Warmth: Charisma & Commitment

I’ve been thinking a bit about stolzyblog‘s comment on Coin of My Realm: Meaning post from a few days ago. Let me quote the exchange entirely:

“SB: Warmth. It’s what is missing from Robin Hansen’s “insight”. And the interesting thing about this is it seems (from watching some of his interviews) that he does not know this. All his knowledge has kept this region dark to him.

CB: I tend to focus on ideas over people too. Warmth is really caring more about people, that they have value beyond what they offer you. Sometimes it takes people that live in their heads a long time to learn that lesson, using by finding someone that loves them beyond their ideas. But, some never find it. You make a really good point here.

SB: True, and a nice realization (about what warmth is). I have noticed something else too, though. Ideas and concepts can also be delivered or communicated with warmth. Some speakers accomplish this. But many do not… their information is sprayed forth coldly and analytically, sometimes even like a kind of psychic weaponization, if you know what I mean.”

I started to think that there were two dimensions in play. On one dimension, it matters how something is communicated. I tend to be blunt and not as diplomatic as other people might like, and my wife is often saying to me: “You can say that, but you have to say it nicely.” What she means by nicely is that I need to say it in a way that leaves more room for the fact that I could be wrong and the other person right and that even if I am saying something critical, I still like and respect them as a person. Saying something like, “That’s a bad idea and you are a bad person for thinking it,” doesn’t do that.

I saw a tweet recently that shed some light on why this is important, focused on small talk:

So, we are spending 20% of our time in social interactions, and the primary purpose of these interactions are not sharing ideas but serving as testimony that we like one another well enough to spend the time together. What we discuss is mostly irrelevant.

But, “social commitment” implies something more. It’s not just being a “fair-weather friend” who is pleasant to spend time with, but it also implies that, to some degree, a relationship that can be relied upon in difficult times.

If we want to think of the question in terms of relationship archetypes, you might parse it as:

  • Ideal: pleasant to spend time with and can be relied upon
  • Fair-weather: pleasant to spend time with but with limited reliability
  • Difficult friends: not pleasant to spend time with but reliable

The key here is that the thresholds of what constitutes reliability are a sliding scale. Every relationship has limits and what people need from them vary a great deal from individual to individual. For example, someone may be an introvert who, when they want companionship, want it limited to a few friends. Others want to be the life of a party, which means being at a party with more than a few friends.

Context also matters. When experiencing grief, even the life of the party doesn’t want to be at a party. Part of being reliable is being able to context switch, and be in the mode appropriate for the moment.

There’s also the problem that our capabilities change over time. A person with dementia is often both unpleasant and reliable. But, how we are with them also reveals something about the kind of person we are, when we interact with them. So, these relationships are important, not only to the person with the illness, but because it holds up a mirror to our character and reveals facets of ourselves we may not have been aware. Chances are those will be deficiencies, a lack of reliability we were not aware of or limits which we didn’t know we had.

Beyond the personal, it also reveals something about other types. For example, sociopaths are fair-weather friends. They want reliable relationships but don’t offer reliability themselves. Difficult friends want to be liked and to like the people around them, but they don’t show these qualities to others.

Warmth, broadly speaking, might be how we respond to these gaps. Can we be pleasant to the unpleasant? Can we be reliable to the unreliable? Where are our limits? And, are they more or less than some perceived norm?

The Corruption of Apology

True apologies are precious. They’re a secular process of remediation, drawing on moral intuitions shared by many religious traditions. They encourage membership in one’s moral community because they are fundamentally relational: They heal the bond between wrongdoer and wronged. By temporarily humbling the perpetrator and vindicating the victim, they pave the way for both sides to make up. 

Apologies presuppose that there is some sort of moral community that shares a sense of right and wrong to which both the wronged and the wrongdoer belong. By apologizing, the wrongdoer embraces the norm that he violated. By doing that personally, ideally face to face, he works to heal his wounded relationships. And so he invites his victims to forgive, release their resentment, and move on. 

We all depend on apologies and forgiveness to go on living with one another. Husbands and wives admit their faults and patch up their differences. Kids on playgrounds say they’re sorry and then get back to recess. Coworkers talk through misunderstandings. As Hannah Arendt argued in The Human Condition, we wrong one another every day, and we learn to forgive constantly so that we can start afresh. The alternative is trapping ourselves in endless cycles of vengeance. 

Stephanos Bibas, “The Corruption of Apology.” persuasion.community. July 27, 2022

What I found interesting about this commentary was how it explicitly lays out what is necessary for an apology to have meaning, i.e.:

  1. A shared norm that was violated.
  2. A person who violated the norm and a person effected by the violation.
  3. Discussion and acknowledgment to observe the norm in the future.

