A friend of mine recently asked me why a sociopath would go out of his/her way to either avoid creating or work to resolve issues with close friends and family, in which the sociopath has offended them. To answer this I came up with an interesting analogy I thought you might enjoy hearing and possibly commenting on.
For a moment imagine your life as an apartment, and the friends, family, and significant others you have chosen to allow in your life are your pets. Now every so often, regardless of how diligent you are, one of your pets is going to make a mess on the carpet. Whether you or the pet are at fault for the mess is irrelevant, because when it comes down to it your apartment now smells a little worse. So you have two choices, ignore the mess, and continue on with your life (which is the preferred result), or clean it up. So why do we clean it up? Because very few people like their place smelling of shit, and if enough pets make a mess it's going to get pretty unbearable. However, that doesn't mean we enjoy cleaning it up, it's just a necessary (yet unfortunate) action that must be done to maintain a clean healthy apartment. Of course you can always get rid of the pet when it makes a mess... but then what will you have to play with?
It's very (most?) often in the sociopath's best interest to act in pro-social, or at least friendly ways. I used this recent analogy to someone. Let's say that someone is fat but doesn't act like it -- fat girl in a tube top confidence. Other people might feel awkward about this girl. She is clearly violating the social norms that demand that she feel some measure of shame about her body and/or clothing choices. Maybe they feel embarrassed for her, particularly if they feel like she just doesn't realize how bad she looks (same reason people feel embarrassed when someone else has something stuck in their teeth? I always get a little annoyed when people insist that I get something out of my teeth, particularly when they behave as if it is an act of supreme selflessness. I'm fine with something being in my teeth, if it bothers you, at least be honest that you are selfish enough to insist that I change my behavior/appearance to suit you better). Another popular reaction is for people to get angry with the fat girl and try to overtly shame her. I find both of these reactions to be completely puzzling. If she is not embarrassed for herself, why be embarrassed for her? There is no objective "truth" about what is or is not beautiful (and aesthetic preferences regarding corpulence vary widely when compared across time and culture). And why harass her? Is it because she has offended their delicate sensibilities? Is that why they have quickly deputized themselves members of the social norm enforcement police? Because even if they find her look to be unappealing, others might not share their same opinion.
How would a sociopath react to the fat girl in a tube top. I think people think that sociopaths would be the meanest of the mean. But what benefit is there to a sociopath in being mean, even exceptionally so? There would be much greater value to the sociopath in being friendly and propping up the girl's self-esteem. Now she feels like they have commonality. The sociopath has made a friend, and if the girl wants to keep getting the validation from the sociopath, she will be a loyal and dedicated friend. Of course this approach involves some degree of manipulation because the sociopath is more consciously choosing to present himself as a friendly ally, and not for some more lofty goal of crusading on behalf of the weight-challenged. But does that make his action any less pro-social? Or any less a welcome response from the fat girl? Rather, it is itself a form of implicit validation -- despite you being fat, I still think you're worthwhile enough to have as a friend. In other words, a sociopath sees your value clearly, without common prejudices or xenophobic knee jerk rejection, and still chooses to associate himself with you. If you were someone who is frequently marginalized from society, who would you prefer to interact with?
I'm not saying that sociopaths can never be "mean" (can sociopaths ever be unreasonable? maybe they just all seem reasonable to me because we share the same worldview?). They can do bad things and they should be held responsible for their actions in the exact same way that everyone else is held responsible for their actions (me included, of course). But to make generalizations about sociopaths always acting in anti-social ways and never benefiting society is willful ignorance of the facts. The unique traits of a sociopath are going to make them both "nicer" and "meaner" than normal people. To ignore the former in favor of focusing on the latter is disingenuous -- it distorts the truth in a manipulative way that seems clearly calculated to perpetuate negative and largely unfounded stereotypes.*
*If you think these stereotypes are founded, please share specifically what you believe that foundation consists of so I can address them. Or if you don't want to speak in generalities, tell me what I do (currently, preferably) that seems so singularly wrong such that I have earned the negative stereotype and deserve to be punished. I have no problem engaging in an open and honest dialogue about all aspects or implications of sociopathy, including "bad" ones, with a focus on provable facts rather than baseless slander. I like learning truth, even if it means I've been wrong, and will keep an open-mind.