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Why I Quit Being So Accommodating (1922) (mikecanex.wordpress.com)
650 points by mikecane on Dec 26, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 162 comments

What a great read! Thank you, OP, for finding and sharing it.

I don't know what I like about it more, that it's from an earlier "simpler" world or that it highlights a problem that's just as important today: learning to tell the difference between and issue and a detail and dealing with them differently. Sounds like the original author had his epiphany 90 years ago. I wonder how that ended up changing his life.

(I have often commented here about issues vs. details. A few highlights:)


How are you discerning issues v. details from this post? I feel it's quite clearly about drawing/enforcing boundaries, being able to say 'no', and the like. In my experience, there are a lot of people in SV (men, mostly -- partly because SV is male-dominated) who can learn a lot from this lesson.

First, the author refrains from blaming those who were taking advantage of his "kindness" (loose boundaries, really, but he framed it to himself as kindness for so long). Instead, he takes full responsibility for his own misapprehensions about how the world works -- not his father, not his college-friend-turned-boss, not anyone else. Today, when I read posts about people who undergo this specific epiphany -- "nice guy syndrome" if I can call it something -- it inevitably is accompanied by resentment: other people are cruel and manipulative, women are bitches who don't want nice guys, investors are sociopaths who just follow trends, etc.

Second, and related to the first -- this man did not act simply in reaction to his epiphany. He didn't simply swing the other way, as if to say "well now I'll be a jerk to everyone else to punish them." Instead, he continued to be generous and magnanimous, but he took responsibility for drawing and enforcing his own boundaries. And those boundaries still included room to be generous and charitable, but what he gained was the facility to choose those traits.

Previously, he felt compelled to oblige and unable to resist the impositions of others. Now, he has the power to choose not to oblige, and he still chooses to oblige when he feels drawn to do it. And when he doesn't, he now can turn down the request.

As I said earlier, I have seen a lot of men arrive at the particular revelation that what they perceive as a kind and generous nature is actually compliance and subservience -- and then simply shut off that valve in reaction. I greatly admire this author's example of maintaining the choice to be generous, while gaining the capacity to choose the direction of his generosity.

> Second, and related to the first -- this man did not act simply in reaction to his epiphany. He didn't simply swing the other way, as if to say "well now I'll be a jerk to everyone else to punish them." Instead, he continued to be generous and magnanimous, but he took responsibility for drawing and enforcing his own boundaries.

For a humorous example of the wrong way to act after this epiphany, see the 1942 Joe McDoakes short film "So You Think You're a Nervous Wreck".


or sheckley's short story "cordle to onion to carrot" [http://arthursclassicnovels.com/sheckley/conion10.html]

Those are good points. I thought there's something different about the article, but was not sure how to state it, but you did it perfectly. Thank you for that.

It's probably not a real story, The American Magazine published a great deal of morality tale fiction anonymously -- mostly aimed at a female audience -- and this sounds a lot like one of those "just-so-stories" about a man that brings his family to ruination (though usually it was demon alcohol or pool halls).

Oh, AM also published a great many profiles of real people too. I set up a separate blog to highlight those: http://ipeopleblog.wordpress.com/

That's pretty neat, thanks for collecting all of those. I've spent hundreds of hours reading newspapers from that period for a historical novel I've been working on for a long while.

It's equally fascinating to see the parallels and the divergences in our culture.

Any way to get updates relating to your novel?

Many of today's most popular business books are written in this fashion. I believe the style is called "business parable". A couple popular titles from recent years are "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" and "Who Moved My Cheese". I would not be so worried about the actual source of the story. The principles are still the same. At one point in my life I was very much like this individual but not now...while the story may be fiction my life is not :)

I personally found it hard to believe. This fellow seems smart, but was foolish enough to leave college and a promised job at a Bank to work at a hardware store. He did so during a social visit at his friend's family for "moral support" against the family's push for the hardware store job? .

It's useful and well written article - even if the story is fiction, we can take away something from it.

The "Square D" company mentioned is real; in fact your circuit breaker box probably has a [D] logo in or on it.

That doesn't prove the truth of the rest of the story, of course.

Does it mention the company name? I couldn't find it in either the transcribed or the scanned versions.

Sorry, I mixed up my tabs. "Square D" was in the other 1922 article.


Thanks for pointing that out. I had been assuming it was factual.

"As a matter of fact, I was too often being friendly to the customers at the expense of the house. It is a common fault in salesmen. They let a thousand trivial demands on the part of the men to whom they sell take their time and energy from the business of the men for whom they sell."

- This is one of the hardest concepts to teach in enterprise sales nearly 100 years later. Too often customers (worse prospects) ask for all sorts of things from compliant sales people who never ask if it's necessary. References, POC's etc. The salesperson chews up hours of their time and other employees times because they don't have the backbone to say "No" or at least "Not yet" The rationalization is "I'm advancing the deal for the company!"

I picked up on this too. If it resonates, it really resonates. Fortunately, in enterprise sales at least, a good sales engineer can go a long way in curbing a salesman's worst excesses.

The salesperson chews up hours of their time and other employees times because they don't have the backbone to say "No"

The salesperson does this because he'll get a nice commission if the sale goes through, and doesn't really care about the people whose time he's wasting.

You've actually just fallen into the trap that the salesperson is in. If you win the deal then it's a good use of resources (generally) However, you won't win the deal. Just as the main character here, who is also very accommodating, looses out for the promotion.

If he' on commission, then either he's not wasting his employers time with these things, if they genuinely lead to high total sales, or he's wasting his own time as well.

Total sales don't determine whether a company lives or dies. It's the bottom line, profit or loss after all the expenses are paid, that matters.

Sometimes, the real cost of a sale can exceed the revenues to the company from the sale. For example, I've seen salesmen sell vaporware that the company then has to drop everything to implement, possibly a feature that's not of use to any of the company's other customers. The salesman gets his commission and doesn't care that the development group is tied up with the feature he sold and unable to work on the really important features.

If salesmen could receive a commission on profits rather than gross revenues it would give them incentives that are better aligned with the health of the company. Unfortunately, it's easy to calculate a salesman's revenues and very difficult to calculate the actual profits (or losses) attributable to him.

What you're describing though is a management/leadership problem not a sales problem. Also, with the ongoing emergence of cloud/SaaS based offerings it's much easier to tie real revenue/profitability to comp plans.

What does POC stand for in this case?


