Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Existentially Cranky (an IWSG post)

Some time ago, my wife referred to me as "existenially cranky." I, um, well, I couldn't argue with her. In fact, I just kind of looked at her, shrugged, and said, "Yeah, I guess so." It's hard to argue with the truth.

I suppose most people would take that statement as an insult, but she didn't mean it that way, and I didn't take it that way. The truth is, that is kind of how I experience existence. Not that I'm cranky, not really; it's more that I approach almost everything from a standpoint of being dissatisfied. And not really being dissatisfied, just seeing the flaws in things, which is not really about seeing the flaws but about seeing how things could be made better.

Unfortunately, that extends to human behavior as well, a thing which is often the root of my crankiness. And, actually, when it's about human behavior, it may well be crankiness.

So here's a short example:
Many years ago, I worked as a youth pastor. At some event or other, one of the kids (one of the girls, actually) got in trouble for something (no, I don't remember). Her father got upset that she got in trouble and complained to the pastor and, thus, there had to be a meeting. You know, because how dare I discipline his daughter for something that was clearly unacceptable behavior. During the meeting, I explained how the behavioral expectations had been very plainly (multiple times) laid out and how she had been aware of the behavioral expectations. His response to that was to say to me something along the lines of, "Well, you can't expect teenagers to follow those kinds of rules."

I have to say, his attitude made me mad. And I expressed it. Very matter-of-factly, I said, "Yes, I can. I certainly can. Every other teenager there was able to follow the rules [which, really, were very simple], so I certainly can expect them to follow the rules."

His response? "Yes, but..." blah blah blah about how his kid was "special" and shouldn't have to follow the rules. Those rules were there for all of the other kids. I shouldn't have those same expectations of his daughter. At which point I had to explain that, yes, with that attitude, there is no way to expect better behavior from his daughter, because it is only through expecting better behavior that we get better behavior. He left unconvinced. I didn't apologize.

This attitude, the attitude of being "special," is one of the reasons that it annoys me so much when people disobey traffic laws. Did you know that studies show that that is the #1 reason people speed and break traffic laws? It's because they feel "special." No, seriously. Studies show that people who, say, speed believe that the speed limit was established for other people, people that don't drive as well as they do (and no one drives as well as they do). Therefore, they have a special exception to not have to follow the speed limit.

The problem is that being a good driver is like having a good sense of humor: Everyone believes they have one. Or being smart, because everyone thinks they're smart. It's all those other people that are just of average intelligence.

Yeah, this kind of stuff really does make me cranky, because so much of it is founded on the ways we lie to ourselves. I suppose that's how a lot of people are able to live with themselves, but I'm often struck by how much of the bad behavior that exists exists only because we don't expect better of ourselves.

Lately, I've been very struck by this same kind of attitude in relation to blogging. In this other forum that I'm involved with, there is the frequent question by people of "how do I get more traffic to my blog?" 1. Because, yes, someone can ask the question one day and two days later someone else will ask the same question (pay attention, maybe?). 2. It doesn't matter how many times you say "be involved and visit other blogs," etc, the response is inevitably "I don't have time for that." Well, you know, I don't have time for it, either, but I do it.

[And in this particular corner of the blog world, it also extends to "buy my book," "review my book," "support my book" frequently by people who never do the same for anyone else. Never.]

Basically, there's this attitude of "I should get to be the 'special' one and have everyone else do for me without doing anything back, and, man, that attitude does just make me cranky. I'm sorry, but, if you're not Neil Gaiman, you don't get to have thousands of followers of your blog without being involved. Or, maybe, John Scalzi, but Scalzi is involved. I don't know if he visits blogs, but he supports authors in a lot of ways he doesn't have to.

So what I'm saying is this: if you want people to support you, quit asking; go support some other people. I can guarantee you, if you do it sincerely and consistently, people will notice. I mean, I notice when someone has reviewed (or even rated) something of mine, and those people get more of my time when I'm doing something to support other bloggers/writers. If you put a new book out, I'll probably buy it (unless I just can't afford to at that moment); that doesn't take any time or much effort. If you've reviewed something of mine, your stuff gets higher on my list of things to do, not because of trading favors or anything like that, but, if you've supported me, I want to support you. [Which does not mean a "good" review, but it does mean an honest review.] If I had more time to read, I'd review more stuff, but I do always have something "indie" that I'm reading, and I review everything I read.

