When I was a 12-year-old Boy Scout, obsessed with Battlebots and trying to emulate the Fonz’s pompadour, I experienced my first hazing. I was labeled the “Actually” Kid, whereby whenever someone said something fact-based and I felt I knew better, I responded with “actually, Gore won the popular vote” or “actually, Biohazard won the 2000 Heavyweight competition after defeating Nightmare and Vlad The Impaler–not Toro, you dummy, as he’s a Super Heavyweight”. This reputation lasted quite a while, seemingly because I failed to ever stop being a know-it-all douche. Yes, I was that guy in your college class who felt he could win an argument with the doctorate-armed professor on the origin of the word “jazz”. I failed often.
I remember my time with the Scouts, however, because it was the first time I had considered myself anything other than a random collection of verbs and nouns. While I had jumped the gap between one’s own thoughts and those of others, I had never, up to that point, actually analyzed my own social cues. Perhaps I was a bit late to that game, but it seemed to me unfair the vast amount of knowledge I knew about myself would be reduced to such a simple caricature.
While I’ve matured enough (and learned to hold my tongue and not be an asshole), by this time, I still find it curious when people are reduced to the most rudimentary of habits. People are exceptionally complex and even the most docile personality fights against any pigeon-holed definition (whether they know it or not). We like to believe we are spontaneous and definitely not boring. Being called “predictable” feels a lot like being called “average”: it forces you to over-analyze what makes you a person and how that person is perceived.
But why, exactly, is being predictable a poor attribute? Obviously it can present itself in ugly lights; if someone continuously steals from you, their kleptomania is a bad sort of predictability. The opposite end of that stick is someone who is predictably kind, reliable, and enforces the values which hold aloft any faith in humanity you might have. In the middle, however, lies a larger gray area.
Far more than most things, we hold free will to be essential to our self-identity. Whatever I do, I do it because I choose to. Our quality of life is measured by choices and the more we have, the more our sense of free will expands. But when someone calls your habits and activities out as “predictable”, this feeling is robbed from you. When a significant other accurately predicts how you’ll confront a problem or an argument, that go-to option of yours is no longer an option. They have made the choice for you because the last thing you want to be is predictable.
There’s a really, really annoying quote about the definition of insanity (don’t make me write it). What it actually explains is how we define “results”. A child who gets grounded for yelling at their parent and then continues to yell even though they know it will be worse is not insane. They simply have a different set of priorities. In that example, the priority is being heard or getting revenge in the simplest manner possible for something they see as unfair. But as childhood begets adolescence and adolescence begets adulthood, we narrow down the options we choose as we either experience or witness the bad results. After long enough, you’ve hopefully gained not just the ability to recognize situations (be they social, financial, or technical) but also to adapt new solutions into your Batbelt of personality. This doesn’t make you predictable; it merely makes you stable.
Which brings me to the other side: Spontaneity. There’s a difference between being stuck in a rut and being comfortable. The urge to be spontaneous rarely hits me outside of the bedroom because, for the most part, I’m comfortable where I am. If I decide to move or take a vacation or buy a new pack of pocket-tees it comes with meticulous planning to bereft anything going wrong. Of course, things still do go wrong. But I also get the sanity that comes with knowing what I’m doing, where I’m doing it, and how I’ll get back home.
So rest easy when you see an old highschool friend disappear into the European wildes or drag out the same phrasing of the same intent to prove your point in an argument. Do not bother with charting your habits merely because you want to surprise those around you. Surprises are overrated. Get comfortable, find what works for you, and realize your limitless potential to be absolutely boring.