Sunday, August 01, 2010

Status 4/4: When status signaling utterly and completely fails

A child is not considered competent to evaluate himself if he is thirsty or hungry. He should obey orders from any familiar adult. This true story tells how a group of people used invisible status signals to reduce me to a child's subject position.

Two months ago The Club organized a short forest walk (vaellus). It lasted 4 hours. There were 6 of us. We walked to a sleeping place, grilled some sausage and returned. I'll tell the events from status perpective. Here DHV means demonstrating high value (superior status) and DLV means demonstrating low value (low status).

The only participant which I knew beforehand was Mikko. I had seen him in The Club's monthly bar evening. There he told that Pulse will hold a concert the following day. I joined him there, thus DHVing (obeying) him.

Another participant was Veikko. Since neither me nor Mikko had a car, Veikko took us from the bus station to the starting spot of the forest walk, thus DHVing himself and DLVing me and Mikko.

Earlier, I got drunk at a metal concert. I was hung over and had slept for only 4 hours, which made me very grumpy. This DLV:d me, since I was in no position to play the Game of Talking competently. Already in the car I yapped way less than 25% of the chit-chat.

The first warning sign happened when we left the car and were about to leave. Mikko told me that I should put my jacket to the bag, because we wouldn't stop during the journey. I DLV:d by putting my jacket to the bag.

The second red flag emerged when there was a pool of water in the path. Mikko told me to cross the pool from the right side. This confused me: he acted as if I needed advice in crossing a pool of water! I rejected his offered subject position firmly put politely by using the other side. I thought that this represented only his opinion, to be met with zen-like calm and indifference, not realizing that vultures had already smelled blood and were circling in for a kill.

When we held a pause, Mikko offered me water. Starting to see a pattern, I rejected. Mikko no longer believed my "no" even after I had repeated it 10 times and emphasized that I had done comparable blueberry picking trips many times before. He insisted that I should take some water. After a few more repetitions he believed, commenting that he can't force me to take water and it is my own fault if I dehydrate or get a sunstroke.

In the grilling place the same thing happened again with Veikko and sausages. It ended only when Veikko shouted with semi-angry tone "Take the fucking sausages now!" and I complied. After 30 seconds, I put them back to his sausage packet and he finally understood that he can't force me to take them.

Somehow, Mikko and Veikko had conspired to put me into a child's subject position - of someone whose word is worthless, who should take orders from anyone on trivial matters like crossing a pool of water, and who can't evaluate if he is thirsty or hungry. They reached their consensus with signals which were completely invisible to me.

One reason why I want to learn status signaling is to avoid these kinds of total collapses of social fabric, where all assumptions of normal conversation are cancelled. Earlier, I used to be scared shitless by these incidents and withdraw from social interaction for weeks, thinking that I did something bad to deserve then. After going to gym, my personality changed so that now I am merely angry at people who conspire against me and motivated to learn how to execute the right game moves to avoid these kinds of accidents.


Janka said...

"A child is not considered competent to evaluate himself if he is thirsty or hungry." Which century and country you hail from, again?

About the actual subject matter here, I've thought to say something about this for some time now, but shut up because I am afraid you will simply take this as more "status games" and me trying to establish authority over you and whatever other crap.

But mate, I do not think it is healthy at all how you seem to treat any help, advice, company, and even offers of water and food, by others as a conspiracy against you, and think of your relationships with people only as "status games".

It is true that people play a million small games of status and power. But that's not all they do, and treating others like it is is disrespectful and demeaning to both yourself and them. Relationships also have stuff in them such as mutual aid, mutual delight in each others company, and sharing of experiences in order to form a group relationship. Reducing all that to status games and refusing mutual comfort because you want to "demonstrate high status" does not make you clever, it - sorry to be blunt - makes you a prig.

You are hung-over and a friend is concerned whether you are drinking enough water - that is not necessarily him thinking that you are a child who needs to be given "orders". It might also be that he has himself once been hung-over on a hike and not drank enough, and wishes to spare you from the same fate of suffering, because he frigging happens to like you and you suffering is unpleasant to him.

To agree to take the water even if you are not feeling thirsty is not necessary "submitting" to him or following his orders. You can (and often should) also do it because you happen to like him, and know that being worried about a friend is unpleasant, and hence do not want him to be concerned. This way, you are acknowledging that you care for his feelings, and a mutual bond forms.

If a person crosses a puddle before you on the left side and comments on it, saying either "cross on the left, it's clear enough" or "maybe you'd better try right, on the left was quite wet", that is common courtesy on the trail, not "trying to give you orders". To treat their advice with "zen-like calm and indifference" is, again, rude. "Yea, looks like it" is perfectly fine and does not "lower your status", but rather bring you two together on a mutual acknowledgment of a fact you share.

No wonder by the time you got to the sausages they yelled at you. If I was either of the friends described in this blog post, I am quite sure this reply would be much more impolite.

Markku said...

