Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Power of Bad

I have long thought this an interesting observation by Lewis's senior demon, that women are more geared toward doing for others while men are wired to think in terms of not interfering. It is true in many cases I can think of, but I don't know if it holds up generally, nor what percentage of men and women are exceptions to the general trend.
The grand problem is that of "unselfishness". Note, once again, the admirable work of out Philological Arm in substituting the negative unselfishness for the Enemy's positive Charity. Thanks to this you can, from the very outset, teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them. That is a great point gained. Another great help, where the parties concerned are male and female, is the divergence of view about Unselfishness which we have built up between the sexes. A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others. As a result, a woman who is quite far gone in the Enemy's service will make a nuisance of herself on a larger scale than any man except those whom Our Father has dominated completely; and, conversely, a man will live long in the Enemy's camp before he undertakes as much spontaneous work to please others as a quite ordinary woman may do every day. Thus while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people's rights, each sex, without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish. Screwtape Letters, Chapter 26. CS Lewis.
There was a joke long ago that Purgatory was a kitchen where things kept going wrong, and the women had to learn to calm down and ignore them, while the men had to learn to get up and deal with them. That section occurred to me today when I read the link about Roy Baumeister and John Tierney's The Power of Bad. Notice especially John Tierney's comment about the lack of gratitude for doing extra and extra censure for falling short.
There are lots of little surprising things to me—like the fact that you get almost no credit for doing more than you promised to do, for going beyond and doing extra, but you get penalized severely for what you don’t do. Researchers did experiments where students were given tickets by a ticket broker, and if the seats were better than expected, the students didn’t express any gratitude; but they were very upset if the seats were worse. In another experiment, someone came in to help participants do a task that involved solving puzzles, and if that person did 50 percent more than promised, participants gave him the same rating as if he’d just done the basic job. If he fell short, they really faulted him. We’re very upset when someone doesn’t fulfill a promise, but if they do extra, we’re not grateful enough for it.
I would think that this would make those who more often do extra for others - likely women - to be especially vulnerable to resentment at being taken for granted. I know I have experienced this at work over the years, learning repeatedly that certain actions are done because they are the right thing to do and one wants to be a decent sort, not because anyone will ever notice or thank you. That is fairly easy to do for short periods, but gnaws at one over the long haul, and most especially when one is suddenly held to account for a small thing by one who has been a frequent offender.

Behaviorists teach that positive reward is a more effective strategy than negative consequences, and this would seem to contradict that. Psychologists have also recently started to teach that resiliency is more a product of good childhood experiences than a lack of bad ones, which also seems the opposite.  I don't know what the research resolution will eventually be. My initial thought is that there are contexts in which each is true.


james said...

I think we rely on faithfulness more than we realize. In other people, that is.

We don't notice pride in ourselves but are very sensitive to it in other people.

We don't notice faithlessness in ourselves (it's supposed to be a virtue these days), but get angry when we find it in others.

Christopher B said...

There's also an element of reputation in this, not just recognition.

"Under-promise, over-deliver" is well worn phrase around our IT shop. Nothing torpedoes your reputation quite as quickly as failing to meet an agreed deadline, or worse, causing problems because you rushed something into production.

I think james is right. We often think people care much more about speed or features but delivering on schedule often winds up being the most important thing.