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I'm a jackass

  1. May 29, 2007 #1
    I seem to have a problem with how I behave in certain situations. Specifically if I see people trip up on things that seem trivial (or easy) to me I sometimes laugh. For example, I was helping someone with some graph theory problems and this person was not understanding this one thing after a few attempts at explaining it and I laughed a little (after she had given me an incorrect example), and she was a little mad that I had laughed. I don't think I had any reason to laugh, and it was not really funny, maybe it was amusing to me in some sick way, I don't know. Many examples of things like this have happened for at least five years that I can recall.

    I thought I had "fixed" the problem when I was a tutor a year ago, and would instead just smile when people gave me something I felt was obviously (silly) incorrect.

    Then last semester (fall) I took this Putnam class that had 4 students and a professor where we would present solutions to problems on the board in front of everyone. The problem here was that our professor is well, an arrogant jackass (perhaps like me, though him probably more rightfully so), and he would criticize the hell out of you for every little mistake you made (this one time he spent a couple minutes criticizing this guy because he did not draw a graph the way our professor felt was best). Now I like the professor criticizing us because usually he has some valid points no matter how silly they may be in reality. However, the kind of arrogant, demeaning way our professor speaks, along with his accent, makes me laugh when he is criticizing somebody (he even laughs sometimes too). In fact, one time I went to his office and he started criticizing the way I did a problem and I started to laugh a little and he just kind of looked at me strange. Now I think I really don't want to laugh, but I just do for some reason.

    Then today I was playing a video game with a friend, and once I was winning and he screwed up a few times, I had laughed a time or two.

    Am I just a jackass, or should I not really worry about this. Is there something I can do? (Perhaps gain some maturity :rofl: :uhh:)

  2. jcsd
  3. May 30, 2007 #2


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    I'll offer my perspective.... I've tutored at many levels, with lots of different ability students (from very bright [fun!] to no clue yet [difficult] ), and honestly, I've had some wonderful mutually-helpful interactions at my current professional level from a broad range of savants.

    In tutoring, I agree that is often difficult to be productive and help students who 1) don't understand the material, 2) don't seem to be willing to try to understand the material, and 3) haven't learned yet how to study and concentrate and learn when the material gets challenging. I honestly have very little constructive advice to give for those situations, other than to be patient and creative in the ways that you try to help them learn to use helpful mental imagery in how they learn and retain the material.

    And on the flip side sort of, I've been priviliged (sp?) to work with some very, very intelligent and talented individuals here in my work in Silicon Valley over the past two decades. The individuals that I'm referring to are honestly among the top couple percent of EEs in the world (I'm not kidding), and their personalities of course span the gammit of the brilliant folks that you can run into. But, I've found IME that they will ALL be willing to help you figure stuff out and learn, IF you do your homework ahead of time, and bring all that you have to the table. And beyond that, the BEST of these elite EEs will even give you a break or two in their tutorial help, as long as you are trying your best (although these particular folks tend to be among the most giving and forgiving of the elite lot).

    Like, in a classic exchange when I was a pretty experienced engineer in industry, but a fairly inexperienced engineer at my current company (with its specialized knowledge), I asked a moderately complex question of the compiler/tools expert at the company. He responded that he knew that I was fairly new, and he would answer my current question, but in the future he expected me to do more research on our internal Intranet and in our published docs and KDB before I asked him a question like that the next time. Now, from one perspective, that's a pretty arrogant thing for him to say, and I could have taken offense by it. But considering the fact that he's one of the top compiler guys in SiValley (and probably beyond that), and considering that the subject matter is very complex and his time is obviously limited, I took his advice to heart, and spent more time doing reasonable background research before my subsequent questions.

    And guess what? He was right. My doing more research and work before asking for his tutorial help helped me to learn a LOT more, plus it significantly lowered his support loading. That is how things work well when everybody is doing their work at their best levels, both alone and cooperating together.

    I carry that lesson in my work to this day. Even though I'm a pretty senior EE guy at my company now, I still take the time to do as much research as I can before approaching another talented EE with a technical question (and therefore I often answer the question all by my lonesome). And the flipside is that I also try my best to be calm and friendly and helpful when helping newbies and others with their initial hard technical questions. But when appropriate, I definitely tell folks that the next time they ask me that type of question, they are on the hook for doing more work ahead of time to research the question and potential solutions....

