The Alpha Male

I have never been an alpha male kind of character. I never really spoke up myself until recently, mostly because I never had a need to speak up for myself before. In the past, just the occasional assertion of personality would suffice and let me return to leading the introverted life that I prefer. That much hasn't changed. When given the option, I will avoid conflict and try to stay in the background.

There's always a point where you can't avoid standing up for yourself; a moment when, if you don't stand up for yourself, negative things could or would happen to you. Sometimes you can avoid conflict at a minor penalty to your personal comfort by staying passive, versus a major penalty to your comfort and possible failure by trying to assert yourself. Depending on the situation and your personality you may choose the passive strategy at times and the active strategy at others. This kind of philosophy can apply to dealing with estate agents, house mates, colleagues, and so on. I find myself choosing the active strategy more often as I grow older.

Let's apply this to problem solving. One of the (apparently recurring) problems I had/have in my life is dealing with people (estate agent, housemate, colleague) you've got a conflict with that is just unresolvable. Assuming a conflict already occurred and were unable to prevent it, you can deal with it in any degree between passive and active. The passive way tends to be to move out of the way yourself, and leave others the way they are. This is absolutely a beta course of action, but sometimes it's the only way out, such as when your housemate's lifestyle is just too annoying (yet not illegal) but he won't change it no matter what.

Legality is too easy of a boundary to switch from passive to active, though, as most benefits of the active path are found well before that. Asserting yourself by asking your housemate to lower the volume on his TV will yield a far easier payoff than by moving out. The same goes for estate agents and colleagues: a simple (yet authoritative) chat will usually resolve the immediate issue. Sometimes that's not enough, though.

Which leads to the question of what to do in the aftermath. If you're a reasonable person then you'll probably take steps to prevent the same thing from happening again in the future. If your past housemate was noisy then the next time you check out a new apartment you'll be sure to ask about the housemates before deciding. If your colleague proved incompetent, you'll try not to be assigned to the same team the next time.

This train of thought makes me wonder about punishment. If your estate agent tried to rip you off but you managed to terminate the contract, do you actively take steps (by suing) to prevent the estate agent from ever doing that again to anyone else? When your colleague proves incompetent, do you actively try to get him fired so he doesn't mess up more stuff? Or, put more generally: after your personal conflict has been resolved and you gain nothing new by pursuing the matter further, do you still try to punish those that 'wronged' you?

It's a pretty aggressive way of thinking. Ender's Game has a great example of this (spoilers!): instead of lightly beating a bully once, Ender beats the living shit out of him so he will never bully anyone again. It's a risky strategy though, and has to be carried out with extreme confidence. You can't just go around suing all your estate agents, calling the police on all your housemates and getting all your colleagues fired for incompetence. It won't often be that the path of aggression-after-the-fact is a sensible one. On a personal level it's never sensible, since you'll never use the same estate agent, or live with the same housemate, or work with the same colleague. But you'd be saving others from their terrors, which some people might say makes it worth pursuing.

Myself, I'm not decided yet whether aggression after the fact is ever worth it. I've let my past conflicts slide into oblivion and don't worry about them anymore. Leading a crusade against my 'enemies' is absolutely not my thing. The only time I ever doubted that was the horrifying experience I had with my previous estate agent, for whom I had prepared evidence of her wrongdoings and was ready to take her to court if she hadn't given back my deposit (which still took many passive-aggressive phone calls), but she did, so I dropped it. Since then I've approached any potential conflicts with the same attitude: be in the right, document, and be prepared to escalate, but only if necessary. Does that make me an alpha male? Probably not. But I'm getting closer.

Alpha among Betas. Beta among Alphas.

Posted in Thoughts