Way of the Warrior

Picard: Well, I know that I am an old man and I am out of touch. But the Worf that I remember was more concerned with things like honor and loyalty than rules and regulations. But that was a long time ago, and maybe you’re not the Worf I once knew.

Worf: You have always used your knowledge of Klingon honor and tradition to get what you want from me.

Picard: Because it always works, Worf! Your problem is that you really *do* have a sense of honour, and you really *do* care about trust and loyalty. Don’t blame me for knowing you so well!”

This blog post will be a bit different to my usual posts in that I won’t be seeking to put the world to rights or crying over the fact that I can’t.

The above quote is from the final episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation, and to me it’s one of the most powerful parts of the series.

The genius of Star Trek is that it is thought-provoking. Worf is the famous Klingon crew member, known for being hot-tempered and serious but brave and loyal to the end. Other Klingons in Star Trek talk the talk about honour and bravery, but in reality they plot and scheme against their enemies (both internal and external), using cloaking technology to render their ships invisible and only picking fights with the Federation when they have a numbers advantage. Worf, on the other hand, sincerely believes in his warrior code and walks the walk; for example, in the movie First Contact, when his ship, the Defiant, finds itself hopelessly outgunned against the Borg, he gives the command “perhaps today is a good day to die! Prepare for ramming speed!” Of course, Picard turns up with the Enterprise and saves the day before Worf’s kamikaze plan is put into action … but still, it’s the thought that counts.

We often hear or read about romantic “warrior creeds” that were never truly implemented. Bushido didn’t stop samurai from testing their swords out on peasants, and chivalry didn’t stop Edward III from carrying out bloody chevauchee raids against French civilians. But that’s not to say that these creeds have no value.

I’m an atheist, but I’ve often wished I had faith in some higher power or purpose to get me through tough times. It must be nice to think everything will be alright in the end as long as you trust that [insert deity here] has a plan for you. Then again… perhaps you can take solace in the values themselves.

My warrior creed is as follows:

* Respect all, fear none

* Always protect your loved ones

* Lead from the front

* Let your word be your bond

* Never betray a friend

* Judge people fairly

* Be honest and transparent in your dealings

* Stand your ground against bullies

* Strength within and without

* If you falter – and you will – own your mistake and apologise to the person you let down

Whatever happens, I did what was right and became the kind of man I wanted to be. I find that, if you hold fast and stay strong, people will look to you for leadership.


Solo Tango in Southern England

Occasionally, I google self-help articles on a variety of social topics.  Many of those articles come from Psychology Today.   The reason I do so is that I like to try and challenge my own views in areas where I often find myself conflicting with others, such as dating traditions.

One topic I’ve been googling lately is the concept of having an argumentative personality.  I decided to have a look at alternative viewpoints on this topic because I have been accused of being argumentative and I often feel like I fall out with people more frequently than others do.  On the one hand, I feel quite weary of conflict, but on the other hand I don’t want to be a doormat.

The expression “he/she started it” is often derided as a childish excuse for participating in an argument or fight with someone else.  “It takes two to tango” goes the retort, eyes a-rolling, the insinuation being that you were both willing participants and therefore both equally culpable irrespective of who first put the offer of a tango/argument on the table.

Many of the articles I’ve come across on the topic of managing conflict “Better(TM)” approach the issue from this standpoint.  According to these articles, the mark of an emotionally mature person is a willingness to adopt a policy of appeasement.  Perhaps it’s because there’s a limit to the advice some internet commentator can give you when they don’t know you and all the details about your situation, but they always seem to admonish you to focus on deescalation rather than resolution as standing your ground and pointing out why they’re wrong is “only going to make them more angry and defensive”. Sometimes they even suggest that you should apologise when you don’t really mean it for the sake of maintaining an amicable relationship with the other person; see this article, for instance, which advises on methods of doing this without feeling like you are being fake (even though you are).  The obvious impediment to adopting this approach is that you feel that you have been wronged and it’s not fair to let them off the hook, but then this feeling of injustice is downplayed on the basis that people ALWAYS think they’re right… right? “Yeah yeah, it’s ALWAYS everyone else’s fault…”

