Tom Pittman's WebLog

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2004 October 19 -- It Takes One to Know One

When I was a child, one of the things I learned in the schoolyard is that the other children are terribly cruel with their taunts. The next thing I learned is that an effective shield against such verbal assault is to turn it on the attacker, typically with the phrase "It takes one to know one!" I similarly learned that only ticklish people ever thought to try and tickle, so the best defense was to tickle back.

As I grew older, I learned other coping strategies -- or maybe people didn't like Jesus being proved correct: "In the same manner you judge others, you will be judged," so they were more careful with their attack. I entirely forgot about the line for several decades...

Eight years ago, a bad character evaluation on my part put me in business with a person who, as I subsequently learned, did not share my core values. Things began to crumble, and communication completely disintegrated. He did not understand what I was trying to say, and I sure did not understand him. I think rather slowly, and I am by disposition inclined to try to understand what is going on before I lay my opinions on other people, but he was otherwise inclined and the accusations flowed. They didn't make any sense to me (except to prove the breakdown of communication), because the claims were so much at odds with what I knew about my own thoughts and motives.

But what on earth was he thinking? How could I negotiate some kind of win-win treaty if I don't even know what he wants? I suppose most people assume that the other people they meet are basically the same as they themselves are, same thought processes, same values, etc. At least what I read seems to imply that, and it fits with my experience. I did that too -- until it became obvious that other people do not think the way I do. Hardly ever. Nor do they share the same values. I mostly lost that prejudice eight years ago, when I suddenly realized that my colleague might be engaging in the same kind of projection as I had been. I had assumed he was the same kind of generous, thoughtful, and self-giving person I imagine myself to be, but it didn't fit what was happening.

Everything suddenly made sense when I took those bogus accusations as confessions of his own inner thoughts and values. Early on he expressed concern that I might try to take the business away from him; what he meant was that he was planning to do the destructive act. And so on.

Since then I have seen this happen over and over, not always being the target myself. A wife accuses her faithful husband of leaving her -- then sues for divorce. A manager accuses an employee of lying -- when he is the one hiding the truth.

I am reminded again of this principle in the election rhetoric flying about this year. You will have to pardon my one-sided perspective here: I don't have a TV, so the only hostility I see with any regularity is in the extremely anti-Bush news magazine I read. As I recall, the broadcast networks and the news channels hate Bush also, but at least the Republicans can buy ad time. The Democrats accuse Bush of lying about Iraq; what it means is that they are lying about Iraq (I suspect Bush acted on the best information he had, as anybody would). They accuse him of planning to institute the draft... Now that one doesn't even make sense: Bush's entire political base is exceedingly hostile to drafting women, and how could anybody start up the draft in these days, when any activist judge would insist that it include women? It evidently means that Kerry is likely to start up the draft. You saw it here first: A vote for Kerry is a vote to draft women.

The Iraq hostilities are beginning to resemble VietNam in 1964, when the Democrats said Goldwater would "escalate the war, and send our boys over to be killed, and bomb Hanoi, and..." So everybody voted for Lyndon Johnson, who then proceeded to escalate the war, and send our boys over to be killed, and bomb Hanoi, and...

Now every time I hear anybody make some assertion about another person's inner thoughts or motives or future plans, especially when they are hostile or contradict that person's public stance, I take such accusation to be a confession of their own anti-social attitudes and motives and plans. It's wonderfully insightful.

It doesn't so much take one to know one, as it takes one to think he knows one.