Doing the Left Thing

I really enjoyed Soo and Lulu’s story aired on RadioLab What’s Left When You’re Right?  (radiolab podcast: 2014-02-25 ).  Have a listen, what do you think of it? Is there a resolution to the personality types? Or are they both two extremes on the same positive axis of some kind of empathy spectrum?

It’s heart-rending when Lulu recounts her new-found respect for her friend Su, especially when they were moments prior on the verge of splitting up as close friends. But it made me wonder …

Is there a super-character possible in-between the type of warm caring fuzzy avoid-controversy type of Lulu and the harsh argumentative just and stand-up-on principle even if it is dangerous and confrontational character type of Soo?

Can You Escape Personality Typecasting

Maybe I over-think things too much. But in this case I thought “yes”. But they are rare individuals — those gems who have such brilliantly good personality in multiple modes. I have known one or two souls who had the peaceful temperament of Soo combined with the righteous outrage and justice-seeking traits of Soo.

There are other polarities in character, each end being good in some way, but which are often hard to find united in a single person. At least hard to find them united in action in a given circumstance. But here’s the thing which interests me: psychology so often deals with extremes, and ignores unity. We hear about personality disorders and polar opposites and these famed “character types”. But who is ever truly “of a type”? Aren’t we all somewhat fluid and adaptive?

Well, no, apparently not. But why not? This is the key thing!  We tend not to be fluid in character (like, “haha ironic”, the extreme case of Zelig, in the Woody Allen film, the “human chameleon”, funny cute movie) but I think this is because people settle in to their type and are not conscious enough to be more adaptive. But I believe adaptation in psychological traits is a “superpower” which we all possess. We just fail often to use it!

Subvert the Psychologists

Use your superpowers is the beautiful plea I am making here! Be adaptive. Think adaptive. Do not rest with who you think you are or who society expects you to be. Make some change for yourself and do something courageous when the opportunity arises, whether that is standing down from an argument or sticking up for a just cause.

Psychologists tell us these character types are kinda’ hard-wired in us. But I do not accept that. The rare combination character types tell me that multi-modal good character, the best from diverse types, can be acquired with effort. Lulu can learn to be stronger and deal with conflict and not shy away from it, and Soo can learn to tone down her righteous indignation for the sake of friendship, when absolute justice is not critically important. (I’m not saying she should, just that she could.) What is absolute justice anyway? When I wrote the previous sentence I felt uneasy.

And that got me thinking further…

Absolute justice is surely always critical and important. Why should a character like Soo “tone down” her sense of righteousness? I don’t think she should, and to live in a world where people wish she would “tone down” is unfair. But I also think Lulu’s character is good. She avoids confrontation. Here’s the thing: it is possible to both avoid confrontation and assert your sense of justice. How?

The key is to adopt a point of view which is a little belligerent and does not accept that good moral or ethical sensibilities should ever need to be opposed. Not in principle and also not in practice. So you have to think a bit when faced with a situation that has potential for conflict when justice is demanded. You just have to tell yourself that the two can be reconciled, you can have a non-confrontational assertion of justice. But how? What about the story told by Lulu of the crazy dude and Soo?

Well, that story is a good example. Initially Soo was confrontational, but in the end she befriended the weird dude. So you need to look ahead to the end of a situation, to see how maybe some initial confrontation will be temporary. There is also another point: Soo was aggressive in her initial confrontation, but she did not have to be so, she could have confronted the craziness of the “dude” in a calmer more peaceful way.

The way RadioLab reported Lulu’s story made it sound as though Soo was initially too aggressive, bordering on dangerous (it could have inflamed the psychotic side of the dude.) But listening the to audio segment Lulu had recorded of the incident, I felt Soo was actually not all that aggressive. I think she was misperceived as aggressive, while in fact she displayed a serious assertiveness and no more. I might be reading it wrongly, but I took the story as a good example of how justice can be served without necessary conflict.

The recipient of justice will often feel aggrieved, or guilty, or angry, or defensive, or even violent, or any number of negative emotions, but this should not stop s from seeking justice. Perhaps there is a smart way to seek justice and a dumb way, the dumb way is the way of overt confrontation, the smart way is through calm peaceful dialogue to try to help the people concerned see the error of their ways. It takes longer to resolve the smart way, but perhaps that is partly why it is smart. You know the old adage: “good things take time”. It is not always true, but it is true more often than not when seeking justice.

Combat Leftism

The last story in that RadioLab podcast is good listening too, but somewhat more academic. Lefties are 10% in the human population, and there are many evolutionary theories about why — why left-handed is an advantage even though it correlates with a long list of weaknesses. One strength of lefties is in sport and combat!  And athletes tend to be good reproducers! But why is there 90/10 right/left bias in humans? Many think it goes back to brain asymmetry with developed with human languae. Language became (accidentally) left0brain dominant, and motor control goes in opposite ways, the left brain controls the right side of the body, the right brain controls the left. It’s not that lefties are bad with language, just that their neurology is a bit right-biased, by genes it seems.

The moral and spiritual dimension is far more fascinating with the Soo and Lulu story, and that woman Soo is something special, you have to admit. But there is also a moral component to the Lefties story too, which is that left-handed people are often victimized or treated unfairly in society, and yet most people are not even consciously aware of this. So be sensitive, OK!? Look of for left-handedness in children and do not discourage it, don’t force them to be right-handed. Please. My special plea to the world for today.

I am aware pleas like this are muttered every day, but you have to spend the time on them. A little goes a long way when repeated, people forget little things too easily. But being treated poorly for being left-handed can be a big bad deal for a leftie, especially a child.




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