The mantra of “it takes two to tango” simplistically assumes that, because the tendency in arguments is for each party to blame the other, the parties are automatically just as bad as each other and there’s no need to consider it further.  But often, that’s not the case.   Sometimes, one person really is right.  Sometimes, one person really does have a legitimate grievance and you can find out who that person is if you conduct an investigation.  I hate to use another legal analogy, but in a court case, the judge will not simply say “it takes two to tango” and send the representatives of both parties to sit on the naughty step; evidence and logical arguments will be presented and the court will endeavour to find out what really happened and who (if anyone) really is to blame.  “It takes two to tango” is the comforting rationalisation and get-out clause of the overwhelmed parent or primary school teacher who just wants five minutes’ peace.  This is what we lawyers mean when we use the expression “they want to have their day in court”; they want to feel like someone has really listened to and considered their side of the story.  Without getting that from authority figures, people feel resentful and may be more tempted to take dispute resolution into their own hands.

In short, placing the onus on the truly injured party to let their legitimate grievances go enables the perpetrator to get away scot-free by unfairly taking advantage of your reluctance to harm the relationship or to cause a scene.  Neville Chamberlain allowed this to happen when he permitted Nazi Germany to annex the Sudetenland for the sake of avoiding war, and as Churchill famously quipped, “You were given the choice between war and dishonour.  You chose dishonour, and you will have war.

If I believe that someone has mistreated me then I am entitled to point that out.  Likewise, if someone accuses me of some form of wrongdoing, I am entitled to challenge their views and to defend myself using facts and logical arguments whether they like it or not.  If they lack the emotional maturity to argue using logic rather than defensive hissy fits then that’s their problem.  It doesn’t always take two to tango.  Sometimes, they really did start it.

A final point I’d like to address is one that often comes up late in discussions on this topic.  “Well, no-one is perfect, you have your own challenging qualities, maybe don’t be so hard on people who wrong you.”  It’s true that no-one is perfect, but not all misbehaviour is equally bad.  I don’t need to forgive mass murder because I once dropped a coke can on the floor.

Roses really smell like poo

Have you ever noticed people asking “how are you?” when they’re not really interested?

Have you ever deleted a friend from Facebook after they let you down, re-added them when they kicked up a fuss, only to be let down again?

Have you ever been dumped by someone who claimed they still wanted to be friends only to find that they never spent any time with you?

I’ve done a lot of thinking recently about… well, the things I often dwell on.  I often drive myself mad; if she went out with me in the first place then looks can’t be the problem, and if my personality is good enough for us to be friends then why is she dumping me at all? But I feel like I’m getting a bit closer to the root of the problem.

When people express a caring or friendly attitude towards you they don’t necessarily mean what they say.  A lot of the time, it’s not about you; it’s about them and their social desirability bias.  They don’t genuinely care about you; they just want to preserve their self-image as a nice person.  So they say the kinds of things that they believe a nice person would say in that situation.  They want your validation, and they will even beg and plead for it, but once they have it… they’re gone.

Actions speak louder than words.  People who really want to be your friend will make an effort.

People who are less cynical than me sometimes retort that these people just don’t want to hurt your feelings by being blunt.  It’s a white lie, apparently.  But what’s the point of that?  If you actually like them and care about their feelings then why don’t you want to make a genuine effort with them?  And if you don’t really like them or care about them then why sugar coat it?

I think the answer is simple.  People are not always as nice as they would like to think they are, and – as my sister astutely points out – they’re not always very self-aware.  It may be that the real reason they don’t want to make an effort with the other person anymore reveals something about their own character that they would rather not acknowledge – e.g. that their boyfriend’s low income really does bother them, or that listening to their depressed friend talk about their woes really is draining.  This creates a crisis of conscience because they don’t want to think of themselves as cruel or uncaring.  So they spout platitudes, concoct a narrative that makes them sound like the good guy and cling to it for dear life.  They may even end up believing it themselves. It’s the done thing.

It’s a bit of a cynical conclusion, but there is an upside to all of this.  I need tear no more hair out over why people say X and then do Y.  From now on I will focus my efforts on people who walk the walk and discard the rest.


The Promised Land

I previously wrote a post about how it seems, to me, that we are arbitrary about demarcating those areas in which we will demand respect for our/others’ feelings and those areas in which we expect logic and consistency from people.

Another inconsistency I have noted is the distinction between the ways in which we assess the suitability of a potential romantic partner when we are advising a friend and when we are dating someone ourselves.

