With reference to Blink, answer the following question. Mind-reading failures lie at the root of countless arguments, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. Often, people make excuses for a sarcastic or hurtful remark as “just joking.” But if there is no clearcut line between deliberate and accidental do you agree, “There is always truth in jest?” Do you think when we misread others and get irritated we are in fact only recognizing something in that person that we don’t like about ourselves?
Although Gladwell includes this as one question in his reading guide for Blink, I believe that there are two separate questions here and the answers are not necessarily related to one another. I will answer each of the two questions in turn.
First, I do not believe that there is always truth in jest. I think that there often is truth involved in our “jokes” but I also think that we sometimes make jokes about people where the complete lack of truth is the basis of the joke. In many instances, we make “jokes” that really show our feelings about a person. We are, in essence, criticizing them but we disavow our criticism by saying that we are joking. I would argue that this happens more when we are younger or when we are tired or when we are otherwise less in control of our feelings. When we are more in control, we are more likely to filter our thoughts and to avoid insulting our friends.
While some of our jokes are “kidding on the square,” many of our jokes are not. We often make jokes that are based on the incongruity of what we say. We tend to feel safe about making such jokes because the person in question cannot possibly take the joke seriously. So, if we make fun of a smart person by calling them stupid or if we claim that an athletic person is clumsy, we are clearly not including truth in our jest. We may be subtly sending the message that we envy the other person for their good qualities, but we are certainly not trying to insult them.
With regard to the second question, I do believe that we often misread people because we project our own emotions and motivations on to them. In fact, psychologists list projection as a common defense mechanism that people use. In many cases, we are aware of our faults but we do not want to consciously acknowledge them. Because we are frustrated by our faults and because we want to feel good about ourselves, we project our faults on to other people. We misread them by seeing things that are present in us more than in them.
However, this is not the only source of misreading. I would argue that in cases like the Diallo case that Gladwell discusses in Chapter 6 of Blink, we can misread people because we hold conscious or unconscious expectations about the people and the situation in which we are interacting with them. We are not misreading them through projection; we are misreading them because we have already decided (whether knowingly or not) what we are going to see on their faces.