the lesson is more about ignoring what others might be doing and focusing on what you need to do for success yourself. EDIT: mistake was as suggested below.

"lesson is more about what others might be doing"

You mean less, right?

Alternately the word "ignoring" might have been mistakenly omitted:

> "the lesson is more about ignoring what others might be doing and focusing on what you need to do for success yourself"

Gotcha. I'm always doing that.

Nothing worse than people who say "yes" but underneath, they really don't want to, and play out their resentment passive aggressively.

Mmm, I can think of worse things.

>Read the life of a great scientist like Agassiz. Was he forever at the world’s beck and call? Not for a single day.

Agassiz refers to "Louis Agassiz" a creationist scientific racist that believed the races had been created by God in separate events. Not the best example to use.

Edit: He believed this in the late 1800 and the author of the submitted article apparently considered him a "great scientist" as late as 1922.

Agassiz, who is still remembered for his contributions to geology & fossil taxonomy, can't possibly be a great scientist as he committed wrongthink over a century ago.

Eventually, the only great scientists will be ones who are still available to have their opinions policed by modern progressives.

Those things might be related through. A person being "not be diverted even for an instant" from what he wants for himself, because he considers himself above everyone else probably is related to the same person being attracted to theory that pseudo-scientifically strokes his own ego at expense of somebody else.

Both things might be results of the same personality trait. On personal side, if your personal wishes are really over everything else, you are likely to go further in your personal interests - however your family will be harmed in the process. On political and pseudo scientific side, you will be attracted to more cruel self serving theories.

The man denied evolution. Completely.

He believed creationism and even went so far as "creatively" interpreting religious documents to support his own biases.

All this in the late 1800s.

I'm not usually on this side of the debate but here I think it's safe to say that his non-agreeableness and personal biases led him to the wrong conclusions and that is very relevant to this submission.

The more I read about his work the more I reach the conclusion that this was a man that achieved social and academic success but was a failure as a man of science.

Hey, man, if you want to believe in frauds, go right ahead. Discrimination between useful hypotheses and rubbish ones is how knowledge advances. If you want to hold up losers as your heroes, don't be surprised when no one follows.

Unfortunately for you, Agassiz's hypotheses about a great many things were useful and correct.

But look on the bright side, if a putative belief in creationism would prevent anyone from hearing about a given researcher's other & more defensible work; we would all be laughing at that silly creationist Issac Newton.

Hey, I can use his results while still decrying him. And I intend to. I call it standing on the shoulders of giants while chipping off their faces.

Seriously, though, you're right. One shouldn't dismiss all of people's work just because they were wrong about some things. But whether someone is a 'great scientist' is a bit unimportant in that sense.

> Eventually, the only great scientists will be ones who are still available to have their opinions policed by modern progressives.

Progressives have historically believed in government transparency, and modern ones generally support infrastructure investments, but there isn't really any social agenda. You may be thinking of liberals.

Eventually, the only great scientists will be ones who are still available to have their opinions policed by modern progressives.

I think that's becoming less and less true. I'd say we've already reached the nadir of progressivism in the west.

Well... if history is any lesson, the Weimar era of Germany is probably the nadir. We've got a ways to go.

Agassiz had a complicated life and career with plenty of lasting accomplishments, but his shortcomings do seem relevant to the piece; by the end of his life he was most famous for refusing to accommodate Darwinism.

He was the first person to (formally) propose the idea of an ice age, and find evidence for it. That's pretty impressive. I don't see how what you pointed out about his beliefs detracts from the point the author was trying to make by using him as an example of a driven individual. Does the fact Newton spent many years practicing alchemy detract from his achievements? It's not about whether or not they were right or wrong in hindsight.

> Does the fact Newton spent many years practicing alchemy detract from his achievements?

No. Not at all.

But it might show that non-agreeableness might have some downsides.

Has anyone seen the documentary Supermensch?

