23
Sep
09

Counterfactual friendship

I have this theory…it’s not fully worked out and I think there’s a good chance that it, like all theories, is wrong, but let me lay it out.

I there are two main reasons people don’t like other people. The first is that they had an initial connection/friendship/attraction with the person, but found out that they were no good. This is the case of the cheating spouse, the disloyal friend. Then there is the case of the person you never really get to know, but sense that something about them is bad.

Usually I think this something is a lack of mutual respect. You don’t think this person would respect you, or you think that even though this person would respect you, you could never respect them. The mutuality I think is key. The one-sidedness or absence of respect is really behind most ill will we have toward others.

However, I think when we judge that someone won’t respect us, we judge implicitly from the circumstances we find ourselves. The unathletic kid who can’t play soccer assumes that the jock walking past him wont’ respect him. The skater boi assumes that the preppy kid going to his finance job on the subway won’t respect him. However, I think this is a mistake, and that we should often think about other circumstances that we might come across certain people. Could two people develop respect for each other if both had to survive in the wilderness, or if both were the target of a joke in poor taste, or if both worked at the same company, or if both had the same problems to deal with, or if they became rivals (I think many friendships form out of what starts as rivalry, both sides learn to appreciate the other’s tenacity for one thing)?

Often when I catch myself thinking that I could never get along with someone (which is more often than I would hope for) I imagine our circumstances being different. I imagine a counterfactual situation, and then I think it’s usually much easier for me to see how we could become allies, or in other words, to develop a mutual respect for each other.

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