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Ideas That Can Excuse Not Working On Your Legitimate Social Weaknesses

You're reading this site so this article may just be preaching to the converted, but here it goes anyway...

There's debate about whether some traits are acceptable social differences or true weaknesses. However, I think we can all agree that people can have hard-to-argue social faults, and that they'd be happier if they worked to eliminate them. These deficiencies could be anything from an off-putting personality trait, to a simple lack of knowledge about the best way to meet people.

I think it's important to be aware of what your social weaknesses are. What you do about them from there is your call. If someone says, "I know I'm socially awkward, but I don't really care. I'm more interested in pursuing my hobbies than anything. If I'm not as good with people as I could be, I can live with that" then all the power to them. They're making an informed choice about what their priorities are.

What I think is less helpful is when people fool themselves about their legitimate weaknesses, or rationalize that they're not really a problem. They've unwittingly taken away that choice about whether they want to work on their issues or not. We all do this, of course. It's human nature. It feels better to think everything is okay. It protects our egos. No one wants to admit they don't measure up in some ways. It doesn't just come from within either. Other people or resources will often tell you what you want to hear, or give you feel-good "don't worry, everything is okay"-type advice.

Here's a list of messages and concepts that can gloss over true social problems. Some of them are things someone may come up with themselves, while others you'll often pick up from the broader culture.

A romanticized view of loners

There's nothing wrong with choosing to spend a lot of time by yourself. However sometimes when someone is on their own a lot they're really just lonely and unhappy with themselves. They may try to ignore this pain by reframing themselves as an aloof lone-wolf.

There are a lot of romanticized depictions of loner characters in our culture (there are also negative portrayals of course, but these aren't the ones the people I'm talking about latch onto). Lone-wolfs are portrayed as being capable, self-reliant, and above it all. They succeed on their own terms and make their own rules. They're too good to hang out with other people and they definitely don't need them. They're misunderstood creative geniuses who have better things to do than talk about reality TV. They're noble warriors living on the outskirts of society. You can see how it would be easier for someone to see themselves this way than to admit to themselves that they're shy and lacking confidence and have a hard time connecting to other people.

Mistakenly linking social skills to subcultures

This point involves seeing the world through a high school mentality. Many people who feel socially awkward also believe they fall into a non-mainstream or non-popular subculture. In reality how socially capable someone is and what social group they fall into have nothing to do with each other, but people can think of them as linked. "Regular" people, "the popular kids", and groups like jocks, frat boys and preppies are thought of as having good social skills. Subcultures like "geeks", "nerds", intellectuals, gamers, and Goths are stereotyped as being weird and awkward.

As we all know the mainstream/popular and non-mainstream/unpopular subcultures are also commonly thought of as being enemies. The problem occurs when someone identifies themselves as being a member of a non-mainstream group, and they have some social weaknesses. They may view their awkward traits as part of their identity. They may confuse becoming more socially capable as selling out and becoming more like their rivals. But really, there's nothing stopping an RPG gamer from, let's say, improving his ability to make conversation. Then they're just the same RPG gamer, but with more tools to form relationships.

Seeing people with good social skills as shallow idiots

As I mentioned, mainstream people are stereotyped as having good social skills. They're also often portrayed by the people who dislike them as being dull and superficial. Some people make the illogical leap that if they improve their social success, that means they have to transform into vacuous celebrity gossip connoisseurs themselves. Like I said, the two factors aren't automatically connected. This article also talks about the ways people often aren't as boring and superficial as they may seem at first.

Being too rigidly non-conformist

I don't think anyone should follow everything they're told without thinking. It's always good to question the messages you get from society. Some of the ideas we're fed about socializing are wrong and harmful. However, many parts of society's collective definition of good social skills are reasonable. You could say when it comes to that area it would be beneficial to conform and go along with the standard of the masses.

The idea of conforming has a pretty negative connotation in Western culture. People who follow group norms are looked down on as unquestioning sheep. Non-conformists are thought of as trailblazing true individuals who have the mental strength and insight to avoid being a mindless follower. Some ideas from the larger culture should absolutely be critiqued and ignored. They're not all bad though, and just because someone is non-conforming it doesn't automatically mean they're in the right.

When some people get feedback that they should improve their communication skills their knee-jerk response is to resist, because they feel like it's always a bad thing to fit into someone else's mold. This point is related to the one above, in that people often feel like it's the evil mainstream types who are trying to impose their social standards. They see themselves as members of an oppressed minority who's rebelling against the machine.

Seeing social skills as an unchangeable part of someone's personality

Another reasonable debate is about whether certain social traits are changeable or not. While I think that discussion can be had on a trait-by-trait basis, I wouldn't agree with the overall idea that a person is stuck with the social skills they have. Some people believe that their current social skills are "just the way they are". I think that's a very limiting belief.

"I'm a huge loser, what are you going to do about it?!?"

Sometimes people embrace their flaws, exaggerate them, and throw them in people's faces. As you can probably guess, the motivation is an over-compensating, defensive one. They're trying to say, "This doesn't bother me. I'll prove it to you by flaunting it!!!"

