DRMacIver's Notebook

On having different thresholds

On having different thresholds

Observe the following behaviours:

These share the following major features:

  1. They are about where you set a threshold for action. How X does a thing have to be before you do Y?
  2. They are very common.
  3. They are really really unhealthy.

For most people, lowering these thresholds will significantly improve your experience of and behaviour in the world. That's not to say that the thresholds should be set at zero, and there are definitely people who have them set too low, but by and large the norms around where they should be set are much too high.

Why? Well because if you don't do anything until something breaks then you will be constantly skirting the edge of disaster. For example if you don't express needs until they're essential, none of your non-essential needs are going to be adequately met. You'll maybe not be in crisis, but you'll be low-grade miserable.

But, once you learn healthier behaviour and set these thresholds lower, you're going to run into a huge problem. You've suddenly become illegible to other people.

The problem is this: Other people do not have access to your internal state. They do not know how X the thing is, they only know that you have done Y. This will cause them to assume that when you do Y, the thing is as X for you as it would be when other people do Y. This means that if you express an emotion, people will think it is a big deal. If you complain about a bad behaviour, people will think you must be really bothered by it.

A concrete example is that I was trying Capoeira last year. About halfway through my second lesson I realised that actually this really isn't for me right now, and that I could cope with the rest of the lesson but it would be moderately unpleasant and I definitely wouldn't be coming back for another one, so I made my apologies and left. I realised afterwards that people probably thought I was in quite a lot of distress, because that felt like a major move to them. I wasn't. I was just making what for me was a perfectly sensible decision, but most people wouldn't have made it until breaking point.

This is why talking about feelings often feels like high drama / making a big deal out of nothing. It's not. Talking about feelings is great, and is in fact how you avoid drama and making big deals out of things that don't need to be. But because people are used to not talking about feelings until they absolutely need to be dealt with, when you talk about feelings before they need to be dealt with people assume you're making more of an issue of it than not.

Differing thresholds are like the church of interruption. People have incompatible conversation norms, and they don't realise that they do or don't know how to fluently speak the other's, so they are constantly miscuing off each other.

The solution, I'm afraid, is more talking. It has long been my stance that you need to have conversations about how to have conversations with people, and a crucial part of that is talking about what bringing things up means and how best to do it.