First off: I don't know if anything of this is really true. I just don't know people exactly and this is my perception and ONLY a perception.

I don't know. Usually, when someone says they quit being nice I find it hard to believe that they were accommodating. Maybe I am wrong, but everyone I ever knew calling themselves nice actually wasn't, but rather the opposite.

Yeah, I am not a nice person. I never was and I will never be. Yeah, a lot of people call me nice, helpful and whatever, but come on that's what everyone gets to hear all day long.

Yeah, I spend working a lot and I spend my money for others and I have all my stuff second-hand because of that. I spend all night being awake, because there are people who rely on being. Yeah, on my way home I will bring your book to the library, so you won't be stuck in the traffic. Yeah, I feel better buying fair-trade goods - no actually, stuff that pays higher than fair trade stuff. But don't we all have something like that? I work more than 50 hours a week, spend most of my free time helping others and write here only because there really isn't anything else I can do right now - well besides thinking about what I could do better or sleeping (unlikely), when they need help (and someone always does), just to not feel like a bad person.

But come on, everyone else does so too and most people on this planet do way, way more or else things wouldn't run as day do. And if everyone else is like that how does it make sense to call you nice?

Okay, there are exceptions for all of this of course, but just because someone isn't a lazy asshole it doesn't make them nice or extremely accommodating, does it? And if someone has time to write a long article on how they are so accommodating are they really?

P.S.: I slept about 3-4 hours per night last year, because there always was stuff to do and I (really) worked until I fell asleep. I guess it affected me mentally, but people rely on me.

I recognize some thought patterns in what you said here that I have also felt previous to this year, before I started working with an excellent professional coach. Several of the "practices" he gave me to work on involved learning how to say no to people. That includes delegation, qualifying, hidden costs. It's an involved set of closely held attitudes and assumptions that can be hard to break out of.

My advice for you is that your intelligence might be working against you, because it appears that you've constructed a [familiar to me] set of logical assertions which seem to support this viewpoint. It's like a perpetual motion machine which lets you congratulate yourself and seem like both the everyman and an ascetic at the same time. While it's possible that these things are all true, it's at least likely that you're flattering yourself.

Life is not black or white. By participating in HN are you nice for sharing your wisdom or egotistical and vain? By giving to charity are you paying it forward or celebrating your own self-image? People do things for selfless self-serving reasons all of the time. I personally don't think that this is a bad thing, so long as the end result is that people share wisdom and help those less fortunate.

Anyhow, I sense I'm rambling but in closing the author isn't suggesting that he stopped being a nice person, he's explaining how he was shocked into realizing that spending his time doing things for other people at the expense of those closest who deserved his priority was not a winning proposition. He could in effect be nicer by putting on his oxygen mask before putting one on his kid.

Yeah, I am not a nice person. I never was and I will never be. Yeah, a lot of people call me nice, helpful and whatever, but come on that's what everyone gets to hear all day long.


I work more than 50 hours a week, spend most of my free time helping others and write here only because there really isn't anything else I can do right now - well besides thinking about what I could do better or sleeping (unlikely), when they need help (and someone always does), just to not feel like a bad person.

So you say you're not a nice person, and yet you spend most of your free time helping others so as not to feel like a bad person?

It's your life to lead in the way you choose.

Are you happy living like this? It might not be as necessary as it feels. People rely on me; I work 36 hours a week. Amongst my friends and contacts most people do not work until they fall asleep and would be consider the idea of doing so long term deeply unhealthy.

I don't know what the global situation really is, but want to point out that your immediate surroundings might be more local and unusual than they appear.

Why not try accepting 1 hours work less a day for a week and see whether thing get better or worse?

Please go to sleep. The improved quality of the remaining waking hours will more than make up for the additional time "lost" in bed.

One has to strike a balance. "No" is a very powerful and effective strategy when used judiciously. However, you don't want to say "No" to everyone about everything, or you become known as the opposite of the overly helpful fellow in the story, and people will resent you.

I enjoyed this article and I'm grateful to Mike Cane for turning me on to this charming bit of Americana. In those days, it was said that "The business of America is business" and the writings in this magazine fully reflect that belief. It's all about getting ahead, becoming the big boss, achieving financial security. Underlying it all is a naive yet practical optimism, a sense that we [white males] can achieve anything if we set our minds to it. It's a bit sad to think in contrast of today's narcissistic, short-sighted attitudes which are so prevalent.

"No" isn't a strategy.

I think if you think the story is about saying "No", then you've missed the point. The point is the mental shift between living reactively and ceding control to anyone who asks for it, to living with purpose and giving your time and attention to those people who deserve it.

People will resent you for being unreasonable. People will resent you when their expectations are not met.

When you are too accommodating, people may value your courtesy. However, they will expect you to be accommodating, and if you ever try to stop, they will resent you for violating their expectations.

If you say no when it's reasonable to do so, then you set fair expectations. People respect your fairness, so they don't expect more than is reasonable from you.

If you are unreasonable, people expect you to be unreasonable. They will ask little of you, but they wont have any respect for your character.

It's very easy, especially when you are worried about people's perception of you to be too compromising, which leads to unmanageable expectations and that feeling of persecution. It's your own fault when this happens, you've been silently making promises with your actions, and people get angry when you break them.

Say you go to a coffee shop every day and get a sandwich, and to be nice, the server gives you a free small coffee, and you do this for a few months, and every time you get a free coffee. Then one day, you go to the coffee shop with enough money for your sandwich and ask for a sandwich and coffee, but the server demands you pay for the coffee this time. That's frustrating because you don't have the cash to get both, so you either go without the coffee or plead with the server.

However, consider another coffee shop where you ask for a sandwich, and the server asks if you want a small coffee for a dollar. You decide you want the coffee, you buy them both. You're happy with the arrangement, and the former situation never comes up. You never have the opportunity to be frustrated with the server because she hasn't set any expectation she's not willing to maintain.

I notice that his name is Bert at the start of the article and Joe at the end. If there were any doubt about whether the story is real or made up, I think that clinches it; people very seldom forget their own names.

More likely bad editing. Joe was his roommate and eventual boss. It's only once near the end that his aunt calls him Joe.

yeah, bad editing, but if it weren't fiction, would the author have mis-stated his own name in his first draft?

If it were real, names would have been changed to anonymize it. No search replace in those days, so it's an easy way for such a mistake to creep in.