For example, if someone dumps you and you are upset about it, supportive friends will often query the logical reason behind the dumping, act perplexed at the reason (or lack of reason) given and tell you that you clearly deserve better than someone who would treat you in that arbitrary way.   They will also talk to you about how objectively great you are and how you therefore deserve a good partner.

But, when it comes down to it, people simply don’t employ this reasoning when it comes to managing their own love lives.  The factors that influence the decisions they make are subjective in the extreme.  And if you challenge their decisions, they will say you have to just accept them as they are because that’s just how they feel and if you don’t like it then you should find someone who thinks the way you do.

Sometimes, people will even act like they are completely fine and happy with X from the outset but then cite it later as a reason for dumping you.  Within a matter of weeks, “I don’t mind what we do as long as I get to see you” morphs into “I’m not happy because we don’t go out often enough”, and the emotional baggage from their last relationship/perceived lack of common interests/extraneous life pressure that didn’t put them off at the beginning of the relationship morphs into a deal breaker.  No amount of beating them over the head with the inconsistency of their behaviour can change their mind; and, like a politician trying to implement Brexit after having campaigned against it, the genie is out of the bottle and they just don’t know what to say.  So, while the above inconsistency could perhaps be attributed to personality differences between individuals, this is clearly a paradox.  In fact, liberal though I am, I will say one thing for conservative girls: at least they make what they want clear and take logical steps to achieve it.

One explanation for this is cognitive dissonance brought on by social desirability bias – essentially, we are not as nice as we would like to think (and we would like others to think) we are, so we claim to want A when we really want B, or we look at these issues more objectively when we are backseat drivers.  Another is that people sometimes get carried away in the heat of the moment and don’t pause to think about the potential difficulties, then freak out when reality finally sinks in.

Tonight, I went against my better judgement and pressed my recent ex for an explanation as to why we broke up.  To cut an already long story slightly shorter, what it boiled down to was that she just didn’t like me texting people when she wasn’t around.  She steadfastly refused to give a reason as to why this was a problem, admonished me to simply accept it and asserted that I should have compromised with her.  I retorted that I shouldn’t have to compromise if I am doing nothing wrong.  I then asked her how she would react if her partner told her to stop talking to her mum without giving a reason; shockingly, she actually said that she would consider doing this if she loved that person enough.  My jaw dropped.

One lesson I have learned from all of this is that… *gulp*… maybe the people who advised me to take things slowly were right.  Asking someone out while they have the butterflies is almost like asking them out when they are intoxicated.  Sadly, you can’t assume that you’re over the line just because they were always aware of potential problem X and they agreed to go out with you anyway.  If you want someone to date you because they genuinely want to, and not because you made them feel guilty by holding them to what they said initially, then you need to know what their stance on X will be in the cold light of day, or when they have to put their money where their mouth is regarding what they previously said they were OK with.  There is no screening process for this, so you are stuck with taking dating slowly to see their true colours.

* * *

As much as I like to vent and to navel-gaze on this blog, I do like to consider the practical implications where I can to try and improve my happiness and stop feeling down so frequently.

There is a wider issue with my life at the moment in that I still haven’t got it all together.  Since I left law school with an underwhelming BVC grade I have been moving around the country chasing better and better experience and qualifications in order to slowly but surely get my legal career back on track.  I’ve sacrificed life savings, driving lessons and my social life on the altar of my career needs.  I’m also saddled with student debt from law school – I pay £487 per month, which is like paying my rent again.

However, that plan is – at long last – starting to come together for me.  In 2010 I was a washed-up BVC grad collecting JSA and thinking my legal career was dead in the water.  Then I worked in a coffee shop so I could at least get a bit of pocket money while I considered other career options.  Then I was taken on as a freelance County Court Advocate, though I still couldn’t get pupillage interviews and there was a question mark over how much further I could take it.  Then I got experience of more advanced litigation and advocacy (including winning a fully-fledged trial).  Then I got qualified as a Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer.  Then I moved to start working at a top law firm in this sector.  Now I stand on the cusp of applying for a higher CILEx qualification with a reference from a top QC in support, and if I get this then I could even apply for a pupillage exemption and finally realise my dream of becoming a barrister.  I will also get rid of my BVC debt in 21 months, which will be up before I know it as long as I hold fast.

