Home > only slightly ranty, Random Musings, Stories from Childhood > The Mashed Potato Kid: Dealing with Someone Who Doesn’t Get it

The Mashed Potato Kid: Dealing with Someone Who Doesn’t Get it


What do you DO with someone who just doesn’t get it? Someone who seems like he/she is constantly playing a word association game of opposites, while clearly looking for a winner. You say, “The sky is blue,” and that person says, “No, it’s not. It’s red. The sky is red. Crimson actually.” Any argument or reasoning to the contrary is then met with a barrage of nonsensical defenses, conclusions, and ramblings. It’s like illogical Tourette’s. You say, “No, that’s not it. I simply mean the sky is blue in appearance. Here’s why…”

The person, in response, yells something completely perplexing. Such as, “Parakeet! There’s no reason for mushrooms to wander. It is an issue of privilege, not method. You simply cannot mistake a salmon for anything other than a monkey. I mean, REALLY. How could you possibly misconstrue the facts to claim otherwise. I know these things. And the sky is most definitely the color of rage. MY RAGE. Which I have learned to control over the years, because I am a ninja.”

Granted, the paragraph above is highly fictionalized. But like all good fiction, the heart of it is true. There are people out there like that, who would not know a rational, logical discussion if it snuck up them and said BOO!

Whenever I run into someone like this, I remember this kid I knew in high school. I won’t divulge his real name, but my friends and I once dubbed him The Mashed Potato kid. I cannot remember why, but during lunch, he once explained that something felt just like mashed potatoes in a plastic bag. It sounded completely bizarre then, too – as if we’d become involved in a spy novel, and someone was supposed to respond with, “The fat man walks alone.” Or “Damn the Man! Save the Empire!” Either way.

The Mashed Potato Kid always seemed to get behind of us in the lunch line. He was out there, but we were always polite to him. You couldn’t really have a normal conversation with him. There was one occasion where, I kid you not, he tried to convince us all that he was a Ninja – AND that he could slow his pulse down at will. He attempted to demonstrate this and failed. Talk about performance anxiety…

There were other instances where the unavoidable conversations trailed off into a Jungle of WTF and OMG. Like a Black Eyed Peas song, these conversations were  horrific, a travesty, and pervasive. (Time of My Life, btw, was the last straw.) The MPK seemed to be everywhere, spouting things that just did not make sense. My friends and I did the only thing we could at the time: avoid him whenever possible and be polite to him whenever forced to converse.

Because if you disagreed with him, he became insistent. And honestly, he was a little bit on the scary side. He looked like the kind of person who would keep something scary in his basement, like a clown. Or an alligator. The Ninja Insistence really didn’t scream, “Stable!” or “Harmless!” So, we were calm and polite, always speaking in the tone you’d use to soothe an injured animal. It worked, for the most part, since we only had to deal with him a year or two.

You can’t argue logically with someone who isn’t logical. And you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken crap. But what do you do, as an adult, with someone who behaves like that? Like the MPK, this kind of person is everywhere and rabid with opinions, opinions based on Wonderland logic. And crazy.

My usual method is a several step process.

  1. Attempt to explain whatever’s been misunderstood. Act rational and reasonable. This step usual FAILS.
  2. Be polite, but try and steer the conversation gently away from the nonsense. This step usually fails, too.
  3. Get annoyed and point out every flaw in that person’s argument. Use words so large that the GRE would be proud, if inanimate tests had emotions. This is a fail, because it’s petty and accomplishes NOTHING.
  4. Feel bad for behaving poorly. Vow to ignore this person as best as possible in the future.
  5. Bang my head against the nearest object, like the character on Sesame Street who cannot remember the rest of the song lyrics.

Intellectually, I know that trying to engage in a conversation with a person like the MPK is fruitless. It’s like adding napalm to a bonfire. BAD THINGS HAPPEN. And not the kind that Jace Everett talks about. But I feel like I’m running out of tactics. I’m running out of magic tricks. I’m also running out of semi-clever metaphors.

Tell me some of your coping skills. I KNOW I’m not the only person to encounter this type of person. Teach me your wisdom.

  1. Jos A. Kruschke
    August 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm


    I think I would come right out and tell them, I think they are wrong. Honesty is the best policy, and all that. I sure wouldn’t be patronizing, that is acting as if they are to stupid to get what I was saying.
    Maybe this person is playing devils advocate? Maybe this person is just stating an opinion on the subject that isn’t your own? We will probable never know after that tongue-lashing you gave them. I bet they never post here again.
    Conversation is a two way street, without that what you have is a lecture. Without an opposing voice, we get stuck in our-own logic bubbles.
    I might suggest that they read one of my favorite authors, Edward de Bono*, on the subject of Lateral Think vs. the way logic is used in the Socratic Method. Logic is not a guaranty that you will come up with a correct answer to the problem at head.
    How many times was Spock wrong?


    Take care,

    *”de Bono’s Thinking Course” by Edward de Bono.

  2. August 22, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    It’s so weird to read this blog entry of yours tonight because we were just talking about this tonight at a group for family members of people who have BPD. Our group leader was talking about how for people with BPD, it’s very easy to misinterpret simple phrases like “Can you please pass the butter?” to be “Oh my God, you think I’m fat,” or “Why don’t you want me to eat?” Our leader suggested that in cases where things come out of left field and we’re left wanting to defend our original question/comment to respond with a question. Something like, “Can you please explain to me more why you think the sky is crimson?” A tactic I have yet to try, but I’m saving it in the back of my mind for when that next pops up. 🙂

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