Posted by: CJ | August 28, 2010

Oh, that’s just X being X…

One of my favorite posts from Scott Sumner’s The Money Illusion blog starts thusly

I think we all listen to our friends, relatives, and colleagues complain about their predicament, and then silently think, “Well what do they expect?  Their predicament perfectly reflects their character.”  If they are a lazy spendthrift, then they will go through life thinking that adverse circumstances are always denying them the money they need.  If they are envious, then their colleagues will be unfairly promoted ahead of them.  Etc, etc.

But when we think about ourselves, well then things are very different.  If only we could get out from under burden X, our life would be so much easier.  At least that’s the way I look at things, and I am pretty sure that others share this same sort of bias.  Indeed I recall reading about some psychological study that showed this bias is fairly common.

Prof. Sumner goes on to relate this to nations and economics. But I don’t want to go in that direction. Instead I’ve been asking myself how this passage applies to me. What situations do I commonly get myself in where I feel like life is conspiring against me while everyone around me thinks those situations are a reflection of who I am?

There are several situations I know of where this applies, and where I may or may not recognize it.

  • Don’t mind CJ feeling sorry for himself. He just does that because he’s not sure if he’s happy with his life, so he’ll err on the side of caution by assuming he must be unhappy.
  • Yes, CJ is doing something probably stupid that will likely end up hurting him, either physically, socially, or emotionally. But he doesn’t understand why or how it will hurt him yet, so he views it as a useful exercise given the potential new knowledge and long-term benefits compared against the risks. Unless you can explain to him why the risks are greater than the possible rewards, trying to talk him out of it is useless.
  • Yes, CJ is driving himself crazy by over-thinking things and dwelling on issues that he dislikes the resolution of.
  • Yes, CJ is (sometimes just barely) over-extending himself by not including into his scheduling how much down-time he’ll need for himself to sit around doing nothing. And yes, that is making every other issue in his life worse.
  • Yes, CJ is being too timid and letting various chances go as a result. And then wondering what happened and bemoaning the perceived loss.

I wonder what other situations people that know me would add to the above list.


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