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Positive Interpretations

Finding positive interpretations is a critical part of being optimistic. In our relationships with friends and family, positive interpretations are nearly always true because the people close to us don't want to do bad things to us, or at all. Misunderstandings and miscommunication are common occurrences, so it's wise not to jump to negative conclusions just because something seems bad.

Positive interpretations can be self-fulfilling prophecies, just as negative interpretations can be. Suppose someone asks a question, and he could mean a stupid question, or an interesting one. If we answer the interesting one, it may lead him to be interested in that and see the issue in the proper way, even if he didn't already. And we will be saying something more interesting and therefore better. Assuming the person means the stupid question, or even asking if he does, shows we think he is or may be stupid, and encourages him to see himself that way.

Positive interpretations help make life safer. For example, a child in need of advice, and partially confused about a moral issue, will want to be able to ask his parent questions and make mistakes about that issue without his parent deciding he is wicked. Rather, the parent should stick to the positive interpretation that the child is learning, and is not bad, and will be fine, and wants to be good. And most of the things the child says that seem bad won't be. Some will be glossing over an issue while focussing on a different one. Some will be harmless confusion about an unrelated topic. Some the child will be right about. Some, while the content is bad, won't indicate any defect in the child himself who's just curious about a bad thing.

Another issue is that being wrong about positive interpretations is less costly than being wrong about negative interpretations. That is why criminals only go to jail if there is no reasonable doubt: if there is any reasonable positive interpretation of events in which the man is not guilty, the risk of making a tragic mistake is too high. Similarly, to treat someone too well is nothing to be ashamed of, and no great harm will come of it. But to treat someone, especially your friend or child, too badly is a mistake you will regret.

Elliot Temple on January 4, 2006

Comments (6)

this theory seems to work on a lot of assumptions. Perhaps interpreting a question to be stupid from a friend will be taken as humerous, and it does not eliminate the reinterating of the question as inteligent question. Perhaps by berating a child for asking a bad question, you can then go on to teach the child how to form questions corretly, or that some questions may cause them loss of face in a common social setting. AS strange as it may sound, negativity isn't always a bad thing: rather, we should recognize that we should not focus one only one or the other, to go back when things have been interpreted to follow though on other possible interpretations, and to acompany negative interpretations with explaination

Sitraahra at 3:20 AM on January 28, 2006 | #59
Being mistaken is not a bad or negative thing. So while one should try to gloss over minor misunderstandings to properly understand someone's main point, there is nothing to be gained by hiding criticism. Being mistaken is expected. Being corrected in those cases can and should be fun. The person will be happy you noticed the mistake.

Elliot at 3:39 AM on January 28, 2006 | #60
I think thinking that people like to have msitakes, minor or large, pointed out to them, sounds a bit off. In fact, unless the person is extremly detached from the subject, I find it a rare event for anyone to act at all postivly when confronted with a mistake. mostly neutrally at best. Rather, I see plenty of people hold on to mistakes or flawed opinions however briefully, defending them reactionarily, where if they had been presented with the same encounter as something that happened to someone else, would instantly pick out the ridiculousness of the position. Have you noticed in your logical musings, you sometimes leave out the emotional/psychologicala aspects? while sometimes illogical, they play a great force in peoples reactions.

Sitraahra at 11:24 PM on January 28, 2006 | #61
I believe enjoying error correction is possible and desirable. I'm well aware a lot of people don't like it. That is memes at work, and I do consider those. I frequently don't mention them because the right answer to how to live is more interesting than the wrong answer.

Elliot at 11:42 PM on January 28, 2006 | #62
You say error correction is possible: is that a refutation of my proposing that at least some static memes are so subliminal as to be unchangeable, or does it refer to dynamic memes?

Now I have a thought: might some memes with bad effects be neccesarily basic for the communal understanding of humanity? more clearly, maybe some memes are part of what makes us human and able to connect to each other. Some, ina ddition to this, may also cause some negative effect: anger, for example, or like genetic traits which get passed on because they only cause problems late in life when one has already passed genes on.
If this is so, might the removal, or even atempted removal, cause more of a problem?

Lastly, you say that "right answer to how to live is more interesting than the wrong answer."...is this not simply your memes telling you that 1) there is, in fact a right answer, 2) such answers are interesting, and 3) interesting things are good? But, in proper evolutionary fashion, these memes are those able to be passed on, not neccesarily those that are good [or might these be dynamic ones, which may even have come into beign recently and have not yet had time to flourish or diminish?] Evolution, after all, favors variety, so whether these are good or bad memes remains to be seen, if judgeable at all

Sitraahra at 12:58 AM on January 29, 2006 | #63
Subliminal means hard to change, not impossible. All our theories that manifest and have effects on our lives can be poked. They react to things. (For example, people get angry in response to events). Figuring out what to do to get the desired reactions may be tricky, but there's no reason to think it's impossible.

Nothing you say about memes being basic to humanity would, if true, make sufficiently gradual changes dangerous. And I don't recommend abrupt change.

Elliot at 1:19 AM on January 29, 2006 | #64

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)