Story-prep 1: Confidence Vampires

Damn. They always seem so innocent at first, don’t they? Playful, even. But we both know how insidious they can be, and how easily they can turn your world inside-out. It’s not a pretty sight, either. And there’s nowhere to hide. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, they’ll find you. Trust me. They will. They’re everywhere, and they can use just about anything for camouflage.

I got bit by this one a few days back, and it was most of a day before the itch set in. I poked at it a few times, and dug at it a bit, but I couldn’t get it out. It had left its mark, and the damn thing started to grow. Now I suppose I’m going to have to bend to its will, do what it wants. Sigh.

I don’t even recall where I was when the thought hit, only that I was somewhere on the Internet. Fortunately, I saved a link, so I could at least go back and track it back to its lair, a recent paper by Florida State University assistant professor of psychology Joyce Ehrlinger. According to the description I found, she posited that people become overconfident because social norms of politeness prevent others from giving negative social feedback.

So there it is. That’s what infected me. That’s the irritant that’s festering in my head. If it was just a song, I could displace it by remembering the Muppet version of “It’s a Small World, After All”. Yeah. And if I were a clam, I could make a pearl around it to stop the itching. But I’m not. No, this thing wants a stage to strut on. It wants me to wrap a story around it.

That’s how most of my stories have come to be. Now there’s this one. Okay, so what do we have? I generally begin by casting about to see what sticks to the idea. My first thought, not being a psychologist, was that this might be a way to understand how other overbearing personality types develop, and how power is ceded to bullies through politeness. So, what sort of story falls out of that?

It seems to me that there are lots of parallels to this in history. Appeasement comes easily to mind — the strategy of giving a national bully what it wants in the hope that it will be satisfied and leave you alone. I suspect that people’s reluctance to confront bullies comes from this politeness ethic. On the other side of things, there’s also the ‘don’t negotiate with terrorists’ meme, which carries the idea that by entering into a negotiation, you are accepting the behavior as normal.

In the context of commerce, a company can easily get overconfident of its power in the marketplace when it doesn’t encounter resistance to its activities. For example, some big company with a nasty reputation announces a product in a new area. Smaller companies already in that field head for the hills to protect themselves by refocusing their business to other areas rather than try to compete with the 800 pound gorilla. The new product may be crap, but the bigger company’s reputation precedes them, and other companies respond to their expectations rather than to the actual new product.

This is what the Democratic Party has done time and time again. When threatened with confrontation by a self-righteous religiously dogmatic Republican attack, they fold their tent and slip away rather than stand their ground.

In all of these cases, it feels like it’s a lack of self-confidence masquerading as politeness that drives the participant from engaging in confrontation. I gather that the researchers assert that this behavior pumps up the confidence of the unchallenged party. Metaphorically, it’s a transfer of confidence, as if by a confidence vampire.

So what sort of story does that suggest?

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[Note: You can read Story-prep 2, or the short story itself, “Crossing the Line“]

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