I wonder what the fine line is between being a mensch like Shep Gordon, with the kind of legend and grandeur that comes with such a title, and being an over-accommodating person to a pathetic degree, as described in the article.

It's tough to describe, but somehow a mensch has all the traits of an over-accommodating person without the sign on their back that says "use me."

To summarize the entirety of the lesson: Sometimes saying "no" is better than saying "yes". By saying "no" you give time otherwise wasted to things that are beneficial to yourself. When and how you decide to say "no" should be based on whether the person that is requesting is perfectly capable of doing the task themselves according to the nature of the article.

And sometimes it's better to say nothing at all...

Very very true. The greater your ability to conceal your thoughts, especially in the case of escalating provocations, the more information your interlocutor will reveal until the strategic balance shifts.

"Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink."

Every time you give someone theoretically everything they want, they will not value you.

It's a simple supply and demand rule. Everything offered in abundance loses its value. What are you offering? Your time, your resources, your care, your attention.

To people realize your valor, offer less, invest less. Give them space to miss you and run after you.

We do not respect or admire worthless things.

> “You are thirty-five years old,” I said to myself. “More than half of your life has already been spent.

Well, the age of the document is showing.

How many years are really worth it, though? Is an extra 20 years of miserable old age worth 5 years of youth? I'm not wholly certain that's the case.

That's why one should exercise and eat right. There is a strong correlation between regular exercise/healthy body weight and a productive old age. It amazes me how cavalier people are about their bodies.

Almost all decent places to live in the world have an average male life expectancy of over 70 years!

This isn't an argument worth having.

ok then...

"You're 38, half your life is behind you already"

Nitpick: The chart you responded to set out life expectancy at birth. If you're 38, your remaining life expectancy is non unsignificantly higher.

It's like the good side of Zeno's Paradox. If you're alive at age X, your expected number of days to live is still significant. For US males, your life expectancy doesn't fall below one year until you're 113.

Related to this I'd recommend Adam Grant's Bestseller Give and Take. The surprising conclusion is while some "Givers" end up at the bottom, other "Givers" also end up at the top. The key to doing good and doing well is to practice what he calls "generous tit for tat".

Having read through this, it strikes me as a version of the change that takes place in Pierre Bezhukov in War and Peace after his captivity. One saves time by not having to read a thousand pages to get to it; one loses something also, given that those thousand pages are of War and Peace.

Saying "no" sometimes (genuinely, everyone has shit to do) is the best way to know for sure who really enjoys your company and who just keeps you near for the easy "yes" you always carry around.

Previous discussion from 4 years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4969041

Seems similar to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, depicted in her novels (for example Atlas Shrugged). She does take the "selfish" theme a touch more radically though.

Could be observing effect rather than cause. People that are very good at <whatever> get a lot of business. Which cuts into the time you have to be accommodating.

Evan Williams of Twitter/Blogger I think said that the CEO's job is to say No No No!!

No to new features, to partnerships, to things that lose focus from the core mission.

Do favors for money. Money is an IOU ticket for bartering.

You have a point there. Using money removes the arduous pontification of whether the favor was worth doing, aka "helper's guilt".

Especially when both parties enjoy some sort of prior established trust (long friends or acquaintances), it's even easier to use money even if it won't compensate for a comparable market rate service.

E.g. "Would you mind helping me with X, Y or Z and I'll buy you lunch(es)?"

This entirely depends on the culture one is used to.

I've seen two cultures:

- In one it works the way you describe it and it's considered odd if the favour were not 'compensated' in some way

- In another, the question of 'compensation' of a favour is an insult and seen as a statement of no investment in the relationsip

When people from one culture go to the other, it's bound to cause discomfort. I've experienced this and also seen it happen to others.

"You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm"

The most common annoyance is the social ritual demand of being in a coffee shop and some fool asks others to watch their computer. Refuse by saying "No I may have to leave soon. Invest in a laptop lock."