I still suspect it's a fictional or largely fictional piece though.

If he had decided to use a different name so he could publish anonymously, sure.

Or, stretching, Bert is Tyler Durden.

"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."

A greater truism can hardly have been spoken.

Perhaps in 1922. Those old farts had it easy back then. They could reasonably expect the delayed reward when they get older, the business repaying their loyalty for all these years.

Fast forward to the eighties and "the business which feeds and clothes and houses them all" being acquired is a common event. Then the fat gets trimmed. The fat being you, the loyal employee whose work made the business acquire-worthy in the first place. Your loyalty being repaid is not in the books, the value you created is.

So, loyalty to the people is ok. The relationship with a business is governed by contracts and little more.

So, loyalty to the people is ok. The relationship with a business is governed by contracts and little more.

Agreed. In the 20s you took care of "the business" that takes care of you. Nowadays, you attend to "the career" that takes care of you.

If they lived to retirement age.

Life expectancy of a 35 year old male in the 1920s was about 67, for a woman 68. It's about a decade more now. Source (expressed as years of survival): http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005140.html

And as I recall, promises of life-long employment hit a bit of a reef in the late 1920s.

That said, yes, we've exchanged greater life expectancy for much reduced employer loyalty.

Keep in mind there was no social security in 1922. And life expectancy actually hasn't risen that much among the poorer classes, eg see http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/workingpapers/wp108.html

Money has lead to health and prosperity for more, but the poor remain in the lot of our ancestors.

Truism, yet not true!

The first two are backwards. If you doubt me, think about what happens in a divorce.

Disclaimer, I've been married over 20 years and never divorced. My kids come first. I'm fairly sure that my wife puts our kids first as well.

I'm not married, nor do I have kids, but I've decided when that time comes I will put my wife first.

It seems to me "your children come first" is the traditional expectation of modern, American society, but I think it's wrong. At least in my case, it led to me being very well treated and doted on within a tragic environment of my parents' relationship falling apart.

This NYTimes blog post [1] captures my feelings pretty well.

[1] http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/priorities-chi...

> I'm not married, nor do I have kids, but I've decided when that time comes I will put my wife first.

You are not prepared for the hormone storm that you'll experience the first time you hold your child.

For me, I wasn't sure I was ready. I said yes to having kids because my wife wanted kids. The moment I held my son for the first time, on the other hand, all my priorities shifted instantly.

Maybe you'll still hold on to the idea of putting your wife first, but you're not in any position to make decisions about it at this stage and expect them to hold firm.

Actually, now is the perfect time to rationally come up with some sound principles before the hormone storm hits. Hormones are not a good basis for decisions that affect the course of peoples' lives.

Except when the hormone storm hits, you will rationalize to yourself exactly why you need to reverse those decisions with the greatest ease, if that's what fits best.

Hormones control a substantial part of your life, no matter whether you like it or not, and they influence and control a large part of the decision you think you made rationally.

Hormones are the primary basis for most major life decisions. We are animals, not machines. They're not "good" if followed in isolation to memory or reason. But neither is reason good in isolation.

If you don't have time for each other, you have problems.

But even when we're together, the children are still on our minds.

If it wasn't in your best interest as a child for them to act as they did, their mistake was not to put your interests first but to poorly and naively do so, probably by sacrificing the long term to serve the short term. This is isomorphic to the question of naive selfishness vs. enlightened self-interest.

My parents put each other first and were very clear about it. They knew their kids would move out and have their own life. And they would have only each other at that point. So, while I'm sure my mom would have rationed food to the kids first, in any non-survival situation, she'd side with my dad over me.

In front of the kids, I will support anything my wife says over the kids. Period. That is necessary to avoid having kids try to play one parent against the other. (Any attempt to actually play us against each other ends badly for the kids.)

When my kids are teenagers, perhaps my feelings will shift.

But right now my kids come first in my emotional life. I would die for them. I have compromised work for them. It wasn't even a question. I support my wife, but not as unconditionally as I support my children.

This does not mean that I do everything they want. This does not mean that I try to be their lives. I want them happy and healthy, and I do everything that I think is good for them. This is not the same as being their friends. Nor should it be.

Putting kids first explicitly means, to me at least, showing it to your spouse and to your children that she (your spouse) is second only. It may not be deliberate, may not be conscious, but it will manifest in sooner or later. (How frequently it will, depends on how strong this decision is.)

Children not only need loving parents, i.e. parents who love THEM, but also ones who love each other, a couple a model. It's needed for them to want a family, it's needed so that they don't see having children as an obstacle in the way of their personal happiness.

So sometimes, it's beneficial to put the children second, beneficial from their point of view as well. But in general, I don't think there are too many situations when we have to think about who comes first (unless we marry an asshole :) ).

It seems logical to me that putting kids first (or over one's SO) would be a step toward divorce.

Disclaimer: Married 4 years, no kids, only speculating.

Get back to me in, oh, 18 years. At your age, I am positive that I would have said the same thing.

I thought about this recently, since I have a 10 week old, and decided for now, wife comes first. Maybe that changes as your kids age.

Putting your wife first is putting your baby first at this stage, they are effectively one for the next little while. Good luck.

It's a non-quantifiable scenario, whether kids or wife come first. Who do you love more? Does your wife get more Christmas presents more of your time? Does she get more of your time?

In a divorce, both relationships have failed. The base purpose of marriage is to procreate, not that it is necessary, but on some level we realize that this is truth in Western Civilization.

As you say, love is not quantifiable, and it's not a question of who you love more, but to put a different angle on this... in some senses putting your marriage first is putting your kids first.

Kids want a stable, loving environment, and will learn about adult relationships by observing how their parents treat each other (as well as how they treat them). Being around a strong marriage is pretty much the best gift (as well as time) that you can give kids.

I always thought it was a mistake for my parents not to spend more time together outside of their parental roles, and even when I was a kid I could see these as seeds of later turmoil. So whilst this advice isn't directly for you, I'd advise any parents to make some time to enjoy together, away from their kids (so long as the kids are old enough to be looked after by others). Its not selfish if everyone wins.

If you want to argue base purpose, the base evolutionary purpose of pair bonding (which leads to marriage) is to ensure good child care for ones kids. Evolutionarily, men who participate in serial marriage, having kids with each, are very successful. Even though their relationships are not.

Evolution does not care whether your children are happy and healthy. It cares that you have a bunch of them, and they have children in turn.

