Epiphany: you can learn what to expect from people by finding out what they expect from people.


Everyone models other people as anomalous versions of themselves.

I once walked from the tower by the river where I used to work to get sushi with Brad, the guy who sat in the cube across from me picking his nose all day instead of writing software.

We passed a craggy-faced man who smelled like a rancid orange soaked in engine grease. He tried to start the conversation that normally goes: Hi guys, beautiful weather, how are you? Say, I love Jesus, and my puppy has leukemia, and by the way I need bus fare to get to Kuala Lumpur, so could you spare $20?

You know the kind.

But Brad stopped him with a clever zinger: “Hey, quit bugging us, and get a job lazy ass.”

He chortled and nudged me with his elbow I guess to underline how clever he had been.

“You’re an asshole,” I said. The sushi was good though, I had the deep fried kind that it would only occur to an american to eat.

Brad’s thought process went something like this: I, Brad, am a smart and virtuous person who works hard and contributes to society. In order to end up in the situation that rancid guy is in, I’d have to be profoundly lazy. Therefore, that man’s situation can be explained by him being lazy.

To Brad, the homeless man is nothing more than Brad + lazy. Himself + an anomaly.


Susie was the kind of girl who draws a guy in because of, not in spite of, the mental turmoil boiling beneath the surface of an earnest smile and batting eyelashes. Issues do nothing for me, but Dan was powerless against her wiles.

“I didn’t think you’d show up,” was one of the first things Susie said to Dan on their first date. They had spoken on the phone, gotten along, planned a date, confirmed the date, and he showed up at her place at the right time for the date, and that’s what she said to him.

Apparently a big fan of the color red, he galloped through a field of flags, and each time he and Susie would reach a new and higher milestone in their time together, it would be marked by the same thought.

I didn’t think you’d see me again.
I didn’t think you’d support me through my emotional time.
I didn’t think you’d propose to me.
I didn’t think you’d marry me.

I didn’t understand why Susie didn’t believe Dan would follow through on the things he said. Dan was a pretty stand up guy, and he’d never given Susie any reason to think otherwise.

But of course,** the things people believe about and expect from others have very little to do with the others, and a whole lot to do with themselves**.

Susie was always there for Dan. Unless she was busy.
Susie was always thoughtful toward Dan. Unless she was distracted.
Susie always showed up for planned events with friends. Unless she didn’t want to.
Susie stayed with Dan no matter what. Until she left him.

Dan was a wreck for a long time after that. He’d expected Susie to be true to her word because Dan is a guy who says what he means. Guys who say what they mean expect that others mean what they say as well.

Susie expected Dan to let her down at every turn because Susie’s mental model of other people is based on herself. To her, Dan was just Susie+penis. And Susie lets people down.


What happens if we learn to recognize the pathologies in others before we get hurt by them? People really do tell us what to expect from them if we’re paying attention.

On the other hand, what happens if we ourselves stop using a paleomammalian strategy to understand other people, and start being present to witness them as they actually are?