It all started when Randy King Live posted this video:
Randy thinks the guy is funny, and plans to use the video to illustrate a section of his Conflict Communication lecture, namely that the “belongingness” level in Maslow’s pyramid of needs comes before the “status” level, and how this manifests. People worry about being in a group first and foremost. The status they have in a group is important, but it is a secondary concern to belonging to a group. (For a quick summary of the pyramid and its applications to conflict management, check this blog by Rory Miller). And Randy’s right: the dude is a perfect example of someone who’s clearly so invested in being part of a group that he willing to be treated like a heel.
My gut reaction to the video was rather different from Randy’s. Within literally 8 seconds of the video rolling, I had an urge to hit the dude in the face with a brick (Figuratively. Mostly. Depending on how close he was to me, really.). Randy and I haven’t had any major disagreements to date. Why this disparity in reactions?
I don’t find the guy funny because he reminds me of the sort of chap you end up meeting at work or school, who decides he likes you and pesters you ceaselessly, to whom you end up saying “thank you, but no” in every polite way you can think of to no avail until you run out of formal options and end up telling him to f.off, or worse things happen… and who then complains widely about how you’re hysterical or horrid, and often ends up getting the support of his/your social circle because “that’s just how he is” and “there was no need for that”.
I think Randy and I are both right. We’re just seeing two different sides of the coin. There can be a woefully fine line between someone who’s invested in belonging at any cost and a borderline stalker. Many of the behaviours and attitudes are actually the same, all based on a willingness to do abnormal things or put up with abnormal reactions in order to reach a level of closeness that would otherwise not be available. Really, the only significant difference is that many of us don’t really consider someone a stalker unless there’s a sexual or threatening component to their behaviour.
That reminded me of this letter to Captain Awkward, which sets my teeth on edge. I freely admit to being totally biased for the simple reason that my family tree has a lot of nuts in it. My immediate family members never had any truck with boundaries or privacy. They not only didn’t see them as rights, but they actually believed it was wrong for anyone to even consider wanting them. They had the right to know what you were doing, what you were thinking, how you were feeling. They had the right to collect and store whatever physical records of your life they felt necessary. If you did not provide said information and said items, it was their right to obtain them by whatever means necessary. If you took steps to enforce boundaries or meted out consequences for boundary breaking, it was you who was clearly out of order. The harder you fought, the more out of order you were, and the more your behaviour justified their intrusion.
I appreciate that the poor lady in the letter is not rummaging through her nephews’ bins looking for discarded diary pages or correspondence, or going into their dorm when they’re out in order to take photographs (hi, mom). She is, however, deliberately, repeatedly ignoring their very explicit request to be left the hell alone. She’s doing so because she prioritises the closeness and belonging she wants over what they want. More than that, she sees her Quest as Righteous, hence obviously infinitely more important than people’s puny wishes. In her particular case, the Goal of her Quest is Family. Most of us think family = good. She may be pathetic and a bit annoying and frankly oblivious, but she’s not doing anything really wrong, is she? Her heart is in the right place, bless her.
…except that if she did precisely the same stuff but the Goal of her Quest was Sex, or rather if there was the slightest possibility of a sexual undertone to what she’s trying to achieve, her actions would be looked at in a different light by a lot of people. Even simply swapping the genders in the narrative without altering it in any other way would probably make a lot of people interpret it very differently. If an uncle by marriage was cyber-stalking his younger nieces because they don’t wanna have anything to do with him, and using his wife, their auntie by blood, to try and weasel his way into their life, that’d creep many of us out.
Sexual intent, or the mere possibility of a sexual intent, is one of the standards people use to determine where to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. We interpret what we see depending on whether sexual intent is on the menu.
Sex is not unique in this. There are other standards used in the same fashion. For instance, if someone ignores your nos to take something from you, that’s considered iniquitous and predatory. If someone ignores your nos to give you something, though, that’s often seen in a much kinder light. I could never understand this. If I tell you that I don’t want you to get into my house while I’m not there, I don’t care if you ignore my wishes to steal from me, fill up my fridge, or water my petunias. I’d set and communicated a boundary, and you deliberately ignored it. That, to me, is the key factor. Because if you justified to yourself breaking that boundary that time for that reason, I can be pretty damn sure you’re going to do it again unless I put a stop to it.
In the case of the video, though, the linchpin is sex. Both Randy and I see a chap willing to push boundaries in order to belong, to achieve a certain level of closeness. Randy, courtesy of his “testovision” (Randy coined the term! Randy’s a GENIUS!) sees a harmless sap. I see a potential stalker. We’re both looking at the same person doing the same thing, but our concerns inform our interpretation.
Whether my concerns ever become a reality will have less to do with the chap’s personal standards of behaviour, and more with those enforced by whichever group he manages to crowbar his way into. If he joins a group that encourages him to utilise the same tactics in his romantic quests, chances are he’s going to become a problem person. After all, he’s already willing to do whatever it takes to belong. The group may continue to see him as a funny sap, because that’s all they see, even though he’s may be terrifying his romantic targets.