navigating a world which feels like gravity is working in reverse

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Lesson: You are not on the Star Trek Enterprise

I love Star Trek.  It seems like every episode there is some kind of crisis and the captain and crew have to use logic and ingenuity to solve it.  There are even Vulcans on the original and Voyager who are super logical and whose logic is valued and often acted upon by the captain and crew.  Of course there is a chain of command but it is generally a meritocracy where the people with the best ideas get their ideas acted upon.

Real life is not like the Star Trek Enterprise at all.  The biggest thing you have to take into account are people’s often fragile egos.  When given a task they may say their goal is to get it done in the most logical and efficient manner but generally the route to this getting done cannot damage their ego in the process.  If the best route involves the ego being damaged, the second-best route will be taken.  This is a hard concept to explain, even neurotypicals are left in the dark on what will trigger a threat to someone’s ego because the factors vary from person to person.  I will try to give a couple of examples.

You are doing a group project for a college class where you have to present a poster collage on geological processes.  You were the one responsible for creating the diagrams and—thanks to your talent in Illustrator—whipped up some great content.  You emailed high resolution versions of the diagrams to the group leader who was going to put together the presentation.  On the last night of the project after seeing the final put-together draft you notice that the printed out diagrams are blurry and have JPEG artifacts on them.  Apparently the leader must have scaled them down prematurely.  Now you are left in a quandary.  Do you confront the group leader about it and tell him to redo the diagrams or do you stay quiet.  The former will inconvenience him and (more importantly) hurt his ego.  When you confront him about this his mind doesn’t say, “boy I’m glad you caught the error, I want the best possible finished product”, it more likely says, “This nerd is judging my poor performance with computer graphics programs.  If I redo the project it will not only take a couple hours of my time but it will show that he is smarter than me and that makes me uncomfortable”.

Another example: you are working at a hospital doing Information Technology, integrating the new digital medical records into the hospital’s workflow.  One of the doctors is having trouble with the system.  He frequents the floor you do most of your work on and you often see him trying to do things that you could easily help him with.  You have offered him help multiple times but every time he has declined.  What’s going on here?  What you have to understand here society is very stratified—there is definitely a chain of command though it’s not explicitly denoted like in Star Trek.  The doctor is on a completely different (and much higher) social plane than you.  Accepting your help might be the most logical thing he could do to better himself but in his mind it would be deferring to someone on a much lower plane than him.  In Star Trek the most logical solution would bubble up the chain of command anyway but in real life it usually doesn’t work that way.