Sunday, November 22, 2009

Explanation Excavation

As time rolls by, so I have changed. This is the normal course of things, as solidification of the personality is a slow, if not interminable, process. The change slows like everything does with age, but there rarely comes a time when the old dog is incapable of learning a new trick. Or at least capable of learning about a new trick.

Me? I used to be an explainer.

Allow me to explain.

There was once a point in my life where--but wait. Let's stop right there. As discussed before, there really is no such thing as a point or a line at which one thought becomes another; where one mindset becomes its antithesis. My struggle to de-emphasize explanation, to dethrone personality-wide apologetics, from the way I interact with people is ongoing.

I used to believe that if I could explain my feelings and my actions in a sufficiently detailed and rational way, they would seem--indeed become--rational. If I could wrap my opinions in a cloak of rationality, they would carry more weight, and given sufficient effort, I could imbue them with transformative power!

This is not an entirely misguided idea. There are many times in your life where having a firm grasp on your opinions and a ready explanation for your actions will save you a lot of trouble. Especially if you believe yourself to be clear-headed enough to qualify as a "leader". (Be very careful with that!)

But think of those people who do something, especially something hurtful, and have no explanation for it! You ask "why did you do that?" and they just shrug and say "I dunno." People like that can be immensely damaging if you allow them past your perimeter defenses, and the worst part is that they don't even seem to realize it.

So even if you're a shithead, it's good to at least have a working knowledge of your own shitheadery. That way you won't take people by surprise, and they will respect you (to a certain extent) for your honesty.

Explanation can be a useful tool. It IS a useful tool. But only to those who actually want one. Where it falls entirely short, however, is when you try to wield it against emotion.

Emotions are amorphous, ethereal things. Like big, slow moving, blind elephants. You can present them with a clear picture of reality, and they just stand there. Or they wander off in a totally random direction. Or they smash head on into it.

In addition, they can be unnervingly, unexpectedly sly. They can be in the driver's seat, masquerading as fact, and it's only when you see the red and blue strobes in the rearview mirror that you realize you've been duped. Try explaining your way out of that one! Can there really be a rational one that takes into account the fact (hindsight reveals it as fact) that you had no idea what you were doing at the time?

Probably not. But storytelling is innate human nature, so we usually give it a shot anyway.

These days, I'm a happier man for my ability not only draw up arguments, but now to limit their broadcast range. It's emotional beamforming; the molding of an explanatory broadcast in an attempt to provide the strongest coverage for those most interested.

Because otherwise, all you're doing is talking about yourself. Excavate only when needed.


  1. "So even if you're a shithead, it's good to at least have a working knowledge of your own shitheadery." *falls off chair*

    There's truth in that. "I'm sorry. I'm just a thoughtless jerk."

    I tend to harbor the illusion I'm mostly rational, but the piece of paper on the wall (psych degree) knows people more often act first and rationalize later--at least on the everyday stuff.

  2. Very insightful and interesting analogies! I can't agree with you more about the importance of explanation. I, for one, have realized that the best way to dispel negativity, get a hold of those darn blind elephants(emotions), and eventually make sense of the many odd nuances life offers is to find acceptable explanations for them.


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