Pop Psychology: "The Little Things"

My Sunday mornings are something I greatly enjoy. Typically, it involves rolling out of bed sometime around 9 or later, then some lazy TV until I get up the energy to make a nice breakfast. Then, I’ll take my nice breakfast, my coffee, and settle in to watch one of my many movies (if nothing worthwhile’s on telly, and usually nothing is) until the urge to write has struck.
Guess which part of my morning I’m at now? Well, to my right sits too-strong coffee with a bit of milk, and in the VCR is one of my really old videotapes – An American Psycho. My breakfast was eggs scrambled with caramelized red onions and red peppers with sundried tomatoes and basil, and back bacon, and good toast. I’m pretty much in my happy place now. A shower eventually looms, and then a trip out into the world for a Solo Day of Fulfillment.
The movie, a psychological classic, has got me thinking. If you’ve never seen American Psycho, it’s a remarkable study of the psychosis of the Type-A serial killer, chillingly portrayed by Christian Bale. The writing is top-notch (as most of Bret Easton Ellis’ work tends to be) and the acting makes it pretty surprising that Christian Bale ever got another job after that movie, since he became the killer, which generally slays an actor’s commercial appeal. (Much like how accurately portraying Ted Bundy put Mark Harmon’s career in the toilet for a decade.)
As I said, the movie has me thinking. There’s the old cliché, “How well do we really know anyone?” Not very, not usually. We think we know people, but we tend to go on face-value more than any real criteria. There’s a segment at the beginning of the movie when Bale’s character, Patrick Bateman, goes on at length about his skincare regime. The inference is, his face is the only thing people have to go on, and its perfection is his façade, covering his whirlwind of anger, insecurities, and need for approval, all of which drives his merciless, brutal killing of women.
We find “love” by comparing likes. Ooh, we like the same movies, the same books, we have fun the same way, we laugh at the same jokes; it must be love!
The thing is, even the most stark-raving lunatic enjoys culture and movies and has favourite foods they can’t live without. Likes and interests are superficial, at best.
When it comes to people in my life, be it friends or family or lovers, I watch The Little Things. The insignificant things that we often brush aside are the greatest tells as to who and what the people around us are like. It doesn’t take me long to assess a person’s character, and it tends to make me fiercely loyal when I see them behave in respectful, goodly ways.
Ignore the big picture and turn on the macro lens. Do they respect people providing them service in stores and establishments? Do they come to the aid of someone in need? Are they helpful when someone asks them for info on the street? Can they chat amiably with a perfect stranger? Do they ensure they’re including you in conversations with friends? Do they arrive on time, or let you know when they’re going to be late? Do they drive aggressively, tail-gating every car they come upon?
You get the picture. I’m not saying a person should be dumped for any of the above transgressions, but you sure as hell ought to be taking note of it. For instance, one could assume that I have a very quick temper by the way I get so snappish when riding my scooter, or one could at least assume I’m very quick to get on the defensive. And they’d be right. It’s true, I get very defensive. It’s one of my worst qualities. It also speaks to the fact that I’m a perfectionist who overthinks things, so when someone begins to point out a flaw or an error on my part, I might well put up a wall to protect myself. I know this to be my character weakness, and I at least have the guts to own up to it with those around me. It doesn’t make the flaw go away, but at least I’m accountable about it. As flaws go, it could be worse, but it’s still a character flaw.
I’m forever astounded, though, by people who seem to blatantly ignore endless flaws and attitude problems in partners, all because they have ‘so much in common.’
So many of us hide a great deal of who we are. We’re fools if we fail to suspect others might be doing the same. We have insecurities, fears, hatreds, weaknesses, and they all combine for a lethal cocktail at times. How we behave in the Little Moments is indicative of our character at its deepest levels. Yes, we have flaws, but are we inherently good and kind people? Look deeper than the surface. Our daily insignificant actions are the only true evidence we provide – the things we do so naturally that we don’t even think before we act. These are the moments when who we are comes through, and those are the moments to take note of who’s at heart of the person you think you know.

10 thoughts on “Pop Psychology: "The Little Things"

  1. Beth

    Here, here, Steff.
    This winter, I was dating a guy and as we were driving to the lot where I parked my car when staying with him, we noticed an elderly woman trying to navigate a steeply sloped sidewalk that hadn’t been well cleared of ice and snow. I looked at him. “You should help her,” I said (he was the passenger). “Should I?” he asked. “Yes, you should get out and help her.” So he did. And I circled around the block because there were cars behind me. When he got back in, I thanked him for doing that, and he said, “It didn’t dawn on me to do it until you suggested it. You make me a better man.” I almost died.
    We didn’t last, but I hope the lesson did.
    Do unto others, eh?
    People who are condescending or impolite are the biggest turn-offs EVER.

  2. BrownEyes

    What great advice, I’m glad you wrote this. I had heard that “watch how he treats the waiter, because that’s how he’ll treat you” advice before, but like an idiot never heeded it, even after I watched my fiance treat waitstaff like dirt when we’d go out. He treated his mother the same way — his MOTHER. Eventually, he treated me that way too (and I divorced him, almost four years ago now). You can learn a lot about people from watching the little things.
    p.s. I love your site.

  3. Boldn'Brazen

    Of course, you have to believe that everything Patrick Bateman says is completely true, for your take to be right.