A shared norm implies membership in a community, or at least a relationship between two people. Of course, some norms are universal, or nearly so. Murder, stealing, lying and so forth are generally disapproved of. However, the norms may be different between members of a community and The Other, or outsiders. However, a morality that has double-standards, one for the in-group and one for the out-group, is a dubious morality. Yet, they exist and are common.

The enumeration is interesting. It really cuts to the heart of a common class of problems in our modern world. The article focuses on the fact that norms are in dispute in different communities, but I think there are more interesting aspects of this problem.

Some people are toxic. They have no regard for norms. They will not acknowledge that they have harmed anyone. They will not discuss it beyond making excuses, like those you see in A Narcissist’s Prayer. You will never get a real apology from such a person.

The other side of it, that the article does discuss, is that our online environments pretend to community, but they aren’t actual communities. We have “friends” that aren’t really our friends. There are people trying to enforce norms without community and often on behalf of others. It turns it more into blood sport, where we are allies promoting the agenda of different teams.

For example, I believe in equal rights for women. I would like to see structures of institutional racism broken down. I think we should broaden our acceptance of the various sexualities between consenting adults. I think there are serious problems of class than need to be addressed, and we need greater opportunities for success for people living in poverty. But, as a white, male, heteronormative person that is not living in poverty, what are my responsibilities to forward those various agendas?

Is a country a community? A state? A city? Or even a neighborhood? And when I think about the communities and norms I subscribe to, does believing in a norm make a community? It can. You can forge a community based on a shared norm or values. But, you need both. If you want to promote values – or norms, it needs to be done in the context of a community. You cannot impose them from outside. And, even a community is not enough, you need to promote them in relationship with other people that you know. Values that abstract out real people, with real flaws, aren’t much of a value, just as getting people to apologize, not to some person, but to the world, isn’t a real apology.

Making Friends [on the Internet]

Summarized:

“[1.] follow people you resonate with.

[2.] engage with bigger accounts, support smaller accounts.

[3.] ask questions, offer suggestions, share learnings.

[4.] pay attention to who keeps popping up.

[5.] use the algorithms to your advantage.

[6.] attend virtual events. participate! 

[7.] attend offline events! Be adventerous.

[8.] send that dm / email / offer to connect.

[9.] if they don’t respond, try again in a few months.

[10.] put your thoughts out there.

-Jonathan Borichevskiy, “Making Friends on the Internet.” jon.bo. May 2, 2022.

Open question: How do you make new friends that will help you move in the direction you want your life to move and be fellow travelers?

The thrust is correct. If you want to make offline friends, you need to orient your online presence to make offline connections. However, there’s a bit of an age-bias. When you are 25 and single, it’s a lot easier to go to meeting on a lark. As you get older, it gets more difficult. You have to arrange a babysitter. There’s also the time to consider. Here’s a rough chart of time and quantities of friends a human brain tends to top out at:

  • 5 intimate friends (+200 hours)
  • 15 close friends (80-100 hours)
  • 50 general friends (40-60 hours)
  • 150 acquaintances (10-20 hours)

The problem, as you get older, is: how do you find those hours to spend with someone? The easiest method is some social institution, such as a church. Over a year, it should be possible to pick up a few friends and acquaintances from a church.

So, the above is how to make an initial connection with someone, and it assumes that you bridge these hours in some way. This is much harder, as you get older. But, perhaps something to think about when you start new chapters of your life.

Nick Cave’s Three Levels of Friendship

“There seems to me to be three levels of friendship.

First there is the friend who you go out and eat with, or get pissed with, who you go with to the cinema or a gig — you know, have a shared experience with.

The second kind of friend is one who you can ask a favour of, who will look after you in a jam, will lend you money, or drive you to the hospital in the middle of the night, someone who has your back — that kind of friend.

The third level of friendship is one where your friend brings out the best in you, who amplifies the righteous aspects of your nature, who loves you enough to be honest with you, who challenges you, and who makes you a better person.

None of these levels are mutually exclusive and sometimes you find someone who fulfils all of these categories. If you find a friend like that, hang on to him or her. They are rare.”

-Nick Cave, “Is it important to have friends?” TheRedHandFiles.com. November 2021.

Related: Levels of Friendship in Arabic, How To Make Friends as an Adult, A Keltner List for Relationships, and The Happiness of Others.

To Make Friends

Be able to talk and shut up. Listen well, particularly for the voice that is hard to hear in yourself and in others. Remember: there is little difference between being shut out and being shut in.