Going too far with the idea that everyone is fine the way they are

Yes, people should be self-accepting and comfortable with themselves. More practically, you can likely have some social success as you are now. You don't need to become a totally different, "better" person first.

However, 'You're fine the way you are' can also be used as a feel-good platitude. Sometimes people have negative traits that cause them to miss out on important parts of life. It doesn't help them to be told they shouldn't have to do anything to change, and anyone who says differently is too shallow and closed-minded to appreciate their innate specialness. A close cousin to this concept is that idea that no matter what you're like, there are people out there who will love and accept you for you. That might be true, but again, if you have toxic personality traits, does that justify holding on to them?

"I'm proud of having poor people skills"

Why would you be proud of this? Most reasonable people would say poor social skills are a real drawback. I can understand the sentiment behind this statement, that you accept yourself and all, but specifically being proud of being bad with people?



"I don't have a problem, it's everyone else that does"

Some socially lacking people can get fairly negative about others and develop the attitude that it's the rest of the world that sucks, not them. "People are all close-minded and intolerant. They don't understand me." Yep, people can be rejecting and intolerant, but you may still have real issues that could be addressed.

Another form of this general idea is the idealistic viewpoint that if the majority of people don't accept a certain kind of person (e.g., quiet, thoughtful, intellectual types), then the onus is on society to change its views. There's a point to this argument, but maybe hanging back and waiting for the world to come around isn't the most efficient idea. If you have traits that are causing you to miss out on important social opportunities, you may need to come up with a work around for them.

"I don't have a problem, society just doesn't appreciate people like me."

A variation on the point above. A comment I've read several times is, "I don't see anything wrong with how I am. Society just doesn't appreciate creative, eccentric people. They don't value what we bring to the table." I can hardly argue there, but just because society isn't predisposed towards you doesn't mean you're totally off the hook. You may still have some handicaps alongside your overlooked strengths. Keep the good stuff, toss the bad.

"Everything is relative, my social skills are no better or worse than the next person's"

I've heard people argue that the definition of good social skills is relative, and that their social skills aren't bad, they're just different from what the majority considers to be 'good'. If people like them were the majority, then they'd be the ones with the good interpersonal skills.

I agree that social skills are subjective. I also think there are social customs where there's no clear agreement about what's best. However, in the practical day-to-day world there are social behaviors and attitudes that pretty much everyone would agree are problematic. If someone has a true impairment along those lines I think it's self-deceptive to consider it, "Not bad, just different."

"Bill Gates is socially awkward and he's one of the richest man in the world" or "So-and-so was considered socially inept as a kid and he did well."

There's a few angles from which I could go at this statement. Let's see: Bill Gates (or whoever) probably succeeded in spite of his awkwardness. He succeeded because of many other factors, not just that he's socially clumsy. Even if he is rich, it doesn't negate the fact that poor social skills are a liability. And he's a unique case, the fact that one awkward guy succeeded doesn't erase the fact that for most people having polished people skills is a good thing, and being poor in this area is an impediment.

There are plenty of social awkward people out there who succeeded and contributed to the world. I guess the question is, are there ever cases where someone's talent and their social ineptitude are completely linked - that their talents wouldn't exist if they weren't awkward? Would have being better with people prevented Bill Gates from becoming rich? I understand sometimes people have to make sacrifices to pursue excellence, but it doesn't always have to be this way. You can be good at your passion and capable with people too. It's not an either-or thing. I think sometimes the, "I'm trying to be the best programmer I can be, so I just can't do better with people" reasoning is an excuse.

"People are just jealous of me/intimidated by me"

Sometimes when a person knows people think they're socially clueless they construct the alternative explanation of, "I'm actually so awesome everyone's small, jealous minds just can't handle someone like me." In most cases it's pretty clear-cut wishful thinking. Sure there are cases of forward thinkers being shunned, but what I'm talking about here is just being bad with people and making up justifications for it.

"People like me are becoming more popular in society these days"

This could be true, but it doesn't mean your genuine shortcomings are suddenly not a problem anymore. Just because society may be warming up to some positive aspects of the social group you're a part of, it doesn't mean all your traits are now acceptable.

"People give me a hard time, but what about them, they have lots of problems too"

Often the people criticizing you aren't perfect either, but just because they have problems too doesn't mean you get a free pass for your own. It's not a black or white thing where only one side is right and the other is wrong. Both have a mix of pros and cons (and they should toss their cons).

The euphemism factor

Nothing wrong with a person being "charmingly quirky", as long as the term isn't sugar coating a more serious problem. That description could be euphemism for "off-puttingly random and insensitive".

"That's not what that term really means"

Sometimes when someone calls you by a certain vague term, which they were using to point out real issues of yours, you can go off on the tangent of arguing that the person wasn't using the word properly. That's not what "geek" actually means, etc, etc. The problem is that all this talk of proper definitions can obscure the fact that someone was making a valid critique, even if their wording was wrong in your opinion. If someone calls you a "geek", meaning "awkward and condescending", and you go, "No, a geek just means you're passionate about a particular hobby. It does NOT mean awkward and condescending" that doesn't mean you're suddenly not condescending if you really are.