I am not very successful evolutionarily. Nor do I strive to be.

It's a romantic notion, but caring about friends, community and society at large needs to factor in somewhere.

Sure they do... after those things. He said "chief loyalty", not "sole loyalty".

Putting society above all is the only path to true harmony and perfection.

When every subgroup is fighting for itself we get... What we have today. Chaos.

How, concretely, do you do that?

Simple example: Daughter wants a iPhone, you want a new car. Some neighbor needs help to pay healthcare bills. You don't buy the shiny things, and help the neighbor instead.

Another example: You own apartments, and some poor immigrant student can't afford the rent in the city with his university. You lower the rent, because a happy PhD is worth more than $100/month. Yes, even if you don't know him and won't gain anything from it.

Another example: You're the personnel at that top university. You agree to be paid less than you deserve so more can afford the education.

Another example: You can get in Google because of a friend. But you know someone else more qualified wants the job too. You let him have it. Because it is best for society that everyone gets the job he deserves, and that important jobs are done efficiently, instead of cheating for your own sake.

Another example: You know you can increase sales dramatically by using gamification and abusing psychology to get your users addicted to reward mechanisms. You don't do it, because it's best for society that clueless people don't waste their time/resources with bad MMOs and Farmville, despite the interests of your company.

Another example: You can get a lot of profit by hiding poor products under shiny overpriced cases, then throwing money at marketing. You don't do it because it's not in the interests of the people.

Another example: You don't use your marketing/SEO skills to sell a fancy software which already exists as a superior FOSS alternative. (Broken window fallacy)

Another example: Don't pull out the mote from your eye, but the beam in your neighbor's eye instead (no, I'm not religious)

Another example: You agree to pay taxes so that the sick and poor stop dying and starving on the street.

Final example: You can help people around you, but you're going to appear weak and it will hurt your social status... Oh terrible... You do it anyway.

Some of these examples are poor, but I could write a book about it, and the point is obvious, isn't it? Really I can't believe I have to argue about it.

Of course that's hopelessly idealist and unpractical. But only because everyone else is selfish and shortsighted in the first place. I'm just saying this is how it would work in a perfect world, and this is how Reason says we should strive to act. Optimization requires resources to go where they are needed most. If you disagree with this statement, use arguments, and good luck. "Me first", "my family first", "my company first", "my country first" is not good enough. It's chaos. All the evil in the world rests on these "good" intentions. People get slaughtered for the sake of others' families. Do it if you want, but don't downvote me then pretend it's the moral thing to do, when it's obviously not.

Anyway I'm done with this site, constantly obsessed with personal "success" to the point of biased and blind amorality... A faithful portrayal of the modern world.

One of these days we will drop the ego, and the sooner the better.

I don't like doing these kinds of posts but as a counter example:

> Daughter wants a iPhone, you want a new car. Some neighbor needs help to pay healthcare bills. You don't buy the shiny things, and help the neighbor instead.

Say your neighbour can't pay his healthcare bills because he was laid off for being drunk while on the job. His healthcare bills are the result of an altercation with his bookie, for gambling debts he couldn't pay. Is it worth encouraging his behaviour by supporting his healthcare bills?

> Another example: You own apartments, and some poor immigrant student can't afford the rent in the city with his university. You lower the rent, because a happy PhD is worth more than $100/month. Yes, even if you don't know him and won't gain anything from it.

The PhD student is living above his means by wanting an apartment in the city, when he could easily live a little further away for less rent. Is it good to spoil him, and give him the expectation that he can get anything without hard work?

> Another example: You're the personnel at that top university. You agree to be paid less than you deserve so more can afford the education.

The University notices your pay cut, so decides to cut the remaining staff's wages to be fair. They don't reduce the tuition fee for students but instead, hire more staff at the university with the cost savings.

I could go on with the rest of your examples but I guess the point I'm trying to make is you never know what everyone's backgrounds and motivations are.

I'm not saying don't help people out, but chose very carefully who you help out as most people aren't victims because of circumstance, but usually victims of their own doing.

All of these examples suggest that the way things are, is a direct example of the way thing should be; that there's some sense and reason for hardships that result from capitalism.

I can't agree that's the case. Believing otherwise is simply convenient.


As a postscript, it seems to me that many people believe the myth that absolutely anyone can make it if you try hard enough - an extension of what's been sold to me as the American dream. Of course, the corollary of this, is that those who don't achieve are victims of their own laziness and lack of motivation.

I can't state strongly enough how untrue this is. Once upon a time it may have been true, but now — even those born within the same country — enter into the world on a vastly uneven playing field.

Someone who is born into poverty is quite simply likely to die in poverty. Some succeed against all odds — however luck often plays a strong part in a person's effort regardless of the amount of effort they put in.

To state that most people who are victims, are victims of their own doing, isn't true. Again, it's simply convenient to believe so, because it removes the need for altruism.

"I can't state strongly enough how untrue this is. Once upon a time it may have been true"

I would go further and say that it has never been true. It's a lie people who do well tell themselves, and everyone else, to feel better and justify a whole slew of unjust actions.

Sometimes people are also victims of their own actions, but does that mean we shouldn't help them? I don't think so.. we all mess up from time to time.

Only a fool would have loyalty to an institution (business) that has no loyalty to him.

I just had a call from someone conducting an IT survey. I asked the person, "What's in it for me?, I'm at work, time is money." They were confused and I responded, "I'll do your survey if there's a gift card or lunch involved. You are not a client, nor a friend. Time is money."

I used to work at a marketing firm and we did occasional phone survey which I would have to listen in periodically to ensure the questions were understandable and getting good answers.

I was always amazed that anybody would spend 20 minutes answering questions asked by some random person for absolutely no reward. I still don't understand why. And our surveys had to be representative of the area demographics so it was not just all lonely, elderly people. It was people of all ages, race, etc.

People are bored, and a lot of people want someone to listen to them.

This is especially true for people with strong opinions.

If I have time I do it because the person on the other end of the line is probably tired of talking to people who are jerks. I worked in a call center before and it is no fun. These people are just trying to make a living so I try to make their day easier if I have some time to do it.

There's one way to go overboard. My 8 year old just asked me to hook up his PS3. I said, "Kid... time is money. What's in it for me? Every day, I'm hustling."

I think people have learned to respect me so much they don't even invite me to parties or funerals anymore. Score!