    There’s been a whole lot written that suggests that most of AP is meant to be Bateman’s fantasy life, that maybe at the end of the day, none of it is real at all. Which actually makes Ellis’ later works (Glamorama and Lunar Park) a bit easier to swallow.

    Not an exit, indeed.

  4. scribe called steff

    B’n’B — Yeah, but it’s not like I’m doing a dissertation on the movie itself and its underlying premises here — I’m using it as a segue to a point I feel like making, something I often do in writing… completely irrelevant segues, because that’s how the switch in my brain in wired. However, Bateman is to Psycho what the narrator of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart is to that story; he’s an unreliable narrator, a narrator you cannot trust nor believe; a narrator who’s interesting as much for his fucked-up perspective as he is for his shakey and unscrupulous ways.

    I was focusing more on all the tells he had in day-to-day life that those around him ignored. Kind of like the old news stories we see of some serial killer and the neighbours always go on record saying, “Oh, we’re so surprised. He seemed like a really quiet guy, like he kept to himself and all. He mowed his lawn…” We’re fucking oblivious, is what it is.

    Joe — Joe, meet PayPal. PayPal, meet Joe. 🙂 I might be getting a postal box at some point in the future, for those who want to send me fun things and such, tho, but I ain’t putting my mailing address as it stands up right now. Heh. Last thing I need is people showing up in my apartment lobby. “STEEEEEEEFFFF!!” Heh!

    Browneyes — Yep. The Mother thing can be really true, but it depends on the mother. I mean, there are some real bitch moms out in the world, so it has to be something you gauge. I watch how they behave in restaurants, that kind of thing. It’s one of the things I liked about the Guy, actually. I have a couple friends who just are really introverted and don’t interact well in public, but they’ve done incredibly unprovoked acts of kindness — small, but meaningful — that I’ve witnessed, like my friend WhippedBoy, and for that they earn my loyalty. I just Watch and I Learn. Better than hiring a private eye, any day of the week.

    Beth — Yes, condescension and rudeness really, really get under my skin. I once gave a busdriver a really public dressing down for treating a senior citizen badly. I couldn’t fucking believe his attitude, so I gave him my two cents, wrote down his name and bus number, and filed a complaint. Likewise, whenever staff are incredibly helpful or good, I make a point of letting management know. But if a friend treated someone really rudely in front of me, I’d really make a point of letting them know I disagreed, or might even be less likely to talk to them in the future. I’m very opinionated about that.

  5. john

    quite insightful – another great column Steff. I know of many friends (both sexes) that should really have been a little more discerning of their partner’s character traits, habbits, desires, goals, etc.

  6. Boldn'Brazen


    I got your point. I’m afraid I was likewise guilty of using a completely irrelevant seque.

    I’m a huge Ellis fan. And was recently asked by someone how I could have liked Lunar Park. And the answer was that you had to accept that what was happening wasn’t really anything more than the author’s reporting of a story… and that the story might or mighn’t be accurate.

    And then I noted that Ellis has been working up to Lunar Park for at least his last two books (American Psycho and Glamorama), at least in the sense that he’s fucking with the continuum of what’s real and what’s perception more and more in each of these books.

    And hey, I found that revelation kind of cool. And I guesse I’ve gotten a little entranced with it.

    So, here I’ve gone and hijacked your comments to go spouting off about Ellis, which makes me sound like at best, an overzealous graduate student and at worst, some 15 year old who never leaves the comfort of my computer screen. And I am neither.

    So my apologies, Steff, for getting carried away.


  7. MTSeven

    How well do we know anyone indeed?
    This is the theme of a book I’m reading that has me captivated: “The Pilot’s Wife”, by Anita Shreve. It’a a page turner from the very beginning. As one who wear’s his heart on his sleeve, I’ve tended to be naive but have learned a lot about trusting my instincts. I think most of all though, is the importance of being aware of one’s own values and beliefs and being true to them. It’s not enough to get along and have fun doing stuff together – that will make a good room-mate, but is that all we’re looking for in a life-mate? And if we’ve developed a pattern of selecting the wrong “type”, how do we learn enough to change ourselves to be choose better?

    Setting that thought aside for the moment, I’ve met more than a few people who have married friends from their highschool, after seeing them at a reunion 30 or 40 years later. What’s with that? Is it an affirmation of the importance of compatibility of our individual upbringings?

    I dunno. But for me, as I restart after a disastrous and relatively short second marriage, I’d really like to get this stuff figured out better.


  8. Boldn'Brazen

    Completely unrelated… (I’m embracing the irrelevant segue).

    When are we getting the last segment of the Story of J?

    And Cal… my dad told me when I got divorced, that lots of people get it wrong the first time, but very few get it wrong the second time. I bet even fewer get it wrong the third. Good luck.

  9. me

    Totally off topic, but I never saw the Ted Bundy movie, so I still love Mark Harmon:) Stealing Home was cheesy and awesome and perfect for a hung over Sunday! He’s why I secretly watch NCIS if I’m home.

    Meanwhile, it’s totally true that you can tell a lot about people by the way they treat others. Then again, I’m a stressed out, curse-tastic driver (which is why I’m so mellow about commuting via bus now), but in Massachusetts, who isn’t? 😉

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