In a recent New Yorker cartoon, a man with a big smile says to a woman, “Let me interrupt your expertise with my confidence.” It’s so perfect I want to weep. I also want to put it up on my office door. Is that too passive-aggressive? Anybody who recognizes themselves in the man will just get irritable, and my own academic expertise still won’t be . . .
S.A. / Cambridge
S.A., let me interrupt your lack of confidence with my expertise! No one clueless enough to behave like the man in the cartoon would recognize themselves as the man. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, after the psychologists who showed people often think they’re good at things they are actually incompetent at. So you’re safe on that score.
And of course it would be passive-aggressive to put it on your door, but my heavens, the passive-aggressive cartoon on the office door is a long-standing tradition of academe, and I for one don’t want to live in a world without it.
As an actor, I make a point of going to as many of my friends’ shows as I can and promoting them on social media. But many of them make no such efforts for my work. Is it fair to expect reciprocation ? Are these relationships turning toxic?
B.B. / Boston
Friendship is never an exact quid pro quo . You don’t get to decide that because you’re good at being a friend in a particular way, your friends need that exact skill. Some friends support your art, some bring soup when you’re sick, some take you out after a breakup, some are a second parent to your kid.
When letter writers ask if certain relationships are becoming toxic it’s often the case, and they simply want permission to admit it. You’ve got my permission and my sympathy. But I’m sure that among the no-goers are some supportive friends who simply prioritize their friends’ art less highly than you do.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.