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White lies or skewed perception?

Scrubs isn't just one way I'm wasting time this week, now that I'm done with finals. It also got me thinking about a discussion I was in a couple of days ago.

Ask most people about something their going through or own or have recently experienced, for example: "How's the job going?", "How's the school that you went to?", "How're things?", and most times even if things aren't going well, you'll get "Great!"

Now, there's one theory which is
  • The person just doesn't know you well/doesn't feel like talking to you, and "great" results in a shorter conversation than "oh, not so great."
I'm guilty of using this once in a while. But let's say you know the person well, the response is still more negative than the experience is in the person's mind. Why is it?

My initial take on it was
  • People think that their experiences are a reflection on them, and hence always want to paint a much more positive picture especially to strangers. For example, even for something small like reading a book, I really think often people say it was "great" even if they think it wasn't, because they're genuinely worried that if they say it was bad, it reflects badly on them. People somehow think that they will be perceived as stupid (for not understanding/appreciating the book) or just pitied (because they wasted their time on the book.) The same applies to a bunch of things, especially those that are of more consequence.
    • The sad part is can you blame people for thinking this way? Haven't we all been guilty of judging too quickly? And erring that judgement on the negative side?
A friend put forth another theory, when we were discussing how people tend to exaggerate their experience at an internship or at business school
  • Maybe we genuinely believe that whatever we're talking about is actually that great (because we're associated with it), but just that we haven't experienced the best parts of it. However, we think its our responsibility to still present the best face possible, rather than the one we know.
And finally, there is the Scrubs theory that JD put forth in his closing monologue
  • Maybe because admitting we failed, or we're hurting, or something was unsuccessful, makes us feel vulnerable and that is something we all want to avoid.

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