It was great having you guys over for dinner last weekend. With both of you living away, one in the uni hostel and the other still serving the army in-camp, it’s always a treat to have you back.
Livens up our otherwise quiet house.
We covered so much ground over dinner that in the end, I forgot to resume our conversation about toxic people. But anyway, it was kinda decided that this would be an email series, so let’s continue from where I left off in my last email ok?
#2 The “Perfect” People
You’ll recall (I hope) that I kicked things off last time with the worst kinds of toxic people – the hypocrites. They’re the ones to really beware of, and to steer clear. They have a knack for saying one thing and doing something else.
In short, nasty.
The second group that I want to offer up to you here are what I call the “Perfect” People. They come a close second, and in many ways they are like another version of the hypocrites.
[Just to be clear, I’m not talking about perfectionists. Y’know, the ones who insist every time that you had better cross every single ‘T’, and dot every single ‘i’. The ones who are irritatingly meticulous in everything they do, until they drive people around them mad! Certainly they can be annoying to a degree, but not enough to be branded toxic.]
Oh wait a minute you exclaim: “There’s no such thing as perfect people Dad!”
True, I don’t disagree.
Yet even though nobody’s perfect as you rightly pointed out, there are those who, for all intents and purposes, sure put up a good case for it! This makes the “Perfect” People definitely toxic, because they never seem to have any flaws that others can detect.
You will find such people projecting an air of confidence, power and presentability every single time you encounter them. On the outside, they’re likely to be well-groomed and picture perfect, like a super model or a rich and powerful tycoon. They have the right pedigree too. They live in the right neighbourhood, went to all the right schools, and performed at the top of their game in everything; it’s almost like they have the Midas Touch.
Even their flaws bring out their perfection all the more!
And yes, they never have a bad hair day!
So needless to say, you wish you could go ruffle up their hairdos now and then, just to bring them a tad bit closer to the rest of us ordinary folks!
The Pratfall Effect
Now I recently read about something called the “Pratfall Effect” which speaks to the point I just made.
A Harvard psychologist by the name of Elliot Aronson did an experiment in 1966 where he had a bunch of people listen to different audio recordings of someone answering a quiz. The recordings included sounds of the quiz participant knocking over a coffee cup (a “pratfall”) and making a mess.
At the end of the experiment, the listeners had to decide which recording they liked more. Turns out, it was the one where coffee was spilled. Exposing a flaw and making oneself vulnerable actually draws people rather than repels.
It’s got to do with relatability, being ‘human’, and what you boys often like to tell me to do: “Keep it real, dad!”
Now just to qualify, this effect works better if the perpetrator is someone well-known to the audience and who has, for most parts, showed competence and ability. So the likes of your Barack Obamas, Charlie Chaplins and Mr Beans would fit the bill.
But here’s the rub boys, mere mortals like you and me don’t get to identify ourselves with the Pratfall Effect’s likability outcome I’m afraid.
So how is ‘Perfect’ toxic you ask?
Ok ok I hear you. You’re asking me so what if these people exist? Why label them toxic? Seems a bit extreme right?
Well it isn’t. And here are two reasons why:
1. They make you feel…well…imperfect.
Perfect people will make you feel less assured, less able to believe in yourself when it matters. When you’re around perfect people, you will always be made to feel smaller, clumsier and less well put-together.
You’ll feel like Mr Humpty Dumpty, who fell and couldn’t be restored to his original form by all the king’s horses and men.
Doesn’t that just suck? To be around someone who will only remind you of your failings each time? Who can drain the life force out of even the bravest of souls?!
2. They can’t relate when you don’t make the grade.
It bears mentioning that perfect people not only can’t relate to those of us who may find ourselves regularly tripping. They may even cast disparaging remarks or a scathing eye at your lack of ‘perfection’.
To them, failure’s never an option. So if you can’t make the cut, it means you don’t deserve to be around, so best to shove off!
Like the Divergents and Factionless in author Veronica Anne Roth’s Divergent trilogy, you will be made to feel like you don’t have a place in the bigger scheme of things, and you’re the pimple on an otherwise flawless complexion that must be removed.
In other words, you just don’t belong.
Can’t we just ignore them?
Sure, you might argue, if I am self-assured and confident about myself and who I am, then why would perfect people bother me?
Here’s the thing. If you are around them sporadically, then yeah sure it’s no problem.
However, the problem comes when you spend too much time with them. Spending too much time around perfect people will only show up the ‘gap’ between them and you, even though in truth the gap is immaterial, even non-existent in some cases.
In time, their perfect selves will generate in you self-doubt and a loss of confidence and autonomy. You will always be measuring your performance against theirs, and the shortfall will over time build in you a sense of frustration. It may even turn you paranoid!
The working world is replete with ideas of how to be like these perfect people because many (especially in the marketplace) have already been brainwashed into aspiring for these perfect qualities as they pursue material wealth and status.
And that’s a wrap
So bottomline boys: forget the perfect. Take the pimple, the smudge, the limp any day. These have more to teach us, and we have much to learn from them.
Ok, enough for now. I need to drive your mom to the supermarket for groceries. She wants to cook your favourite dish when you guys come visit this weekend, so you’re going to be in for a treat! (Oops, don’t tell her I let the cat out of the bag!).
Next email I’ll talk about the third group of toxic people. I call them the Chronic Problem-solvers, and they’re like a close cousin of the Perfect People.
Ok, gotta run.
Luv ya lots!
(PS after your vehement protests, you will notice I no longer call you “My dear “Ku-Ju-Chi-fu-fees” anymore at the start of my email. But in my heart, you know you’ll always be right? Just like I’ll always be your Daddy Doofus! *wink*)