Personal Calibration

Who is the nicest person you know personally? How about the meanest? Now how about the wealthiest and the poorest? The smartest and the dumbest? The funniest and the most boring? The most industrious and the laziest?

Why bother to think about these things? There’s a humorous little bit of statistical trivia: for any given positive trait, about 80% of people will rank themselves as “above average” for that trait. So, by default, most people’s personal calibration for where they fall on a given trait’s spectrum is pretty off.

I was thinking about a really mean person I once knew, who of course didn’t think of themselves as mean, self-centered, or narcissistic. But I realized – that person was utterly surrounded by people pretty close to them on that end of the meanness scale. You can try to figure out whether the chicken or the egg came first – whether they were mean because they were surrounded by other jerks, or whether they were surrounded by jerks because they chased away all the nice people – but it’s not relevant. What’s relevant is that they’d been in that environment for so long that they had no idea what a nice person was even like.

So they didn’t think of themselves as mean, because in their personal frame of reference, they weren’t any meaner than average.

So, now and then, it’s good to get a sense of the boundaries of your personal bubble. It may be uncomfortable – but that discomfort may well be a source of clarity and improvement.

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