Askers, Guessers and Context

In 2007 Andrea Dondori posted a reply to a Meta Filter post outlining the two types of people that we can be classed into when dealing with social etiquette. Before we go any further we should note that either the English language allows for, or western culture encourages categorisations of people into predefined groups. The problem with this being that most of these categorisations don’t account for outliers and any theory that has cracks from which people fall is not a very a good theory (Thanks Gertrude Anscombe).

Regardless Dondori gave us askers, who have learnt that asking any sort of question or request is ok as long as being told ‘no’ doesn’t cause you any form of discomfort. Someone who commonly asks requests from you is probably an asker and capable of handling a firm ‘no’. On the other hand we have Guessers, who generally only ask requests from people that they are sure they are going to get a yes from, generally as a form of politeness.

This information can be reassuring to people who hate to tell people no. Flip the old trope ‘there is no harm In asking’ around to ‘There is no harm in saying no’. Great news, but why are you telling me this? Great question!

After a long enough stay in a any region with a foreign language you begin to realise something. That the people you are meeting from that country are predominately approaching you. If you wear obvious enough hats and don’t roll your ‘r’s then well done, you’re an approachable tourist. In a place like Latin America it’s very easy to say ‘no’ do the cool hand slap and walk away feeling fine and like you turned lost sale into a happy moment.

This also gives the impression that everyone you meet is incredibly nice and kind. But perhaps, particular people pick particular jobs and that means that on the streets you are mostly meeting askers. A forward group of people who seem overly confident and immune to rejection. Because askers share common traits that guessers don’t have. This also means that you are only interacting with one class of residents when you hit the next tourist destination. This isn’t bad or good, it just opens up the possibility of generalisations about a country of people, once again these generalisations are neither bad nor good, they just are.

It also means something else. Spend long enough travelling overseas and you are probably going to come back with asker traits. Nothing like prolonged travel allows you to try on the different outfits that are available to you as a human being. Context determines much more than we give it credit for. Think back to another troublesome but easy categorisation of human beings, introverts and extroverts. The first time you hear about this categorisation you quickly put yourself into one of those classes. But something happens as time goes on (If you don’t forget about it all together). That is that at times you find yourself highly introverted and at other you find yourself quite extroverted. Context tends to determine this change in character, more so than the catagorical words that were only created recently in human history. In the end we find out that extroversion and introversion exist on a spectrum that can flow back and forth.

The context of ‘travel’ puts you in situations where it is almost impossible to stay the same as you were in your regular life. You might find that you are more confident walking to a stranger on the street to ask a question. Or that meeting people all of a sudden comes naturally to you. The main reason being that travellers all share a common goal (brought on by context) and a common goal is pretty much all it takes for humans to like one another. 

Where does this lead us? Well for one, if you don’t like someone, chances are its because you don’t see yourselves as sharing a common goal. To take from Yuval Noah Harrari’s Sapiens, think about the real purpose of ideologies and countries. They have less to do with controlling us and more to do with helping us cooperate. In this sense religion is no different from liberalism which is no different from liking people because they work at the same company as you. We connect ourselves over similarities in beliefs and purpose. (Unfortunately sharing humanity together isn’t always enough, that’s an essay for another time).

Finally, context. Modernity has given us a lot of free time to think about what sort of people we are. Literature has become filled with theories on personality. However, if you find yourself being someone you don’t like, a change of context might help. Being in nature, working out, changing jobs, moving suburb, going for a run, or travelling can make the entire difference. Unless you have the highest degree of personal sovereignty and are the same in every situation, you might not actually be the person you think you are. Maybe you are just a person like the rest of us, who needs the right context to really shine through.


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