    Don't give them a fish, instead, teach them to fish. That's how you'd want to be treated, right?
    Last edited: May 30, 2007
  4. May 30, 2007 #3
    Although not voluntary, laughter is quite predictable and follows suprisingly precise rules. It is a complex vocal dance. Society is not kind to those who violate the rules of laughter by laughing oddly, or at the wrong time. Laughing at someones failure is just mean. Laughing at a teacher, will one day become laughing at a boss, and that may cost you a job. Yea, so get some control, cause mean unemployed people suck.
  5. May 30, 2007 #4


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    I don't care of people laugh. I find that a small bit of laughter can sometimes reveal what people are thinking, similar to the first example you gave. She reacted as if you were laughing AT HER, which may or may not be true.

    I basically never laugh at people, but I constantly laugh to myself. Which is funny. Hah :smile:
  6. May 30, 2007 #5
    In junior high school we were watching a movie in class. I think it was 'Outsiders.' At one point Matt Dillon had been shot and was running from the police. He goes to a phone booth to call someone and I just thought he was overacting way too much. I thought his representation of a man who had been shot was funny, so I laughed out loud. Then the entire class laughed. The teacher became very upset. I thought that was funny too. I'm laughing about it now.

    Hypatia has a point. If you laugh at someone you don't know then they might not appreciate your sense of humor. It isn't appropriate in some cases, like while speaking to an employer or tutoring a student.

    Then again, people without a sense of humor suck. You should know your friends and family well enough to participate in a little friendly roasting. The ability to handle criticism is also an important skill that people should develop.
  7. May 30, 2007 #6
    I don't think laughing is bad, but smiling when someone's made a mistake is pretty horrible.
  8. May 30, 2007 #7


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    I usually burst into laughter in the sitiuations that I'm supposed to look serious or sad! You know just thinking of the seriousness of a situation makes me laugh. No matter who's made a mistake, I just can't prevent myself from laughing.(my professors, boss, even myself and my friends) And you know most of the times when I laugh at something, other people around me start laughing as well or ask me what's made me laugh...:tongue:
  9. May 30, 2007 #8
  10. May 30, 2007 #9
  11. May 30, 2007 #10
    Sometimes people laugh or smile at an inappropriate moment to cover up something that is socially awkward. It can be a submissive gesture (you laughing when your friend beats you at video games).

    I hope your Putnam professor one day makes a mistake that all you students can remind him of incessantly.
  12. May 30, 2007 #11


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    Laughter is a strange thing, because it's hard to control when it happens. It's usually something that comes from surprise (when we find a joke funny, it's usually because we're surprised by the punchline...if it was predictable, it wouldn't seem so funny) or nervousness. Sometimes it's a release valve for discomfort too. So, are you laughing because you find other people's mistakes amusing? Or is it that you're feeling a bit frustrated or uncomfortable about the whole odd situation of having to work with someone who you've run out of ideas on how to help them?

    Of course, laughing at someone's mistake during a competitive game is a whole different situation. You're supposed to be having fun, and it's normal to engage in some good-natured ribbing.

    Since you're here saying you feel like a jackass for laughing at inappropriate times, I'd say you're probably NOT a jackass since you're sensitive enough to the problem to want to do something about it.

    Just trying to find ways to stifle the laughs when you know you're in a situation where it might happen (i.e., if you're helping someone with homework, be on extra alert to expect anything, take a deep breath and try to calm your frustration, and try to stop it before it happens) is one approach. Otherwise, having some plausible excuses for the laughter might mitigate any hurt feelings..."Ha ha...sorry, my mind was just wandering and I was thinking of this crazy professor I had who was really picky about graphs."

    And, in some ways, experience will help solve this problem too. You'll know more ways to explain things that confuse others, and you'll have seen so many different types of mistakes and funny answers that they won't catch you so off-guard when someone makes those mistakes. When I first started out as a TA, I used to be astonished at the mistakes students would make, and would be just baffled how so many could get some very simple concepts wrong, and then I had a wise professor who was nearing retirement and had taught this course most of his career explain exactly where the misconceptions were coming from because he had seen them over and over. Suddenly, it made sense why they were getting things so messed up, and I knew how to fix it by explaining the source of this error.
  13. May 30, 2007 #12
    Thanks for all the responses.
  14. May 30, 2007 #13


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    If it makes you feel any better, I am right at this moment laughing at you for starting this thread. :uhh:
  15. May 30, 2007 #14


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    And he's laughing at us for responding to this thread!:devil:
  16. May 30, 2007 #15
    I am laughing too, it seems like a weird thread. Perhaps I should be like moose and delete it :smile:
  17. May 30, 2007 #16


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    How do I stop from laughing at the wrong time? I bite down hard on my teeth and think about something else. That way no body can tell. :smile:
  18. May 30, 2007 #17


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    An interesting thread. I can't say I get your point, mattmns. :smile:
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