I'm not saying that visiting blogs and commenting and reading and reviewing are miracle cures to traffic woes, but it's where you start. I mean, I don't care how brilliant your blog is, if I stop by there consistently and comment and you never visit me back, I'm probably going to quit coming around. Unless you're just that brilliant. Or Neil Gaiman. Or John Scalzi. Because, and let's just face it, you're not that special. Neither am I. But, then, that's why you see me visiting and commenting.

Oh, I almost forgot. I'm insecure that my existential crankiness drives people away. Actually, my demand (because it is kind of a demand) that people do better, be better, think better (think at all) that stems from existential crankiness drives people away. It does drive people away, which makes me more cranky. But someone has to expect better behavior, right?

This post has been brought to you in part by Alex Cavanaugh and the IWSG.


  1. I'm a "glass half empty" person myself. I guess I can't look up unless I'm on the bottom first.


  2. One of the reasons I continue to visit your blog (even if I don't always comment or interact because I'm lame like that) is because of the sort of "existential crankiness" that pervades your posts. It's something I see in very few blogs I follow - the expectation of better behavior, or being less than satisfied with just surface level praise or inch deep thoughts about subjects. However, I have to add that I believe "expecting better behavior" has its limits and past a certain point just degrades into judgment and self-righteous anger. I've seen it done, mostly by myself upon other people. I'm prone to it, you might say. At a certain point the desire to point out to other people that they're not special just stems from your own subconscious belief that you are more special than they are.

  3. If you cared enough to be a pastor and try to teach teens rules, you don't seem existentially cranky to me. More like idealistic. Wildly idealistic. I agree about the "takers." They're annoying and clueless, but I haven't seen any succeed. Karma. :-)

  4. Quit asking and go support - well said!
    Father Dragon posted something very profound this morning as well. Essentially, when you serve self, it's a dead end, but when you serve others, you find you are also fulfilled.
    I hope I have don my part to serve others.
    And I'm not special and I have no excuse - I just like to drive fast. If I get pulled over, my answer will be yes, I knew I was speeding.

  5. I think you're reasoning is dead on. Crankiness is just annoyance at the stupidity of the world, I think.

    I live with a perpetually grumpy daughter. I'm sure she has her own key word for me. We all have our thing, right?

  6. I don't understand where this sense of "entitlement" has come from in the past 20 years or so but the attitude is everywhere. It makes me cranky too.

  7. I've noticed more of this happening in blogging lately. People don't follow back and they don't return comments. It's shortened up the time I spend online visiting people though. Hmph. Apparently I'm cranky now too.

  8. This is why I like you, Andrew. You say the things that we are thinking but are afraid to write. Sure, we don't mind writing stuff like, "If you want me to comment on your blog, comment on mine." But, it makes us squirm in our seats to see our own thoughts like "Review my book or promote my blog if you want the same from me" to be put in black and white (or black and light blue in this case.)

  9. I know I should visit other blogs and forums and all that junk but I'm just too lazy to make that a second full-time job.

  10. I do so agree with "expect better and you will get better" it's a self fulfilling prophecy (learned about that in lectures years ago). I actually have stopped visiting one or two people because they never do visit me and funnily enough, I don't have time. Never visited Neil Gaiman mind you.

    Confession time, I haven't yet bought Shadow Spinner, strapped for cash at the moment, but I will, I promise. Should have downloaded them from you in the first place and saved them all to read at once. Serves me right.

  11. Your crankiness is why we love you.

    I agree with you about visiting blogs. If you visit my blog, I will visit yours, at least once. Visit more often and I'll stop by yours regularly. There are only a few blogs/sites that I go to read every day (or almost every day) that I don't have that give-and-take relationship with.