There's a very big difference between a random caller doing a survey (no connection, no ongoing relationship, no obligation) and your own son, or even between the random caller and anyone close enough to you to ask you to a funeral or party.

Do you really not see the difference between these situations or are you just doing a reductio ad absurdum?

Time is money, family, and self :)

You could try that with tourists asking for directions, too.

The underlying principle in this article is the same one that underlies the advice at http://marriedmansexlife.com. mmsl helps husbands who endlessly say "yes" to all of their wives' requests, but who are frustrated by a lack of sex in their marriages. If you found the OP interesting and your marital relations are lacking, you need to read mmsl.

Well if one is married and lacks sex then one should make it clear , and discuss it with his wife , because sooner or later things will break apart.

Or discuss it with the man? Sometimes it is the woman longing for sex.

Compare the man in the article to someone who can take any request, no matter how absurd, and make sure it gets done behind the scenes. You can take a very similar set of actions, but by presenting them differently you come across as an extremely talented and capable person-almost a magician. And people will respect you and entrust you with more important things.

This simply cannot be possible. Perhaps you've been fortunate enough not to encounter the sort of people the article is referring to, and consequently aren't familiar with the drain these people are.

Some examples from my own life, a more modern context:

- acquaintances ask me to "fix their Internet" because I'm "good with computers": I point out I have other priorities and they're already paying the line provider/ISP so should call them for assistance

- similarly, people who ask me to fix their computers: I point out that they wouldn't expect a mechanic to fix their car for free, and besides IT != software development

- back in university when people asked me to help develop or debug portions of their solutions: if I couldn't figure it out in 15 minutes I told them I had other priorities but gave them general advice about what the problem or solution might be

- people asking me to work longer for the same amount of pay and unpredictable benefits (i.e. bonus formulas): I became a contractor instead and I've been immeasurably happier for it

You simply cannot consent to every request from such people - they will literally drain your life (i.e. time) from you, to what end?

I certainly don't mean that you can or should respond to every request.

I mean that you can do the same amount of work, and depending on how you present yourself, you can be seen as the accommodating doormat (and consequently, treated like shit) or the guy who can get things done (and be treated well, trusted with more important stuff, etc.)

The distinction is in the type of work being accommodated.

The article is particularly referring to trivial tasks. The person who does trivial stuff, no matter how impressive their demeanor, is going to be known as the person to whom you take your trivial requests.

Not the person you take important work to. Not the person you entrust with serious responsibilities.

Unless you have your own staff, to which you delegate the actual doing of trivial things, there's really no way to dress that up.

You originally said "take any request no matter how absurd" which I would have understood to mean that you never refuse any request.

I do know of one guy who can get anything done by way of an impressive network of personal connections. But he is not afraid to refuse petty requests - because his time and favors are valuable. That is the distinction, I think.

Actually, the entire point of this article is that what you said is not true. Yes, you wll be given more and more responsibility to a point. But you can never attain a leadership position by doing everything for everyone--your efforts are not focused and no one will respect you because they will simply ask you to do everything, which is impossible at the level of, say, vice president of a hardware business (today, that probably equates to any serious management role, even a lead developer).

Very good article. I think at some level, most "nice" people know they are taken advantage of. They know that they are supposed to say no, but they don't - primary reason being they don't know how to say no, plus they don't want to offend anyone. So the cycle keeps going.

Also don't underestimate the payback that people who are nice get from being nice. They crave the thank you's and the attention from doing a favor for someone. So they do get something. But many times they will then end up feeling like a schmuck after the fact, and guilty, when that wears off. Then they will go to get the next "hit" by doing a favor for someone else.

There's an important distinction to be made here, that the article overlooks, and skimming through the comments that others have overlooked too... there is a difference unprovoked generosity and expected generosity.

I'll quite happily give up my time to make others happy, because doing so is its own reward. However, when that generosity is expected (people repeatedly asking for favours, etc...), that's when resentment starts to build.

So you see, for some people (myself included), I'm happy being 'nice' without expecting anything in return, but I'm not happy for that to be taken for granted.

Plus they aren't confident enough to know that people will still like them even if they don't do everyone favors.

This is something I've struggled to understand too - how is it that someone who is always nice to everyone isn't high on the popularity list (they are only remembered when needed) whereas someone who only cares about his/her stuff, is popular?

Because to be popular is to be admired, and nobody admires someone who's desperate for approval.

True and this also more or less dovetails with wanting what you can't have as well.

This is the core of the issue... the people in question are being misunderstood. Yes, some people crave approval, but there's another group that crave building happiness, and the two are not the same thing.

People prefer to mix with other people that behave in a way that they would like to emulate.

Someone that cares about their own stuff, is confident etc, both provides an example to follow and implicitly projects a moral judgment that it's OK for others to live how they do.

Someone who hurts themself (question of degree here maybe) to be nice implicitly projects the moral judgment that others should do the same. People don't really want to be like that; being around the person makes them feel guilty, or perhaps they just don't want to appear disagreeable by not reciprocating; they avoid the person except insofar as they might actually want the help being given.

Unfortunately (especially so for people who honestly hate themselves and would never explicitly recommend that others emulate their own self-deprecating behaviour) that moral implication - that arises from the reflexive belief that everyone is in control of themselves and so ultimately wouldn't do anything they don't approve of - is not entirely avoidable, since it rests partly in the eye of the beholder.

Supply and demand. The nice person is always available so they are cheap.

Because being fun to be around, confident, etc is much more desirable to others than being help.

A way to illustrate this would be the nerd in the library helping the pretty girl vs. the jock who gets the girl.

The question is what would happen if the jock also helped the girl in the library? Would that make him more or less attractive because he had become attainable?

Probably more attractive, but not because he's attainable, just because he's helpful, which is a good quality.

If being helpful gives you one point, being confident gives you a hundred. You can be a confident and a bit selfish (but not mean, or a jerk) and still be at around ninety-nine points, which is a lot.

I can't give many examples without the context, because they won't come through correctly and people will just think I'm being mean.

I'd go further. They don't know that people will not like them if they keep on saying 'yes'. Someone who can say 'no' when he needs to is more respected than a yesman.

Can't help but be reminded of a novel I read in university - Faith of the Fallen (Sword of Truth series). It wrote of similar theme (with a more focus on faith/religion), of how one must serve the greater good, humanity and the whim of his fellow men. Going down further, you go into the philosophical territory of individualism vs collectivism, how do you decide and balance your own moral ground, your 'selfish' needs and the needs of your neighbours.

