The Enlightened Caveman


Robitussin and the Gauche Theory of Mind
February 22, 2005, 4:51 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living, Hijinks

Original Post (with comments)
Sorry for the absence – the guy who never gets a flu shot cause he never gets sick got the freaking flu, and I do not handle sickness well. On a scale of 1 to 10, I operate between a 9 and a 10 pretty much every day. So, on the ultra-rare occasion that I fall ill, I bitch and moan and wail as if I’m on my third week of chemo. I act like, as the Scots would say, a big Jessie. Fortunately for all involved, thanks to my superior immune system, I kicked that avian-borne nuisance as fast as it hit me. I’m back. Not full speed yet, but getting there.

Anyhow, as I was lying in bed yesterday (trying to match the pitch of my moan to the droning humidifier), my wife came rambling through the room and we spoke for a moment. This and that, nothing in particular, but she didn’t ask me how I was feeling. She didn’t ask how I was feeling!

That bitch!

Instantly, resentment washed over me. Sure, go on about your business and ignore the infirm. Wait’ll it’s your turn, honey. Ahh, the vindictive hue of the Robitussin-induced delirium. How could it slip her mind that she should be inquiring as to my status? Didn’t she know what was on my mind? Didn’t she know that the central theme on my giant movie screen was my own decrepit condition, complete with moan track in Sony Digital Audio? Acknowledge, please. Anyone? Anyone? Bitch. Bitch. Biiiiiii….

I moaned myself to sleep and forgot about it until today. But now, hovering at around a 6 (an 8, if I sit perfectly still), I am able to take a mental and emotional step back, and something has dawned on me. It seems like some of my smoothest moves have come by acting upon mistaken impressions of what either was or was not on the mind of whomever I was interacting with. Though this falls under the general heading of misunderstanding, it isn’t the miscommunication kind; it’s what I’d call a gauche theory of mind problem.

Theory of mind, in this case, is understanding that other people have their own plans, thoughts, and points of view. So, if you have a gauche theory of mind, you have a tendency toward, shall we say, less than polished social behavior. You get that people have their own picture of the world, your perception of exactly (or even remotely) what that picture is just comes in a little fuzzy. In my recent time of need, I clumsily assumed that the all-consuming role of my symptoms extended well beyond the confines of my body. Get within the zone, and your mind, like mine, should be instantly preoccupied with my condition. And if you don’t act accordingly, well screw you.

Now, I’ll admit, this is pretty childish. That’s why it’s a good thing I don’t get sick often. I was pushing the envelope snagging my wife to begin with. But this notion of a gauche theory of mind, when it persists over an extended period of time, explains quite a bit of what we see all around us. Just watch the preliminaries of American Idol or just about any reality show and it’s on parade. We marvel at people who so misconstrue their reflection in the minds of others. They perceive themselves manifestly beautiful or talented or popular when in fact they are no such thing. In fact, this brings up an interesting by-product of the phenomenon – other people notice it, cringe, but can’t take their eyes away. And the news is?

This realization, obvious as it may seem, brings me back to the idea that we are well served if we familiarize ourselves with the somewhat universal baselines for acceptance in social situations. But, perhaps of equal importance, is being familiar with the notion that the bar is different in different places. These poor American Idol hopefuls, we may assume, enjoy insulated spheres of acceptance where they live, acceptance that they mistakenly ascribe to the wider swath of the general public. How many alligator tears would be saved if these youngsters were served a heaping helping of, “You may be great in Pascagoula, but that says nothing about how you’ll do in the City of Angels”? It doesn’t mean you quit, it just means you come to grips with how much work you have to do. Then you decide if you want to chip away at it. Believe it or not, our days here are numbered. But the American Idol syndrome is but one example of a gauche theory of mind.

How about the self-important among us? Are they not ascribing their own commanding presence upon our big screens? Are they not disturbed when we don’t respond accordingly? This must be the hardest thing to handle for celebrities. In their case, the bar is exactly where they think it is; it’s just higher than they think it is, at least when they find themselves in the midst of folks who don’t extrapolate what they’re famous for to other areas of measurability. So you celebs out there, I feel ya. Here’s a tip: You may be great in the City of Angels, but that says nothing about how you’ll do in Pascagoula.

Now why should I go to so much trouble to state the obvious? An evening of Robitussin and Coke. Salut.

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