Reminds me of "It's a Wonderful Life".

yeh, as a female this has been a long learning experience for me. Raised in the deep south, our job is to ease political and social tensions and be as accomodating as possible, literally waiting around to see how we can pitch in and help to advertise our hospitality.

Obviously the hypocrisy came to light a long time ago, but I still see this in myself and often amongst women in the workplace.

We are asked to do more public speaking on behalf of our company. The intentions are good, and I want more women in technology so I'm happy to be a role model though I'm far from perfect, but I won't let it take me away from my job and I've turned down being a public speaker.

I've turned down running a SWE "Society of Women Engineers" Chapter at work.

I turn down running social events on behalf of the company.

My favorite two I've learned to say no to are

"Well I never learned how to write well and you take really good notes, so can you document this meeting and send a summary email out to everyone with the conversation, highlights, and action items"

I'm not a secretary, I'm an engineer, and if you have a PhD from MIT and never learned how to write, and in fact its so difficult you can't take meeting notes or you need meeting notes because you can't remember the takeaway items, then thats your problem/opportunity for growth, not a place where I turn into a secretary.

if I'm going to be writing priorities, deciding what the priorities are based on the conversation, documenting them and communicating them and following up for troubleshooting follow through, then make me your Manager.

The other one is "yeh well this is really complicated. It's kind of a mess. Noones looked at this process in a long time, lots of old documentation. Would be really great if someone could come in a organize all this for us..."

That's the part where I'm supposed to enthusiastically volunteer to reorganize the half assed work of people who never understood APIs, who additionally still work at this company and have not fixed it, who are ok with half assed work, and people who will make condescending comments about the lack of ability to pick up quickly on things as I'm rewriting the mess of documentation left behind.

I used to feel obligated to all of those things. I don't. It's really too easy for people to expect women to come in at tech companies and

1. Be a part time poster child for women in tech including but not limited to taking time away from the team to go to public speaking events and organize work events.

2. Spend your time documenting things that nooone has bothered documenting before

3. Be expected to "show enthusiasm" and "contribute" by basically cleaning out the closet of men who havn't opened the drawer to realize how disorganized things are until they have a new person trying to learn under them.

I don't do any of these things anymore, and I make it clear I am not interested in those things when I am asked. I spend time learning technical work, and continually filter my tasks of extraneous things that are not focused on addressing the core issues of my work.

Your job is to do your job and be good at it, and you will naturally be accomodating by the benefits that brings.

On a personal level, I've learned the same thing. huge guilt trips from men to hang out and call me a bitch for basically having standards, being an introvert, and not making dating my hobby outside of work. It's expected of me actually still even in tech.

Huge guilt trips from girls who expect me to be an extrovert, or take it personally that I dont want to be constantly social or go shopping or talk about boys with them, again, even in tech.

Women have a lot of pressure to be socially accomodating, and people will have subconscious expectations of you to do be that way inside and outside of work, and not realize how entitled they actually feel in regards to having a say in your own personal life decisions.

I'm 26 now, but I really wish another women would have given me this advice at 20.

Learn to say no. Focus on you and your job. You accomodate so many people when you take care of yourself and are good at your job and genuinely contribute.

>Three things were very clear to me in that night of self-examination five years ago. First: A man’s chief loyalty must be to the woman who has joined her life to his; to the children who call him father; and to the business which feeds and clothes and houses them all

No. A man’s chief loyalty must be to himself. This guy didn't take the lesson to its final conclusion.

The man in this story is the central nervous system for a family unit. The wife and children are, in essence, an extension of himself. He knows his genes will die, but a portion his human body, in both flesh and spirit, will live on in his children. Thus, in order to promote self-preservation, his wife and children must be attended to. This is biological reality.

Which benefits society more?

Whoever modded this down thanks. When you mod a comment down it makes the post stand out more. Keep this in mind if it wasn't the original intention.

I'm new to ycomb and I'm loving it so far. Thanks for all the good post. I look forward to more.

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