    I will say: your blog and PT's I visit every day, not out of obligation (even though you both visit and comment a lot) but because there is almost always something new AND worth reading.

    It's funny: my ISWG posts are almost all going to probably focus around "Why don't people notice me more," as that's what I'm insecure about -- but I'm trying NOT to do it in a "Hey, I'm special, you should notice me" kind of way, because, well, while I obviously AM special (and good-looking and above average, almost as if I was born in Lake Wobegon), I don't assume that people will automatically read my stuff just because I'm ME. I've got to give them both stuff worth reading AND let them know it's out there AND give them a reason to want to read it.

    Which is where your post today comes in: one way to get people to want to read your stuff is by being a good friend/blogger, etc. -- read their stuff, share it, comment on it.

    One thing I think all bloggers could do better? Share links to posts we like and mention other people's blogs. I used to do that on Twitter more, with "Today's reading" and a link and something about a post. I've gotten lazy. But we should do that. I see other sites with links to related sites -- Uproxx does it and such -- so if we all periodically posted "This is what I've been reading" and links, that might be a way to help each other out.

    I have an idea for a writing contest I'm going to email you about separately.

  12. But I'm special!!!

    Seriously, though, I saw a video recently summarizing a bunch of studies done at Berkley and you can even manipulate this... you overtly SET UP a situation that makes one person have a huge advantage and they come to THINK they have some special qualities that earned it.

    It's BAFFLING. And I DO notice that my traffic increases and decreases with my increases and decreases in effort, though with a lag.

  13. I used to teach English at a school for at-risk adolescents—kids who had been kicked out of their traditional schools and sent to my program (sometimes by court order) because of behavioral issues and just overall inability to follow rules. And I can't even begin to tell you how many times I had to have those kind of "but my kid is special and exempt from rules!" conversations with parents. Always fun. In a "let me bang my head against the wall now" kind of way.

    Anyway, I agree with what you're saying here. And I always do try to support my fellow bloggers/writers. I admit, I do better some weeks than others, but I do always try.

  14. As many of the others have said, your crankiness is honest, and that's why we appreciate it. And just as we'd be nowhere without our fans, we'd also be nowhere without our friends. It lends an air of collaboration to things, which is fun. I like that. After all, this isn't a competition. We're all in this together.

  15. You had me at Statler and Waldorf.

    Fun post, all around. After poverty, sense of entitlement is the greatest barrier in the education industry.

  16. Donna: Most people would say that's how I am, but I don't think that's actually true. It just looks like that from the outside.

    Lauren: Well, I have no illusions of specialness, which is why I work hard at my stuff. Which is not to say that I don't have a certain amount of judgementalness, but I have done a lot of work since my teens to keep any arrogance I have under control. Mostly.

    Lexa: I've had issues with idealism, still do. I tend to focus (a lot) on how things "ought to be." Not that that doesn't stop me from being fully aware of reality. It's the gulf between the two that makes me cranky.

    Alex: I don't think that anyone would say you haven't done your part, Alex.
    Most speeders know they were speeding, they just have some special reason why they ought to get to. (The most common answer (mostly from men) is "I'm a better driver than everyone else.")

    RG: It's good when they start young, isn't it?

    JKIR,F!: Mostly, the Internet. Seriously, that's what studies show is behind a lot of the "I'm special" feelings. That and millennials have been raised that way, actually; the Internet has just helped validate that.

    L.G.: As I've been going through my blog list for Friday's post, I've cut a few dozen bloggers from it. Many just don't blog anymore, but more than a few got cut because they never visit (any blogs, from what I can tell (or very few)) and don't even respond to comments on their own blogs.

    Elsie: yeah, There's not a lot I'm afraid to write, but I don't mean that in a "if you don't scratch my back, I won't scratch yours" kind of way. I have a lot of books on my list from people that, as far as I know, have never read anything by me (some have never even been to my blog (as far as I know)), but, when I someone who has supported me releases something, that thing goes to the top of the stack. They get preference. And I think that's okay.

    GP: I understand that. I don't get to as many as I'd like to, but I get to as many as I can and still do other things. Like write.