That is one of my favorite books of all time. You're right ... it centers on exactly what this article covers. The people in the book were members of a culture that taught that it was selfish to spend time and energy on your own needs. Your duty was to sacrifice your needs and your life for the "greater good". The "moral" was that there is nobility in taking charge of your own life and making what you want of it, and that, in fact, it is from doing so that the greater good benefits too. The slogan that captures it all: "Your life is yours and yours alone. Rise up and live it."

Not selfish: the main character in the book would give up everything for the woman he loved. I have no idea how much it overlaps with Ayn Rand. But taken as its own individual work, I consider it one of the most profound things I've ever read.

He was very much inspired by Ayn Rand for that book; I can't find the article that quotes him on it, but the wikipedia article at least mentions the connection. Similar to Ayn Rand, I thought he was a bit over the top and heavy handed with his philosophy, but obviously that's just a subjective takeaway.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith_of_the_Fallen

This is beautiful! Thanks for writing this and sharing it. You will be amazed how many capable men and women I come across who demand simple tasks that they are perfectly able to take care of themselves. I finally learned to say "No" and the requests died down over a period of 2 years. These same people are happy to have me around.

Pro tip: If you are sitting in a large gathering and someone asks you to help them out. At best, if you cannot say "No", what you should do is give them pointers. That's it, nothing more. Those who are motivated enough will take your pointers and handle it themselves, others will not.

I have found that people in general are just trying to get someone else to do their work for them, for free, without giving a thought to the other person's schedule.

Incredible find! This is my favorite quote (which hits home) "People never trust an accommodating man with important things"

Reading this article rings so true with me. It's why I quit playing MMOs... I always felt like I was doing work for others rather than enjoying myself.

Haha, I'm pretty similar. If it's impossible to solo the game, I won't play. It's nice to be able to help others, but not if it's mandatory.

What a wonderful article for the Chrismas season. Helping people is so overrated. May we all strive to live in a world like the 1920's; when a 12 year old child could work in a coal mine for 16 hours a day and receive 1-2 dollars, when minimum wage laws were non-existent; and the income disparity between the top and the bottom was at it's highest point in all of US history. What a wonderful time to have lived, and this article is exactly the type of attitude we need to cultivate in todays society.

I hope you detect the sarcasm.

Did you read the entire article? He is not talking about becoming uncharitable. In fact at the end, he does suggest that he didn't become some sort of 1920's Scrooge but decided to instead re-prioritize his life to focus first on his family, work and next on other people. I am unsure of how this is an unreasonable thing to do. Also, I fail to see how the wider societal issues of that age are correlated with his viewpoints. This is just like a hobo saying "rgbrenner didn't give me $5 last time I asked him, this is why gay people cannot get married".

Maybe you should read more than the title of an article before commenting on it. Everything you just said has nothing to do with the point or conclusion of the story.

Helping people at the expense of your wife, children and your employer is what the protagonist was discussing. He ultimately gave more in charity after his realization, except that he now controlled that charity, it didn't control him.

The 1920s was a period of extraordinary economic and technological progress. Economic progress, not passing laws or stewing with envy over income distributions, is what has made society wealthy and advanced enough to end child labor.

Sorry, but no. Child labor was ended in the aftermath of the great depression. The efforts in the decade prior to that failed, including one case where the supreme court said child labor laws are an infringement on the rights of children. The 1938 fair labor standards act was the first at the federal level.


Probably you prefer to life in a world where the US of America creates wars so they could take the oil and gas of some countries, and millions of people die because of that.

A better world when minimum wage laws exist in your country but people buy Walmart items manufactured in a country where those rules not apply, so you could actually feel better.

The maximum disparity between top and bottom was not in the 1920, it is now, with CEOs getting 50x the minimum pay of their workers and growing, and central banks printing money ad infinitum.

I agree with you helping people that actually could help theirselves, is overrated.

> The maximum disparity between top and bottom was not in the 1920, it is now

That is not correct. At the peak, in 2008 right before the depression, it was slightly below the peak in 1928/9 [0].

0. http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3629

This wasn't really the point of the article.

The writer was talking about saying no to being used and exploited by people who felt entitled to his time and effort and did not respect or appreciate that effort.

I hope you detect the false dichotomy in your response.

My god, as someone who wakes up at 7, starts working right away and doesnt usually stop until around 7-8, this rang pretty true to me. I really need to going out of my way to help people because I never get as much out of it as I give. I do recruitment for a startup and constantly have people asking me to help them fill roles at other companies. I wonder how many extra hours I'd be able to give to my girlfriend or current job without those. Need to work on shedding some excess.

I think that helping people definitely can give you preferential treatment and respect, but whether it does depends heavily on _how_ you help them.

The physical act of helping earns you a reputation as a 'nice' person; however, I've found in my limited time that when people start trying to use me (getting a sense for this is a very useful thing to have, and something I had to learn the hard way after being used), I either need to (a) draw the line and say no, or more commonly, (b) help them in such a way that I force them to think or do something along with me. In my experience, plan (a) happens strictly only after you've done plan (b) before.

By just doing everything for others and magically making things happen, you allow people to trample on you; but by teaching them exactly what you're doing, you (1) demonstrate that you really know what you're doing, (2) practice your understanding of the thing it is you are doing, and (3) place on them the expectation that they won't come back for trivial help. I only resort to plan (a) if, after doing plan (b) a few times, they still attempt to use you. Teach a man to fish...

Great story.

In case you're wondering who, Agassiz, the scientist mentioned in the article was, I thnk that this is probably him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Agassiz

Being the "nice guy" certainly has its own benefits. Having performed favours already, the author can certainly ask for returns. He would also win various popularity based scenarios. But instead, he is so busy scratching others' backs that he forgets his own. I find the reason that the author was not trust with responsibilities in his friend's company, is due to the fact that he lacks the ambition and tact that would make a successful business man. How he blames himself for others taking advantage of him is admirable, and fitting with his "nice guy" attributes.

This says a lot about about how much the human life span has changed in the last 90 years:

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

Hm, really? Sure, I hope to get older, but I don't really make great plans for life in my 70ies. While life expectancy might be higher, I know people who died younger, and many who are 70 and not in the greatest shape.

