Wednesday, March 2, 2011

NT Planet: Wrong Way Corrigan

This week, we'll look at a way in which NTs can take a good thing too far.

In this Dilbert strip, Dogbert is asked for directions. After making a joke based on the way the driver worded his request, Dogbert gives a set of directions. As the driver leaves, Dogbert reveals that he actually has no idea how to get there, but he didn't want the driver to think Dogbert was a jerk.

In fact, a commenter says that's common practice in Thailand, and speculates that maybe one gives subtle signals that the directions one is giving are not real. Meanwhile, I've been told that happens sometimes in Mexico, too.

NTs have a commendable urge to do whatever's possible to avoid saying "No," or "I can't help you." That's good when it motivates one to make extra efforts to actually help someone. It's not so good, and in fact is hypocritical, when one can't (or won't) help them but pretends to do so...often making them worse off in the process.

If there are subtle signals that in effect say "I'm just being polite...ignore these directions and ask someone else" - that's nice...if everyone notices and recognizes them. Let's assume, at least for the sake of argument, that saying "Take these directions, left, right and then left..." plus subtle signals meaning "Ignore these, I don't know the way" feels better to the recipient than saying "I'm sorry, I wish I could help."

But pretty much by definition, subtle signals are not always noticed, let alone recognized. People waste time, gas (two nonrenewable resources) and air quality taking a false route and then getting back on track. They may suffer even more if, for example, they accidentally get into a bad part of town.

It's good to make others feel good, especially if you can follow your own words and actually help someone. If you really can't assist them, the ethical thing to do is to be honest about it, and to whatever extent possible point them to better sources of help.

Meanwhile, you might recall I appeared recently on Neil Haley's Total Education Show - check out the podcast any time.

Next up, tomorrow evening I'm speaking at The Auburn School in Silver Spring, Maryland! It's free and open to the community - if you want to attend, please pre-register as soon as you can.

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