I think it's obvious from the description that Simo's friends handled the grumpy and hang-over Simo incompetently if not outright dismissively. Insisting that a refusing adult have water or food during a short walk such as the one they had, is odd behavior. I think Simo is right about that some kind of status game was being played. Friendship status is not of much importance here. Besides Simo wrote he had never even met Veikko the sausage pusher before.

The correct way to treat a grumpy person, particularly a stranger, is to leave him alone. It's ok to politely suggest things but to order anybody around is normal behavior.

I have a feeling that Janka's comments may have been motivated by being a friend of both Simo's and the other guys and wanting to keep things harmonius between them.

Simo said...

"Which century and country you hail from, again?"

At least my parents enforced clear rules on eating concerning the time of eating (in the morning, when dinner was ready) and the content of eating (porridge in the morning, trying everything on offer, etc.) Once when I resisted my mother shouted angrily "Millä sä sitten meinasit elää jos et kerran syö!?", implying that my lack of hunger was irrelevant.

Since this is a post-mortem of a failed status signaling incident, I must treat everything as status signaling. I go to concerts every now and then, so I did consider the Pulse concert to be (among other things) a bonding event rather than an act of signaling obedience, but Mikko may have interpreted it differently.

With Veikko, I explicitly probed for the reciprocal helping scenario. When he was offering me sausages, I offered him tea (yes I had my own drink). He said no. I asked "Why should I take your sausages if you won't take my tea?", and he avoided the question by saying "Let's talk about your tea later." Explicitly invoking reciprocal helping mindset did not resolve the situation. He was determined not to consider me an equal party with which you reciprocate and bond.

Reciprocal help and bonding require that people consider you an equal party. Before that is possible, you have to play status games to convince them about your equal status.

I agree with Markku that they should have simply left me alone. AFAIK they don't read this blog.

Janka said...

I do not know (or at least recognize) the other guys mentioned here, so Markku's theory that I am just trying to play nice is wrong. (And proves, maybe, that he does not know me all that well either. ;))

I agree that probably the best thing to do with a cranky, obnoxious, hung-over person is to leave them the goddamn alone. However, that does not mean that if people don't do it, they are acting with a "game" mindset and trying to manipulate him or the social situation. They might just simply suck at helping hung-over people...

And yea, I wasn't there, so what do I know. Might have been totally different from the impression I got from Simo's description (mind you - I have nothing else to go on but his description of the events). That's not important, though.

Whether or not these two were indeed trying to play a status game does not really actually change my opinion that it is unhealthy and unhelpful for Simo to think of it as such.

Simo said...

I'll finish this with a social constructionist note that I didn't notice everything, didn't remember everything I noticed, didn't write everything I remembered, and writing doesn't transfer thoughts directly. There is room for interpretation in all 4 levels. However, socializing has so important consequences that it would be foolish not to talk about it only because breaking it down is difficult and error-prone.

Anonymous said...

You were hung over and still went for a trek? That already sounds like poor judgement, and also probably spoiling the fun for others.

If someone invited you and you seemed to be not enjoying it at all, then the inviter could feel bad and sorry and try to fix matters. I think this is what Mikko thought and tried to do, as you'd only be more grumpy carrying a jacket in your hand the whole way and all.

Allright, so you were in some distress, and acting grumpy. Everyone becomes grumpy if we're not eating and drinking enough, and a four-hour hike sounds like "drink at least one liter, preferably two if it's summer" to me, even without a hangover. Water is best, tea is okay but hard to drink in sufficient quantities. Even a slight dehydration reduces your physical capacity noticably.

Maybe they were thinking you'd be less grumpy if you ate and drank more? Maybe they don't care about you very much, but they care about their own fun which you ended up spoiling.

Also, it would *raise* your value to acknowledge when somebody actually is more knowledgeable than you are. Also, there's no shame in admitting that you don't know everything about drinking.

And yes, it does make sense and improve your strength to drink a lot even before feeling thirsty.

Simo said...

Now I see the true requirements for participating in a forest trek:
* Funny and extroverted personality, so that you don't spoil the fun of others
* Fully rested the previous night, no alcohol in the previous day
* Carrying at least 80% of the equipment which the most well-equipped person carries
* Able and willing to analyze and play n:th level human relationship games

When picking mushrooms it is enough that you can fully concentrate on collecting them, and not distracted by your physical state or lacking equipment. I now see that I grossly underestimated the true difficulty of forest trekking by comparing it to wrong activity. From now on I'll stick to the walk-in-the-park Sunday hobbyist version of picking berries and mushrooms, and leave trekking to you pros.

Anonymous said...

There there, no need for that attitude :).

Too much alcohol and physical exercise just don't mix well. What's too much then? The amount that makes you grumpy and not enjoy other activities.

Think for yourself - if you invited someone over a week in advance, to do something fun, and this person decided to drink the previous evening such that he'd be "very grumpy" with you the whole evening, you'd feel disappointed and neglected.

Also, don't be a wussy. But also don't be something you're not. It's usually rewarding to learn new stuff. Usually there's something to learn from in every activity, even when you're really familiar with it, and usually the thing standing in the way is your ego.