6/ Dance Like No One’s Watching…
The spotlight effect – the tendency to overestimate how others are noticing what we do or how we look. People don’t even notice purposely embarrassing things, so why worry about accidentally embarrassing things?
There’s also an invisibility cloak illusion – people watch others closely without realise they’re being closely watched, too. And NOT watching people doesn’t mean they’re not being watched anyway.
Now the question is – how to reconcile these two effects? First, it’s important to understand that people get fixated on different things. And there’s the “anchoring and adjustment” effect when people first recognise what’s in their heads and then try to adjust to see the world through other people’s eyes – but most of the time the amount of adjustment is insufficient.
The illusion of transparency – because we feel an emotion so strongly, we expect that other people can it on our faces. Most of the time, this is simply not true. It’s a curse of self-knowledge. (quote)
Self-knowledge means that a person is the best expert in oneself. Thus, similar to the expertise in scientific matters, it’s easy to pick up and interpret nuances, while others will expectedly struggle.
People’s shortcomings do get visible under the spotlight, but the truth is – people see screwups, but don’t judge them as harshly as the people themselves. Why? Because the people who judge are way more concerned about not screwing up themselves. [MK: I’d add that there’s some form of schadenfreude involved in humilitainment shows, but this behaviour is pre-planned and expected by everyone.]
People are more afraid of action and the possible consequences, while years from the decision point they regret inaction. [MK: Again, there’s nothing new about it, but it’s worth noting that the “possible consequences” include being judged by others, which is completely impractical and damaging.]
Funnily enough, whenever people attempt to put themselves in the others’ shoes, they do just that: put their selves (values, reactions, emotions) into others’ shoes (the situation), which doesn’t help much to understand what another person feels and why they act a certain way. People see themselves in other people.
7/ Your Flaws Are My Pain
In this chapter we’ll talk about a certain kind of cringe – shame felt on behalf of another, or embarrassment by proxy. [MK: in German it’s Fremdscham and in Russian it’s “испанский стыд”, literally translated as the “Spanish shame“ for the reasons unknown.]
It has something to do with schadenfreude, too: trying to impress people with flashy cars or watches is equally likely to open oneself to ridicule. Or listening to someone’s super-confident pitch when they have no idea of what they’re talking about. Indeed, it’s that irreconcilable gap again.
Social pain (first- or second-hand) may be interpreted by the brain a bit like physical pain. Cringing is an empathetic reaction, which explains why we feel someone else’s awkward moment as our own. Empathy itself is neither good or bad – it just helps people better socialise with others.
Empathy comes in two flavours: cognitive (recognising and understanding another person’s feelings but keeping them at a distance) and compassionate (understanding another person’s experience and internalising what they’re likely feeling). Cognitive empathy is needed in jobs dealing with people, where, say, nurses are at risk of compassion fatigue – constantly internalising patients’ emotions. [MK: so people in the medical profession are not “cold” (at least not all of them), they are mindful of the effect of someone’s pain on themselves.]
Social media and forums can turn cognitive empathy really dark by allowing trolls to research their target, guess their expected reactions and emotions and deal a painful blow or a coordinated attack.
One’s empathetic reaction to someone’s embarrassment is stronger the closer they are to that someone. (Think best friends or husband and wife; this also explains why people’s families make them cringe in public.) Again, their social media posts give endless reasons to cringe.
Cringe is irritating, but not as harmful as contempt. It’s among the strongest predictors of divorce, as it implies active ignoring of another person and even acknowledging their existence.
MK: The author also mentions that it’s possible to be embarrassed for the country, obviously citing the Trump-era US, but I think the arguments are more political than psychological, so I’ll skip all political parts.
People fear social rejection (ostracism) to varying degrees. When this becomes visible in another person, there are two possible responses to it: compassion (bring that person in) or contempt (push them out). Contempt implies the following statement: “you’re ridiculous and I’m glad I’m not you”. Compassion is a way kinder approach: “you’re ridiculous, but so am I. I feel less alone thanks to you”.
Being contemptuous may suppress the feeling of personal insecurity by lying to oneself that they’re free from rejection or ostracism.
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