    Jo: Well, at least, they'll be cheaper in the collected editions rather than buying all 34 parts.

    I skim Gaiman's blog, at least, when he posts. He's almost always interesting.

    Briane: Yeah, I should probably get on twitter for just that reason. I just can't bring myself to enter into another time suck. Not yet, anyway. I could link more of them on FB, though.

    Hart: We know you are!
    It's like that study they did when they handed out money to people, money they'd done nothing to earn; after a certain amount of time (less than 30 days), they felt entitled to that money.

    M.J.: Oh, man, I know how that is, too. You want to compare dents?

    ABftS: I like collaboration. Unless it a potato sack race. Okay, that's not true; I used to love those and was really good at them, because I was good at matching strides and stuff.
    Of course, I do like some good, -friendly- competition, too.

    TAS: Me, too! I couldn't imagine doing a "cranky" post without them.

  17. I don't know what took me so long in coming here and commenting. You're honest. The world could use more of that. And I'm special. So we'll get on nicely. :)
    Regarding being dissatisfied -
    I strive to be content with what I have and yet intrinsically discontent... So that I retain ambition. Otherwise I stagnate. And too many people are doing that besides me.

  18. Oddly enough, that pair came up in a conversation with my teaching partner just yesterday. Sadly, it's a cultural reference lost on most of our children's generation.

  19. Well said. I've got nothing to add, which happens to me sometimes. That won't keep me from commenting today though, even though this is the sort of thing I'd typically read, then file away mentally, and never mention again. But then you would think, 'man, Rusty isn't visiting my blog.' Of course, I AM. I'm just lurking.

    Except not today. I'm commenting. Of course, if I were to actually comment on something you said it would be something along the lines of what Hart said above. I saw the documentary a month or so ago where they rigged a monopoly game so. It was impossible for some folks to win. The people that started winning actually starting showing behavioral changes (becoming jerks) and assuming entitlements over the course of a single game.

    It's amazing, really. But, oh well, it's just the way we are.

  20. David: I get what you're saying about being dissatisfied. I want to achieve something which has nothing to do with owning stuff, and that drives me.

    And I don't know what took you so long, either. Evidently, you haven't had the right friends. :P

    TAS: It is mostly lost but not on my children. They're all conversant in Muppet.

    Rusty: I think all of this stuff ties into the empathy thing, which I've been very interested in lately. It's just that this 80% number keeps coming up in all of these places, and I have to think it has to do with the 80% of people that have no real empathy.
    (It almost makes me wish I was doing psychology research.)

  21. I'd consider myself existentially cranky. It sounds like a good thing. I will expect better behavior with you, and never be driven away by any crankiness.

  22. I worked in schools for a number of years, so I am way more familiar with the concept of parents thinking their kids don't have to follow the rules than I'd like to be. It was on of the several reasons I ultimately chose not to pursue a teaching career. I liked the kids, but I didn't like the parents. Anyway, yes, I have several people in my "real-life" circle who constantly ask me about getting traffic to their blogs, but they don't follow my advice on it. The thing is, either you enjoy the company of your fellow bloggers or you don't. I don't think it's worth it if you don't enjoy "talking" to other people on here, as well. Or maybe that's just me? I don't know.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  23. Agreed, 100%. It bothers me when some people think they are more entitled than others. I like your crankiness ... it pulls me out of my comfort zone and makes me think.

  24. I don't actually know you in person, but your wife's description strikes me as very apt. I like that phrase "existentially cranky".

    Your youth pastor story is a good example of the problem our society is having with youth and it continues into adulthood. "No consequences for me because I'm special" is heard so often now.

    The fact is that are consequences for all of us and if we don't accept them then there will be consequences for that and so on.

    This is how blogging and marketing works too. If you don't do anything except serve yourself then you may be all by yourself. I've seen so many blogs where the blogger laments not having any traffic and even after several of my visits I see nary a visit from them. The books work the same way as you have pointed out.