"The days of our years are threescore years and ten (70 years old); and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years (80 years old), yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." - Psalm 90 10

Edit: Not sure why this would be down-voted. It's a quote from the King James Bible with a source reference that supports the notion that 70 years is about all the time we as humans have to live life in good health. It is relevant to the article as it lines-up with the 35 years old, "half of my life" claim as well. People do live longer than that, but quality of life and good health tend to go down a lot in the 70s.

Some people are emotionally unable to tolerate any mention of the Bible, even a literary one. I once quoted Saint Paul in a way I (smugly) thought was rather witty, and one of the people in the room freaked out.

Sure, but nowadays the notion of "middle age" is more commonly taken to start in one's 40s. At any rate, I don't think many 35-year olds would consider their lives "more than half spent" -- meaning they assume they'll die in their 60s.

What? Ave USA lifespan for males is 75. So 5 year difference?

The only difference I see is that people pretend 45-50 is when "mid-life" happens. No, you're not going to live to be 100.

35-37 is mid-life. Accept it.

50s is a mid-life of an adolescent in the Western world. You are not adolescent when you are infant, toddler or a teen.

Adolescence: "generally occurring during the period from puberty to legal adulthood...The period of adolescence is most closely associated with the teenage years, although its physical, psychological and cultural expressions can begin earlier and end later..." .. that said, your figures are still accurate :)

Well the axiom of offering things to people is to realize, anything that you do/give away/offer for free will be perceived as a valueless. No matter how difficult or important the work actually is.

Go out of your way to help someone, its almost dead certain you will be treated like a doormat next time. You will always be expected to keep doing things for free. Its a given.

No person should ever be helped unless he is totally incapable of helping himself.

"Unless, in a word, he commands his time. Read the life of a great scientist like Agassiz."

Hmm. 1807 – 1873, Swiss paleontologist, ended at Harvard, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Agassiz . Plus, Ezra Pound's take, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_sunfish

Aside from being able to say no. I believe a more subtle and useful technique is to actually use the good will you built into an actual relationship.

How do you turn an acquaintance that you occasionally do favors for to a good friend? Well, you get the favors back in other ways. To put it in nicer words, you give them chance to help you back. That's how relationships grow.

Fantastic lessons from life experiences, really puts into perspective what really matters in life.

Interesting read. Resonates on a couple levels. I do tend to think that people take the work-life balance a bit too seriously in the startup world, but those are also the same people who might otherwise have problems saying no to partnerships and business deals.

I don't think that's really the message the author was trying to convey:

"Read the life of a great scientist like Agassiz. Was he forever at the world’s beck and call? Not for a single day. To letters inviting him to write, or to lecture for money, he replied that he had no time for those things."

The message seems to be more about using your time the way you want to use your time, and not the way others want you to use it. Want to work 20 hours a day? No problem - the author would encourage that as you're using the days you have as best you can to get where you want. Want to work 4 hours a day and spend the rest of the time with your family? Author encourages that too as long as you're providing them what they need.

Basically: it's your time, not someone else's time to decide what you do with it.

It's your time, but you're a lucky person if nobody else has any leverage over you

I have made these into basic ePub eBooks people can download for free from Google Docs: http://mikecanex.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/an-experiment-in-e...

This article hit the nail on the head. In essence, the human kind is identical with dog. There are certain amount of people that need a indication that you are in a higher-order in the pecking order. Otherwise, you'll be imposed/bullied.

This situation was used to great comedic effect in "Blackadder's Christmas Carol".

Fantastic read. Long, but well worth it. Maybe if we had taken note of this decades ago, we wouldn't be seeing the "no" revolution now. It's ok to say no sometimes, it doesn't make you a bad person.

Thanks for sharing this, OP.

Great Read!

Social status and being well-liked are different things, and sometimes you have to choose one at the expense of the other. It's not a comfortable feeling, but it's the truth.

Being accommodating lowers your social status but makes you well-liked. The end result of this is that people waste your time because they get away with treating it as having less value than theirs. But the default mode of most people is insecurity so, when the chips are down, they go with the high-status guy (the rival druggist who was not accommodating but prospered).

Respect, not popularity, is key. I spent many years of my life doing obnoxious, ridiculous things on the basis that it was better to be hated than ignored. I was completely wrong. Being hated or disliked is undesirable, if you can help it. Being ignored is fine. Being liked but not respected turns you into one of those whiny "but I'm such a nice guy" types, so it's the worst of all outcomes. Being liked and respected is what you want, but to get that, you have to accept the fact that some people will ignore or dislike you.

The reason it is better, in most cases, to be ignored than disliked is that it takes less effort. The same goes with being liked but not respected-- lots of effort. You should expend effort only for people who respect you. That's a chance to show true loyalty, not subservience. Subordinate people can never be really loyal, because power relationships always evolve and, when they do, their colors will change. So you only gain anything by doing someone a favor if you're already from a position of equality.

I have always found that helping people does not make you more popular: they just start treating you like their bitch, and get angry when they ask yet another favour and you eventually say "no". Also, they will not reciprocate - why should they waste time helping their bitch, when the bitch is supposed to help them? As soon as you act like a subordinate, you become one, at least in their eyes.

People often mistake my role as tech support, which means anything from changing toner cartridges to setting up their presentation equipment. They often just turn up in my office with another "emergency" and I'm supposed to drop everything and run off to help them. I have learned to issue a flat "no" when this happens unless they let me know well in advance that I will be needed. They are often furious but I'm thick-skinned enough not to care: at least I have some control over the situation if I play it this way. My boss supports me so that helps.

"You should expend effort only for people who respect you" is something I've learned the hard way and it really does work. I keep pushing back until they learn that (even if I annoy them) my time is not worthless, and if they treat it as such I will not help them. Actually, I usually end up feeling quite good about this way of working.

I haven't found that - I've found helping people makes you quite popular, which gives you resources to do cool things, which makes you even more popular.

There's a threshold effect, though. The key is to help everyone, such that basically everything you do is for someone else. Word spreads around that you're someone who gets things done and makes problems go away, which makes even more people come to you with their problems. Eventually, you get to the point where you can say honestly "I'm sorry, I don't have time to help you because I have to help so-and-so first." When that happens, your niceness and your social status rise: you're viewed as a nice person because you're always helping people, and you're viewed as a powerful person because you don't have time to help them.

