The Relativity Theory of Judgment
We're all in different bubbles, just trying to do our best 🤷🏼♀️
Book tour!! On Wednesday, September 6th, I’ll be at the Cedar Hills Powell’s in Oregon at 7pm to see my friend Chris Guillebeau read his new book, Gonzo Capitalism: How to Make Money in an Economy That Hates You. He’s doing events in many other cities starting this week.
On Wednesday at 11am PST/2pm EST, my friend and AMAZING HUMAN Jeff Harry and I will be on Instagram to discuss Keeping Your Head Above Water When the Sea Levels are Literally Rising: Hope in a World That is Actively Dying.
In 2020, I was living in an apartment located two blocks away from a hospital. In Queens. New York. City. You know, where the pandemic basically started. COVID-related mayhem hit in my neighborhood well before it was on the radar of my relatives outside of the city.
Three of my friends’ parents died, along with a acquaintance’s two-year-old; R died of multisystem inflammatory syndrome—in front of his mother. Ambulance sirens and helicopters kept me up at night.
I was stressed. My brother, on the other hand, was in Oregon.
“You’re watching too much news,” he said. “If it bleeds, it leads.” Alas, I wasn’t even watching the news. I was merely observing the deaths, grocery store lines, and unavoidable chaos right outside of my door.
In his mind, I was being paranoid; in mine, he was being an insensitive idiot. We were both right. We were both wrong.
When I finally took a vacation in Oregon a few months later, I saw how easy it was for him to think that I was paranoid—there were no mass signs of death slapping you in the face the second you walked outside. Just trees. My NYC behavioral norms, seen out of place, were interpreted as pushy and paranoid. But maybe they saved my life, y’all.
Over the next few months, I saw how people’s beliefs shifted—yesterday’s “overly paranoid/tinfoil hat” behaviors morphed into “the sensible thing to do.” I saw how easy it was for people in different situations (immunodeficient; libertarian; socialist; rural; traumatized) to pass judgment onto others. And that’s when I started using this scale:
The Relativity Theory of COVID Cautiousness
The Relativity Theory of Everything
Recognizing that life is a sliding scale and my judgments are not Objective Fact has helped me understand people (myself included) like nothing else I know. It’s an empathy/wisdom hack that I often need to pull out when dealing with… well, people.
It helps me empathize with parents and kids whenever I witness random meltdowns, even ear-melting ones on airplanes. I laugh. I make eye contact with the parent on the plane and shrug. From their POV, not being able to have another juice box really is the absolute most awful thing they can possibly imagine. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW GOOD YOU HAVE IT, YOU LITTLE MOTHERFUCKER.
The Relativity Theory of Generalized Trust
The Relativity Theory of Motivation
The Relativity Theory of Being Informed
This is why I don’t think people should feel guilty for ignoring the news.
The Relativity Theory of Health
I’ve been on all ends of this scale, here:
The Relativity Theory of Deliberation
This week, I wanted to nap in the afternoon and briefly thought am I being lazy or is this an understandable reaction to being overwhelmed? and remembered the relativity theory of everything. I might ask people if I was being lazy, but their answer would always depend on their perspective and judgments about What People Should Do. Most of the time, we have no idea where we lie on the spectrum: we’re surrounded by people like us who are also on that end of the spectrum.
The Relativity Theory of Being a Snowflake
The real joy of the Relativity Theory is that it helps me have empathy when it’s hard.
Everyone has A Thing. Sometimes. Was I annoyed that the last 1/3 of Oppenheimer was a bunch of straight white guys arguing about security clearances? That the movie did not pass the Bechdel test? Yes, I was. My movie-going friend didn’t notice this.
Was I being a snowflake? Was I overly sensitive? Sensitive people, by definition, perceive things that others don’t. The real issue is whether or not it affects their ability to live and thrive in the world. There is no one “right” amount of sensitivity. Not noticing or being bothered by something doesn’t make you tough or a better human being—it just means that it doesn’t affect you, personally.
Because we don’t like to think that we’re snowflakes, we’re fast to avoid this charge by pointing out other areas of life where our emotions don’t get involved quite as easily. The Relativity Theory helps me understand Powerful People of insane privilege: from their perspective, not being able to talk about getting blowjobs in front of all of your grad students without any kind of recourse really is the absolute worst possible thing you have ever faced. Okay then.
For the sake of my mental health, I’ve started blocking people. Opting out of certain conversations.
When we stop calling people “snowflakes” and start to understand their perspective, life gets super interesting. When I stop calling people “assholes” and get to know them, I inevitably learn about someone who never learned about their emotional needs, who sees the world as a cold place, who sees themselves asa superior and uses terms like “snowflake” to feel better about themselves because of some deep void. And that fucking sucks.
I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. Things are relative. I can stop calling people names and realize that name-calling comes from a desire to assert my own superiority instead of just moving on with my life.
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