Reverting to base nature

This is an article on observation and human behaviour. Faced with a situation outside a person’s comfort zone, how will that person react? Can that person’s reactions tell you anything about his base nature?

Handling hot tea

Coffee guy by archives @ iStockphoto

I read this in a detective comic book. In one of the episodes, there’s a senior detective giving tips to the protagonist, Q (yes, that’s his name). So the senior detective went about his activities while engaging Q in conversation. He casually prepared two cups of tea*, and served one to Q.

After Q drank his tea, the senior detective smiled and told Q that he had just given Q a quick test. He had deduced two pieces of information

  • Q was right-handed
  • Q was in a state of calm

When a person is (suddenly/unexpectedly/casually) given a cup of hot drink, in order to carefully handle the cup, the person uses the dominant hand (usually). Q had used his right hand to grab the handle.

When a person is sipping a cup of hot drink, to test the temperature and prevent scalding, the person usually relaxes his facial expression, and shows his real expression. Because of the focus on the hot drink, any false expressions used to mask his feelings disappear.

For example, a person is smiling at you. When that person sips a hot drink, and suddenly furrows his eyebrows and his lips sag a little downward, he may be worried about something, but puts on a happier front.

Because of sipping a hot drink, a person revealed his base nature.

* can’t remember if it’s tea or coffee.
And I don’t know if this is true. I haven’t conducted nearly enough observations to conclude…

The truth trailing tough times

I’ve read and heard that one of the ways to determine if that special someone really fits you, is to go travelling with that person. Or go hiking, or camping, or any activity where both persons are under moderate stress.

Suddenly, one finds out how the other person handles flight delays, inconsiderate hikers, missing toothbrushes, a scratch, a cramp, and decisions affecting both persons. During tough times, a person’s base nature shows up.

Flight delays become “How about that cup of coffee?”, and cramps become “Well, at least the view here is beautiful. Ouch, ouch…”

Or missing toothbrushes become “How could you forget that? I distinctly remember telling you to bring it!”, and decisions affecting both persons become a one-sided dictatorship (Amazing Race had plenty of those).

Coding under stress

What happens when you code under deadlines, under new and unheard of requirements, under strange and different environments? You revert to your base nature.

If you have bad coding practices, then under stress, those bad coding practices will show. If you’re lazy about debugging, then under stress, your programs are going to be chock full of bugs. If you’re plain terrible at programming, and had always relied on friends and colleagues, then under stress, well, somebody’s going to notice it.

For example, copying and pasting. I’m sure you had copied and pasted similar pieces of code, never mind the rule of reducing redundant code. This is where the base nature of a programmer shows. The disciplined programmer would copy and paste that code, then quickly go through each line to make sure it’s appropriate to the context (variable names, conditional checks and so on). The careless programmer would just give it a cursory check if it compiled.

The shortcut of manually typing out each line was taken to fulfill our innate programmer laziness. Yet it’s the understanding of the code copied and the actions taken after pasting, that distinguishes the better programmer.

Improving your base nature

Practise your desired qualities when in a calm state. Practise the use of printfs, Console.WriteLines, MessageBoxes or whatever can be used to display variable values. Practise spotting errors before your compiler does. Practise the use of your programming language constructs (how to loop, how to control decision branches) in a non-critical program under a non-critical state.

When your desired qualities become second nature to you, it’s still not enough. Because in the face of adversity, that second nature might still fall off. Practise until it becomes your base nature.

Then reverting to your base nature is ok, because your base nature is already great.