Keep this up and a curious thing happens: the requests for aid diminish because everyone assumes you'll just be too busy, and yet when you do help someone out, they're super-appreciative. This gives you both time and resources to accomplish your own goals, and people are happy to help you out both because you've done favors for them in the past and because their own social status rises by being involved in your projects.

>>I've found helping people makes you quite popular, which gives you resources to do cool things, which makes you even more popular.

Its not true always. Help is not always reciprocal.

The key is to help people such that your interests are not getting sacrificed in the process.

True, but if you're helping enough people that you can pick and choose who you help, then you just avoid people who are outright mooches. Usually they become pretty apparent pretty soon.

I try not to keep score when helping people, because I've found it's just more effort than it's worth. Folks who're a net negative soon start to feel like a net negative, so I just trust my gut judgments about people.

Tech is a bit special because you also mix in the insecurity feeling that some people have towards that "black magic". I know a lot of people who just become frustrated and aggressive when things don't work as they expected.

When I was working in a computer shop one of my trick was to clearly state what was going to happen or to lay down the options that they had. That would often help them feel in control and calm down. Obviously before I had to wait for them to calm down enough to be able to listen.

Yes, they are insecure. One of my pet hates is when they go on about how I'm a "genius" or a "miracle worker" when mostly I do basic stuff they could do themselves. It's both an excuse for them not to do it, and a way to flatter me into doing it for them. Except I don't flatter that well, and I'm not really tech support in the first place.

I keep reminding myself that these are otherwise highly intelligent people who have insecurities about technology. Part of the "pushing back" is about encouraging them to do it themselves.

A trick I learned from a one-time co-worker was to listen attentively and repeat the words "I understand" and "yes, I understand" until they calm down and I can say something more meaningful. Keep reassuring them you're listening and their problem is valid. Works like a charm.

Helping people feel like they're in control is a really valuable skill! Feeling like you're in control and can affect the things around you is a major part of happiness. Even if you're giving "fake" options ("I can do this but it'll cost you a million dollars") the other party will feel much happier if they feel they had a choice, as opposed to having the choice be made for them.

Are status rules really so simple? Can it not also sometimes raise status to be accommodating, because it shows you can afford it? Of course it would all depend on the circumstances...

I struggle with that on the sidewalk. I tend to move out of the way to let people pass, because it seems more elegant to me, and often I am fitter than the approaching person. Should I really be bulldozing onwards just to assert my status?

What about the gift economy, where the people giving the most gifts has the highest status (examples: open source, science, feasts in archaic societies).

There's an important difference between granting a favor and granting a request. Compare:

-Bob buys Ed a copy of Boating Skills and Seamanship because he knows Ed likes boats

-Ed asks Bob to buy him a copy of Boating Skills and Seamanship and Bob obliges

In case 1, Bob is taking a high-status action without lowering Ed's status. In case 2, Ed is taking a high-status action but lowering Bob's status.

Status games are very interesting. Some of the best people at manipulating status are kiosk sellers.

"As he was rising from obscurity in Philadelphia and wanted the approval of some important man, Franklin would often maneuver that man into doing Franklin some unimportant favor, like lending Franklin a book. Thereafter, the man would admire and trust Franklin more because a nonadmired and nontrusted Franklin would be inconsistent with the appraisal implicit in lending Franklin the book."


This is a great point. One of the best things you can do to quickly build a friendship is ask for a small favor. Borrowing a book or asking for advice are good examples. I think this only works when the cost to the favor-giver is small and the value for the favor-receiver is large.

I love it when I can save someone 4 hours with a few minutes of effort. It feels great and triggers "warm fuzzies." That's why posting on sites like Stack Overflow or Quora is so addictive. But if someone asks me to spend two hours on something that would take them the same amount of time, it feels more like an obligation.

Are status rules really so simple?

No. You can study this for years and still be mystified. I don't think anyone has figured all of it out.

Can it not also sometimes raise status to be accommodating, because it shows you can afford it?

Generosity is different from being accommodating. You have to have a mission and purpose and not let it slide for trivialities. Generosity means you help people out, but on your terms. You do things for them because it is genuinely good for them. Accommodating means you drop your own needs and wants to do their chores. Doing someone else's low-yield work does not (in general) make you attractive. Of course, there are exceptions.

Should I really be bulldozing onwards just to assert my status?

No. That would be an extremely low-status move. "Asserting" high status by being a dick means you don't have it.

What about the gift economy, where the people giving the most gifts has the highest status (examples: open source, science, feasts in archaic societies)

Again, that's generosity.

The Charisma Myth is a very good book on charisma that goes into this in detail. The author, Olivia Fox Cabane, claims there are essentially three types of charisma:

1. Power

2. Presence

3. Warmth

Power translates to respect, warmth translates to being liked, and presence translates to making people feel that you are "there" when you talk to them.

These 3 types of charisma are orthogonal. That's why you can find powerful jackasses, wimpy "nice guys", or people who are both powerful and well-liked.

Just to be clear - by orthogonal, do you mean mutually exclusive? Is there some visual diagram by which you could illustrate the point? I suppose that since there are 3 components to 'total' power, that such a diagram would be a circle divided into 3 sections or something? I can only imagine a grid with 4 quadrants, but don't know how the quadrants would be labeled, but I'm definitely interested in the concept. How would the diagram be best constructed?

By orthogonal I mean that you can have any combination of the 3. They're essentially unrelated. You could think of it as a vector (power, presence, warmth.) As a very hypothetical example, Steve Jobs might be (10, 10, 5) while Mother Teresa would be closer to (5, 5, 10).

As a visualization, you could think of this as a cube, with the directions representing power, presence, and warmth. One corner would be (0,0,0) and the opposite would be (10,10,10).

"Orthogonal" literally means "perpendicular", so your cube analogy is exactly the correct metaphor.

Pedantically, "orthogonal" is an extrapolation of "perpendicular" from two dimensions to an arbitrary number of dimensions.

If we want to be really pedantic, orthogonal is an extrapolation of perpendicular from R^2 to any vector space with a dot product. But those generalizations came about in the 16th century. The original definition was just "perpendicular", coming from the Greek "orthos" and "gonia", meaning "straight" and "angle" respectively.

For some fun reading on the etymology of and history of the word/concept orthogonal, see http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=orthogonal&allo... and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthogonal

> I spent many years of my life doing obnoxious, ridiculous things

Oh. To me that explains a lot about your public Google drama.

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