Saturday, March 14, 2009

A lament: How over-analysis killed subjectivity and gave way to undesirable objectivity

Heavy, huh?

Lately, I’ve found that my professional skill set is somehow permeating into the non-professional persona (loosely termed as the personal side) and wreaking havoc. This realization, of course, came through a series of over analytical studies on human behavior (I still qualify as one) and deconstructing thought processes behind every action.

They say you should keep your professional life and personal life at arm’s length. As always, they are right. I’ll explain you why.

Professionally I’m supposed to look for objective justification of everything that is happening or not happening. If I do not, I am taken apart at reviews which take place to do exactly that: take apart subjective reporting.

As an example (highly illustrative in nature), when I say that your cowshed is a bit too lenient on handing out fodder to the cows this month, I have to substantiate, and spice it up it by saying:

  • Your cows produced more milk last month as compared to current month
  • Your cows consumed less fodder last month as compared to current month
  • You did not set a benchmark to optimize production per unit consumption of fodder and did not monitor current month’s consumption/production against benchmark

(And a hell lot of other things. Thank God this one’s not being reviewed)

Then I list out the fallouts of this whole little fodder mix-up. There’s always the value add that says:

  • You should recover some costs by using the by-product in the process (cow-dung cake from cow dung) at some stage as a substitute to some other material (say for keeping the cows warm at night by burning the cow dung cake)

Then there’ll be always be graphs, pie-charts etc. which are supposed to provide immediate impact to the higher management who cannot sift through all the lowly detail heavy cow dung material. Quite literally.

So it goes. You take a fact, and you justify. You take a plump fact, make it go through a series of high definition sharp toothed crushers (analysis tools/methodology) and extract every single drop of juice. Then you present it to a third person to ensure that he CANNOT have a different point of view. No scope for subjectivity.

Fair enough. This or higher levels of objectivity are good to have at the workplace. As a benefit, they make it that much easier to figure out the possible reason behind the extra fodder:

  • Some ‘external’ cows (or whoever has a taste for fodder) have been feeding out of the cowshed
  • Short delivery by the supplier
  • Fodder scam! (human beings can have a taste for fodder too)
  • Generally, the cows have been more hungry and lazy

Enough fodder for thought?

Somehow this analysis-till-death approach has been embedded in my sub-consciousness too. This, as you can tell by now, is making my non-professional life very creepy.

This why-why-why-why-why methodology, which forms a basis of these analyses, is taking control of every thing that happens around me. Be it

  • something that someone says or does to me,
  • something that is being done by someone in general to anybody else,
  • something I have said or done (as is apparent)

And a whole lot of other things.

This is wrong, I know. When someone says something, he might not have performed this painful analysis of why he is saying it, or what effect does he want out of what he says. It is just a momentary action, sometimes undeserving of any serious thought. What happens with me these days is that I try and get to the bottom of the thought process that could have generated such a statement and end up psyching myself up with my self-drawn conclusions.

Things get more complicated when I hear the same event or statement from more than one different person. The situation could be as simple as this:

A: “I talked to that guy today”
B: “That guy talked to me today, he told me about his conversation with A”

Both A and B relate the incident to me, with their first person narrations and of course additional inputs. Normally when you narrate an incident in the first version, there is a bias that comes in the narration. The bias could be:

  • Glorifying (It was such an absolute revelation talking to him)
  • Justification (I normally wouldn’t talk to him, but he came in my way, so I said “Hi”. I couldn’t avoid it, you know)
  • Trivializing (Yeah we met today, so what else were we talking about?)

Since I already have a rough idea of the incident, with my point of view, I really find it hard to associate to and explain any one line of thought. Or the way it is presented to me as if to influence my original line of thought.

(Rashomon, in retrospect, is such a masterpiece of a movie)

I, like anyone else, am guilty of the same. However, admittedly I am not the same in front of different people, just cannot be. I may be talking happily about the latest Bollywood gossip (highly illustrative, again) to someone, while find it stupid in front of another person with whom I could be discussing Bergman’s works. Everyone has different faces in different situations and in front of different people, and none of them is definitive them.

That explains the points of view and narration bias. The bias comes in to maintain a consistency in front of the person who you are narrating the incident to. Say in the earlier example, if person A knows I hate the guy he talked to, he would use ‘justification’. If he knows I really admire that guy, he will resort to ‘glorifying’ and if he knows I don’t care, he’ll just ‘trivialize’. Of course, this wouldn’t happen all the time, but it does happen a lot of times.

I get judged similarly. Sometimes the faces you present in front of different people, situations overlap, and that is another problem. Person A knows me in a different context, person B knows me in an entirely different one. The problem arises when person A judges, from his opinion of me, about what I say or do to person B and person B does the same. This is an apparent inconsistency in behavior, and I fail to explain it somehow. Frame of reference is such a bloody brilliant concept.

There is no absolute me, or you. There are frames of references in which you and I exist as seen by different people and in different situations and they should not be viewed from any other frame of reference to avoid any complications. I am trying my absolute best to do this.

All this may seem nonsensical and stupid to you, but if you were me, you would know exactly what I mean and exactly how I feel. Sometimes you can psychoanalyze people and tell exactly what they think and mean, but there is no purpose in doing that.

Analyzing people is not a fucking game in which you score points whenever you predict something about someone. It does feel good at first, but it ends in fucking you up when you end up knowing things you never wanted to think about. Or what the other person never meant. Because sometimes, you tend to think you’re right about something, and relate everything that happens to your line of thought and build upon your case. Then this whole psycho game takes control of you before you know and you end up screwing yourself and everyone around you in the process.

Stop. There are far better things to do than think on someone else’s part. That’s what I tell myself every time a self-destructing line of thought crosses my mind.

Delusions, false justifications and untrue notions; I’ve seen that fucking up people’s mind bad. So bad to someone so close, that after almost a decade of providing support and re-assurances, I feel helpless and unsure about the future.

I pledge never to play this game anymore. Psychiatrists all over can take a sigh of relief (unless I end up visiting one).

Also now whenever I come across something like the following paragraph:

Hughes has been the standout performer after making twin centuries in Durban but North was also brilliant in compiling a hundred on debut at the Wanderers. Hilfenhaus has bowled superbly and deserved greater rewards, while other men to have joined the squad in the past few months, players like Andrew McDonald and Peter Siddle, have played key roles in the series win.

I'll stop asking questions like:

  • How do you measure 'stand out' performance of Hughes? Define 'stand out'.
  • How do you say North was brilliant? Define 'brilliant'.
  • Why do you say Hilfenhaus bowled brilliantly? Define 'brilliantly'.
  • What do you mean by 'key roles'? Substantiate 'key roles'.

Yes, I've become that pathetic.

Enough. I was never one to write such incomprehensible gibberish, but this is something I felt I had to do for my own future reference. Serenity now.

The cows are calling me back. Moo.


Anupam said...

How simple things can get complex...why do we have to go through these experiences? Why can't we just sitback and appreciate the performances of Hughes, North and others while having a glass of milk without worrying about how to substantiate the fodder consumption per litre of milk production? Give the poor cow and Nikhil a break :). Continue blogging yaar.

Anonymous said...

Tum sabko itni acchi tarah jaante ho to ye kyon nahi samjhe ki mai tumse pyaar karti hun???

Varun said...

ha ha value add....ey ne mental scars de diye hai tujhe......

KUF said...

I loved this post.

I am not in the same line of work as you but I find myself thinking this way at times.

Sometimes, one needs a break from one's own mind.