On Not Explaining Yourself. Ever.

Today's post offers thoughts I've gathered over the past several years on why it's never worth it to explain yourself.

I'll start with a premise. When asking you for an explanation, the vast majority of people are not seeking to learn, they are seeking to argue.

While that statement isn't always true, it's true a lot more than I'd like it to be. So, with my typical window-licking slowness, I have finally learned to tread carefully when asked questions like:

Why do you live in a small home?
Why do you drive an old car?
Why do you (or don't you) eat X? (meat, grains, carbs, lentils!, etc.)
Why do you practice X? (Stoicism, frugality, anticonsumerism, etc.)
Why in the world would you do intermittent fasting?

...and so on, just smile, nod, and deflect the question. Don't explain yourself.

I'm not quite saying you should never, ever, ever explain yourself when asked. What I am saying is, before explaining, it's worth it to assess:

* Is the person merely affecting to be curious, while not being genuinely curious at all?

* Is the questioner engaging in Sealioning: asking for citations, studies, and evidence (e.g: "Where are the evidence-based scientific studies supporting intermittent fasting? Links?") when no amount citations or evidence will actually convince them?

* Is the person asking questions as a device to then tell you exactly why you're wrong?

* Is the person unable to comprehend your discussion of the domain because you practice it at an extremely advanced level? Imagine if a consumerist person who's never tried to save money came into contact with the concept of extreme savings (savings rates of 50%, 75% or higher). They'd view the idea as impossible, ludicrous even. Likewise, a person who "knows" they need to eat every 2-3 hours would consider a discussion of intermittent fasting to be insane, unworthy of comprehension. When a subject domain doesn't exist in someone's Overton Window [1] you ruin their chances of ever learning about it by explaining too much too soon. Their minds cannot (yet) make the leap.

Worst of all: in each these instances, any sincere effort to explain and answer questions merely increases your doubt in yourself about something you've already decided is important to you! Again: smile, nod... and deflect the question.

Remember the saying Never complain, never explain. And this goes double for all online discussions: If you're explaining online, you're losing. You're wasting pixels (and undoubtedly failing to convince a random person online who was never likely to be convinced in the first place) when instead you should just get back to doing the very things that make you successful.

You have no obligation or responsibility to explain your pursuits to others. None.

READ NEXT: Running Towards Humps
AND: Why Can't I Find People Who Share My Values on Anti-Consumerism and Frugality?

Warning: Do not read this footnote unless you are a geek:
[1] The Overton Window concept is helpful in understanding societal changes in all sorts of domains: historical, social, political, cultural, military, and more. In geopolitics or history, examples of "outside-the-Overton Window" situations might be things like the idea of being against the Vietnam War in, say, 1963, or wanting to go to war against the Nazis in 1936 during the peak of the appeasement era. These ideas, at those times, were too radical for people to handle.

A cultural example of an Overton Window might be something like having an openly gay character in a TV show or movie in the late 1950s, something which (again, at that time) was well beyond our culture's ability to accept. In other words, when something is outside of a people's Overton Window, it simply doesn't exist as an element of open public discourse.

Note also that Overton Windows don't care about ethics or morality, they just are where they are. In 1936, an appeasement strategy with Nazi Germany was entirely inside our cultural Overton Window, even though in retrospect this consensus opinion turned out to be horrifically, tragically wrong. And today, sadly, our collective Overton Window includes wide acceptance of lamentable practices like Twitter mobs doxxing and threatening high school students based on a snap interpretation of a partial video clip.

It's fascinating to think about how our culture changes over time, how we collectively grow to accept or reject certain cultural norms, and what drives these changing norms. What's even more useful and interesting, however, is to think about where our collective Overton Window is going to move next.

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1 comment:

Judy Belcher said...

#1 - I'll remember this during pontification time at the barn (ha, ha!)
#2 - one exception - when the person asking has been living under a rock and just peeked out to ask the question, with earnest desire to want to know.

See you soon!