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  • Why We Don’t Really Want to Be Nice

    Setting out to try to become a nicer person sounds like a deeply colourless and dispiriting ambition. In theory, we love niceness of course, but in practice, there appears to be something embarrassingly anodyne, meek, tedious and even sexless about the concept. A nice person sounds like something we would try to be only once every other more arduous and more rewarding alternative had failed. Our suspicion of niceness may feel personal, but it has a longvan_dyck_-_charity
  • The Ultimate Test of your Social Skills

    It can be easy to imagine we possess reasonable social skills, because we know how to maintain conversation with strangers and - every now and then - manage to make a whole table laugh. But there’s a test far sterner than this, surprising in its ability to trip us up: the challenge of having a pleasant time with a child we don’t know. Theoretically speaking, this should be so easy. We were all once kids. We know a great deal more than they do and - as far as8471111991_d4e41e5267_z
  • How Not to Rant

    One of the risks of social life is that we will in the course of an evening or in the kitchen at a party end up trapped with a person of excessive conviction or, to put it more colloquially, a bore. Bores can be found harbouring any manner of obsessions: they may be deeply concerned about grammar (and the ever increasing misuse of the subjunctive) or believe that modern architecture has alienated us from ourselves; they may be horrified by the predatory nature of9312582362_33ef9b4a93_z
  • How to Talk about Yourself

    Polite people have it instilled in them from an early age that they should not talk too much about themselves. A few comments aside, they should - to prove appealing - always ask the other about their lives or stick to impersonal topics found in newspapers, lest they be accused of that heinous charge: self-absorption. But this rule fails to distinguish between different ways of talking about oneself. There are, as well-mannered people sometimes forget, better15215551570_2b3b823ae8_z
  • How to Be Open-Minded

    One of the distinctive features of social life is that most of the people we meet seem really quite normal. They often appear reasonably responsible and logical, harbour little self-hatred or compulsion, and strike us as cheerful and more or less content with their partners and their lives. This can feel hugely and horribly at odds with what we know of life from our own minds. Beyond a certain age, once we have lived a little inside ourselves, we tend to become6943475504_67c5cca5e8_z
  • The Charm of Vulnerability

    The desire to fit in is deeply engrained in our nature. We’re social creatures with a long evolutionary history that stressed the importance of not standing out in the group. The oddball would be the last to get their share of mammoth meat. We are the descendants of those who conformed - and got fed. So, it’s understandable if we become awkward, and very lonely, around our own oddities. We become reluctant to admit to anything very strange about ourselves.146815442_922410ed5b_z

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