Sunday, August 09, 2015

Quick to judge

So there was a guy who went to college with me, he was friends with some guys I roomed with freshman and then sophomore year, they all played soccer for Yale.  One time he was working on a paper on Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, and he was asking me about it and talking about how he thought it was a commentary on the oppressive Soviet regime.  Never mind that it was written in the early 1860s.  I thought he was a lunkhead.

While in college, I told that story to others in the tony literary circles in which I circulated, as a demonstration of how limited some student athletes were and how, by extension, superior we self-appointed intellectuals were.

I ran into him on the subway once when I was in grad school.  He was in med school or in residency uptown at Columbia Presbyterian, and he was very friendly and pleasant (as indeed he always had been).  I tried to be the same.

Not long ago, I heard that he had died.  Suddenly, at the age of 48.  It turned out he had become a... brain surgeon.  In fact, the head of neurosurgery at a major hospital, where he mentored lots of people, performed 300 operations a year, published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, all about aggressive brain cancer.

The moral to the story is, aside from the fact that insecure 20-year old potheads do not have the greatest judgment, is that it's really difficult to know people in any way unless you make the time to talk to them at length.  What the hell did I know about this guy?  Diddly.

And, unfortunately, this really seems to validate the theory of the Dunbar number, which says that any given person can really only begin to know about 150 people, and of them you can claim to know only a handful well.

So, eventually, you have to abstract up and start to behave towards people based on gross generalizations.  But the best way to do it is to try to be generous and assume the best.

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