    I wish I could afford to buy books but right now until my economic situation turns, I can't afford them. However I get a lot of books for review and now free downloads so I have way more than I can keep up with. But when I do read, I try to review. And I try to give the fairest, most positive and honest review that I can give.

    Whether I've paid for a book or gotten it free I feel a review is a small repayment for an author's efforts. And maybe I'll need to have a book of my own reviewed someday. I don't want to be some stupid island where my ukulele lament and hula dance is ignored by everyone. Then again that might get some attention.

    Special report today on the "Story Sprouts" book launch in L.A.
    Lot's of pictures in this one!

    Tossing It Out

  25. I think I'm cranky too. I say we're in good company.

  26. Jeanne: Awesome. We should start a cranky club.
    I'm kind of not kidding.

    Shannon: I don't know if you have to enjoy it, but you have to be willing to do it. It's like eating your vegetables. You don't like it at first, but, if you keep on, you'll find stuff you like.

    Kathryn: I like making people think, but it's even better that I pull you out of your comfort zone. That's kind of cool.

    Lee: There's this generational theory stuff that explains a lot of this. Maybe I should do a post about that some time.

    And just by the way, if you're gonna wear a hula skirt while doing your dance, I'd pay money to see it. Once. heh

    Maurice: You can be in the club, too!

  27. Well said post all around! And a very revealing one. My favorite aspect of blogging IS commenting, something I unfortunately have had to cut back on to resolve or fix personal and professional hurdles as of late (I'm getting better), but I always appreciated your visits and comments because they often tend to come out of left field (in a good way).

    I'm pretty laid-back person, so the idea of demanding everyone to better themselves seems exhausting, but at the same time, it's something we all ought to strive for personally. I know I strive to. And don't get me started on disobeyed traffic laws ... :)

  28. LOL! Well your crankiness makes for fun blog posts, so at least virtually you're not driving people away. ;)

  29. Hi Andrew,
    Well said!
    I can very well relate in some of the areas here.
    I go with Arlee!!
    Yes, the youth pastor and the girl story and the traffic story is really interesting.
    Thanks for sharing this.
    Best Regards

  30. David: Oh, please, get started on disobeyed traffic laws! That sounds like you have some things to say about it.
    I hope you are nearly finished with your hurdling.

    Crystal: I hope so. Sometimes, they scare me. Like, "Man, everyone's gonna unfriend me" or something. (Which does, sometimes, happen because of my posts.)

    Phil: You're quite welcome. And thanks for stopping in.

  31. Love this post, Andrew (and not just because you open with a picture of Statler and Waldorf, the hilarious Muppets). The whole idea that expecting good behavior leads to good behavior is such a big part of my parenting style (and it was my parents' style as well). I get so annoyed when I see parents say "I can't make my kid get a job or study more or clean his/her room. He/She's just not that kind of kid." I feel like I'm going to have fairly high expectations of my kids when it comes to school and behavior, and they will know that. I think kids rise to the level you show them they're capable of, more often than not. I see a lot of badly-behaved teenagers, from Target cashiers to kids who have zero respect for teachers and can't be bothered with listening during class, and it really irks me. Sorry for the slightly cranky rant :) Oh, and that post I just did on "increasing blog traffic" was more of a PSA about why I don't always get around to blogs and how I might be more likely to visit a post if it goes into my email box. I find myself not having as much time to visit blogs as I'd like to these days and I feel bad about that.

  32. Jessica: Oh, rant away and don't even feel bad about it. :)
    There's generally a good reason that any kid is not a particular type of kid: the parents never taught the kid to be that kind of person.
    For instance:
    It bothers me when parents say "my kid's just not a reader." Sure, because you never taught your kid to read. All three of my kids are readers, but that's because they were required to read every day from around 5 or 6 on up. They all fought against that at first, but they all love to read now.

  33. Oh, goodness. You're a riot, Andrew. I can see this term applying to you. :) It isn't bad to expect more of people. I agree there are a lot of "takers" out there wanting your time to help them on their writing endeavors…with little interest in what you're working on. Not so cool. But this post was. :)

  34. J.R.: Well, thank you :) I'm glad you thought so.