In short, on 9 August 2019, when that last career development loan repayment leaves my account, the world will be my oyster.  I won’t have to make any more drastic sacrifices in my personal life for the sake of establishing myself as lawyer (obviously I will still have to work hard etc. but I mean I won’t have to keep uprooting myself and moving around the country).  I will finally have the funds to learn to drive and to start saving properly.  It will happen much later than I planned, but it will happen and I can see it.

Obviously, this is all great in and of itself.  But it also has implications for my love life.  I will be able to think about returning to Essex and rejoining my family and my friends who have been so amazing over the years.  So my social life will return to me and so will my happiness and lust for life.  I will have more disposable income and I will be able to drive, so I will have far greater independence.  These factors will make it far easier to meet someone for a serious relationship, and many of the points that currently drive me mad about the dating scene will become moot.  So perhaps I can afford to take it easy on the dating front until that point.


Credit where it’s due

About ten years ago, when I was less confident in myself, I dabbled in the online world of “Pickup Artists” (“PUAs”) to try and improve my dating prospects.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the movement as some people accuse them of being misogynist and/or exploiting vulnerable women with their head games.  Personally, I find it hard to object to the morality of their approach because what people want is not always what they say they want or what others say they should want – so if a “bad boy” stereotype is what turns them on then so be it.

My beef with the PUA philosophy is that I don’t want to have to play head games and/or compromise on my principles in order to keep someone interested.  If all you want is sex then I suppose it doesn’t matter, but if you want a fulfilling relationship then it will give you a headache.

Having said all of that, there is one piece of PUA advice which really should be taught to absolutely everyone who goes on a date ever:


In your love life, you will come across people with weird attitudes towards relationships that are completely impervious to reason.  They might be adamant that the man should initiate everything, take the lead on everything and pay for everything because tradition and masculinity whilst still maintaining that they are feminists because smash patriarchal gender norms.  They might say they are not ready for a committed relationship because blah blah blah and then go out with someone else five minutes later even though blah blah blah still applies.  They might demonise you for daring to ask them out even though you are friends and that’s a betrayal/they are in the club and they just want to dance/you work together and it’s not professional… and then go out with someone else who was friends with them first/met them in a club/works with them.  You may suspect that their excuses are bullshit and that the real reason is something that would make them sound less noble.  At the end of the day, if they don’t want to go out with you then they don’t want to go out with you and they won’t change their mind.  Don’t flog a dead horse.

I’ve reminded myself of this fundamental law of dating recently.  In fact, I would call it THE Fundamental Law of Dating.

So I’ll give the PUAs credit where it’s due.


Pfft… whatever!

I had a kind of epiphany yesterday.

Sometimes, when I instruct barristers as part of my job, they will critique some aspect of my work in a very rude way (and often when they are wrong in law anyway).  I also have some cliquey colleagues who are needlessly hard on the social errors of others, e.g. snapping at you for interrupting their conversation even if you didn’t realise they were talking.  Instances of both happened on Friday.

What topped it off for me was the following: I overheard that my colleague, a PA, was stressing out because one of the partners had asked her for some lecture slides on committal applications.  I let her know that, while I didn’t have slides, I did have a word handout from a talk I had given on it before, if that was any good.  She forwarded that to the partner, explaining that it was from me.  He thanked HER and then later asked me if I had “had any luck” finding an example of a committal application he could use (he had never actually asked me).

There are some points you reach where you’ve just got to laugh.  A sense of humour is sometimes the only way you can keep yourself sane.  It also provides that cathartic Holy Grail of being able to let go of legitimate anger without feeling like you have been left without vindication.  You just have to think “pfft… whatever man” and then go to the pub.

I often hear my aforementioned colleagues complaining that they are hard done by, e.g. because they have to work over their contracted hours in order to meet billing targets or because they have to respond to a client to keep them happy at an inconvenient moment.  I sympathise with both of these points… but I also see it from the management’s perspective.  They are under pressure themselves to keep the clients happy.  If you’re not prepared to drop everything to help solve their problem, or to work late to make sure they get their application into court the next day, the client will find a firm who will and they won’t come back.  That’s the commercial reality that never really goes away.  And ultimately, if you’ll excuse the management-speak cliche, you have to be your own brand – if you want promotions, if you want more responsibility, if you want bonuses, you need to think of yourself as a self-contained business, whatever your working arrangements may be on paper.  My rule of thumb is that I don’t mind giving 110% for my boss or my colleagues as long as I know we are genuinely on the same side; that’s how teams achieve great results.  And if you think you’re entitled to a bonus without doing extra work (which is one complaint I heard from them) then you’re barking mad.

