The Best When Left Alone Theory


The likelihood that my day will be enhanced by you bothering me is almost non-existent.  If you see someone with earplugs in their ears while reading something or copiously concentrating on something please don’t bother them.  Why would you think that whatever you have to say or want to point out to them would appeal to them?  This of it like this A + B/C = I.  I stands for interaction outcome.  Let A stand for what you have to say, let B be the immediacy of the problem to the person you want to interact with then assume that C is equal to what that person is concentrating on doing.

Assign a value to what you have to say ranging from one being current weather conditions and ten being there is a gunmen standing next to them or the vehicle of mass transit has caught on fire or finds itself in a Speed-like situation where the vehicle must go fifty miles an hour or it explodes.  Now assign a value to B.  B, if you recall, is the immediacy of the problem in relation to the person whose concentration you are thinking of breaking in order to talk to them.

The variable in this equation is always going to be C, which is of course subjective.  It is because this is subjective that many don’t think interrupting someone’s concentration is any big deal.  After all, what you have to say and the immediate nature of that information to the person in question is so outstanding that the C variable is almost a moot point.  Assuming that breaking someone’s concentration is a big deal, something that there would obviously need to be extreme circumstances to break you’d think few people would interrupt you when you’re trying to concentrate.  If only this were the case.

It’s important to understand that most conversation is started and engaged in out of boredom.  Chruchill had advice that I have found particularly useful when I’ve chosen to employ it: “only speak when it improves the silence.”  I’d add the caveat that unless what you have to say is going to be a net positive to my day you probably shouldn’t say anything.  It’s not that I’m some prick hiding behind the “just sayin’” wall of cowardice, it’s just that there is so much stuff going on in my head that regardless of when you int4errupt me you will almost certainly be breaking my attention from something so whatever you’ve got to say, it’d better be pretty important.

Most conversation is guided by self-interest.  People rarely talk to you while taking into consideration how you feel about engaging in the conversation nor do most people particularly care.  Keep in mind that most conversation is started out of boredom and it is not surprising that conversing with people is often not only exhausting but annoying as well.  Think about all the “how you doin’?” conversations you’ve had and combine that number with the amount of “what are you up to?” conversations you’ve had and chances are you’ve wasted a significant portion of your life engaged in pointless, mindless, and needless conversation.  There are countless things that we say to or worse, tell ourselves that attempts to rationalize all of this, but even if you can rationalize it to yourself and others think about how you’ll rationalize it when you’re 75 and looking back on your life.  This is what I call the “when I’m 64 argument.”

The “when I’m sixty-four” argument is a good rule of thumb.  Indeed it is a good way to live your life in general.  What the “when I’m sixty-four” argument asks is: will this matter when I’m sixty-four?  I’ve adjusted this number for current life expectancy figures which are about a decade longer than they were in the 1960’s.  The Beatles used sixty-four when they wrote the song “when I’m sixty-four” because it was about ten to fifteen years shy of the average life-expectancy at the time.  That figure has since gone up which is why I’m revising the number to 75-ish because life-expectancy is now in the ‘80’s.  The “will it matter at seventy-five?” litmus test for deciding how to spend your time and yield the most pragmatic results and many use some form of it when deciding how they want to live day-to-day.

Millenials will, I think it is safe to say, be remembered as much for YOLO as much as we will for the diminished world we had to live in because of the world of excess our parents decided to live in.  Now, don’t go out and blame your parents for how you have to live your life (though you’d hardly be the first to do so) because there’s little they can do to change their culture of excess now.  The best we can do is look at these mistakes and learn from them.  It is because of this however that I worry about the ramifications of living the YOLO lifestyle.  You only live once is a great credo for college, but it would be a terrible mantra to have if you’re raising a family.  Imagine explaining to your kids that daddy spent 8-10 in the federal pen because, well YOLO.  If it sounds stupid that’s likely because it is.

The best left alone doctrine should help extroverts understand that the world is not your girlfriend.  We don’t care what you think about the weather even if you are a meteorologist, in fact, especially if you’re a meteorologist because they’re never right and the last thing the world needs is more advice from people that turns out to be wrong.  Remember that this is a generation that somehow survived the Bush administration though many conservatives like to act like it never happened (most of us liberals will never be able to forget it by the way so perhaps coming to terms with the fact that you voted a completely incompetent man to be the leader of the free world wouldn’t be a bad idea.)

All of this presupposes however that extroverts are rational people who have an ample supply of common sense.  However there are quite a lot of extroverts (and introverts for that matter) who, for some reason that endlessly irritates the pragmatists in the world like me, don’t use common sense.  Karl Marx once said that: “there is no right or wrong, we live according to our needs.”  There’s some truth in that thinking however it does not account for the existence of absolute evil, of which there will always be great abundance.  My needs as a writer are for an environment free of distractions where I can practice my art undisturbed.  Unfortunately, this occasionally means I have to venture forth into the cruel world and there will be people who see nothing wrong with bothering me as I try to stay in my own little world.  This brings me to the final precept of the best-left alone doctrine: conduct yourself in such a way that you deal with as few people who seek to break your concentration.

Those of us who adhere to the best-left alone doctrine also adhere to the lowest possible interaction rule.  The lowest possible interaction rule is as simple as it seems.  As I go through my day I plan for as few interactions with people as possible.  Again this probably seems like something that would be fairly easy to achieve, but consider everything you do in a day and try and think of ways to minimize your contact with people.  If I can keep the number close to ten I’m usually pretty happy.  If the number of interactions I have with people hovers around twenty-five that’s going to leave me tired by the end of the day.  Any number between twenty-five and fifty is going to be tiring.  If that number hits triple digits chances are I will be exhausted and pissed as hell.  To put it simply: my happiness is directly related to two major factors: the weather and people.  If it’s cloudy I’m operating around fifty percent.  If it is cloudy with lots of people I have interact with I’ll be at the “finish him” stage of Mortal Kombat.

Some people feel that the term “interaction” is a rather ambiguous term.  I will therefore give my definition of interaction as I have come to understand and define it.  An interaction is an encounter between two or more people.  How this encounter occurs and under what circumstances is interpreted differently by each person who uses this rule.  An interaction can occur physically as in face-to-face communication, phone communication, or virtual communication.  I assign each of these encounters numerical values in order to get to my 25-50-100 system of irritation and exhaustion.  Face-to-face interaction is given a value of three, phone interaction is very difficult and awkward for me and I dislike it so much that I give it a five on the scale.  Virtual communication is easiest and therefore earns a value of just one.

In the end, the best left alone doctrine and lowest possible interaction rule both deal with the same problem: people.  Ultimately I understand that by reducing the total amount of interactions I have I’m setting up a system where the potential for positive and negative interactions are both minimized.  I’m the kind of person who needs things to happen on my terms.  If you want to talk to me chances are that I won’t want to talk to you.  All of this makes conversation rather difficult, but this system isn’t designed for ease of use, it’s designed to keep my mind focused, which is what counts the most to me in my world.


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