Dare I say… perhaps they could take a leaf out of my book here.  Perhaps they could learn to laugh off the things that annoy them.


Is too much logic a bad thing?

NOTE: this was supposed to be my first post on this blog and for some reason I never got round to clicking “publish”.  It doesn’t necessarily reflect my current point of view.

For my first post, I felt I would comment on something that I have been wrangling with recently.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s earlier this year.  However, I have always felt that there was something “different” about how I saw the world.

In Star Trek, the Vulcan race (in particular, the famous Spock character) was introduced in order to provide a purely logical outsider’s perspective on human customs.  Aspies like myself often describe feeling this way, hence the well-known autism website wrongplanet.net.

The point is that we are often told that we lack social skills, which is attributed to a purported lack of empathy.  However, I really don’t think it’s that simple.  The way I see it, the social skills and customs with which we are expected to familiarise ourselves mainly fall into two categories, one of which is reasonable, and one of which plainly isn’t.

The first category is what we might call basic human decency, at least at a simple level, and we are right to be proactive in improving our skills in this area.  For example:

  • Don’t perform unhygienic acts, like picking your nose or farting, when people are trying to eat.
  • Don’t ramble on ad nauseum about topics that people aren’t interested in.  You should make them feel included in the conversation.  Apparently monologues are a common problem for aspies (maybe this blog is just my way of getting that out of my system!)
  • Try to be organised (many aspies have problems with executive functioning) because other people may be relying on you, and they would be upset if you let them down.

This first category is something I can get my head around and strive to improve upon.  While I do find it difficult at times, I have made great strides over the last ten years or so.  I can see the logic behind them.  They are rooted in the concept of consideration for others, even if only at a very basic level.  I am fortunate enough to have a large group of good friends, and I think the general consensus among them is that my heart is usually in the right place, even if I occasionally lack polish.

However, the second category really bugs me.  This is where people expect you to go along with certain customs just for the sake of it, no matter how unreasonable they are.  It seems to me that it is nothing more than arrogance, closed-mindedness and stupidity cloaked in the euphemistic label of “social skills” in order to make you feel like you are the one with the problem.

For example, when it comes to “rambling on” about topics that others are not interested in as per the list above, many people seem to think it is more socially acceptable to do this if you have “cool” hobbies and interests, such as football, whereas “geeky” interests are “obsessions” that should be reined in.

Another example is dating.  It is an absolute minefield of social conventions and trip hazards that defy our alien logic.  Matthew Rozsa has written a great article about the issue here.  Building on what Mr Rozsa said, I would add that the only way these conventions begin to make sense is if you assume a priori that traditional gender roles – you know, the ones we are all supposed to denounce now – are valid.  Why else should the guy always make the first move, always take the lead in decision-making, or always pay for dates.  As it happens, I am a naturally decisive and assertive person anyway, but there have been occasions when I have missed the mark by failing to do something men are “supposed” to do, like pick up the tab for the meal.

Then there is the fact that “normal” people do all kinds of stupid crap and act like mindless sheep a lot of the time.  They stand around aimlessly at zebra crossings because they all assume that someone else will press the magic button to change the traffic lights so that they can cross.  They waste money on material possessions, not because they truly want those possessions for their intrinsic value, but because they want to keep up with the Joneses – even forgoing basic necessities of life in order to do so.  I remember reading in a book by Steven Pinker (one of my favourite authors) that, in crisis situations, most people don’t panic like they do in films – they basically stand around going “derpa derp” and assume that someone else will make a decision.  Really?  These are the people us aspies are supposed to emulate in the name of “improving our social skills”?  I’d rather be a bit of a freak, frankly.

I think the reason why these rituals are dubbed “social skills” by the elite is merely that they correspond with neurotypical thinkers’ emotional instincts – instincts that we do not have, or do not have to the same degree.  So neurotypicals instinctively “get” these things, even though we do not, and even though they cannot fully explain them using logic.

So perhaps, in a sense, being an aspy can be somewhat liberating.  You can also be an asset to others in society by being the child in the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes – your naivete is such that you are the only one with the balls to speak the plain truth, and some will thank you for it later.  Some, however, will not take so kindly to that.

So today’s question for discussion is this: is too much logic a bad thing?  Should we learn to just turn our brains off for the sake of an easy life?