Collateral surveillance

Chris Gioran bio photo By Chris Gioran

I made a mistake today. Three of them, if i want to keep count, at least of the ones i am aware of. None of them were obvious at the time or even afterwards, but together they formed a story that is completely distorted and tells things that are completely beyond the truth.

The beginning is usually the best place to start, so let’s do that.

There was this talk at work today that i wanted to sit through. It was supposed to be quite interesting and important for the corporate entity that i work for, but, as these things go, it was quite disappointing. Nothing major, of course, but frustration did not escape me and by the end i was quite anxious to leave. I was with colleagues so i wanted to hang around and discuss it at the end. That was the first mistake.

Unsurprisingly, frustration caused my questions and responses to be quite sharp even for subjects unrelated - in particular, a simple question to a particular coworker and friend of mine about her timetable came off more annoyed and aggressive than i wanted to. Interaction with that person, which to my knowledge takes stock of my emotional stance against her, was the second mistake. Not her fault, of course, and definitely had nothing to do with her.

The third mistake was joking about her completely benign opinion on an unrelated matter. My comment came out acidic and, while it was obvious that it was not mean spirited, i can understand why she may took offense at it.

Add those together, what do you get?

She thought i had a problem with her. There was no reason to think that as far as i am concerned, but putting the events together and ignoring the context in my head, it is completely reasonable on her part to expect an apology for my behaviour. I probably should do that.

But that’s not what the moral of this story is.

The moral of this story is - shut the hell up.

People like patterns. We thrive on them. We don’t really have a choice - that’s what made us what we are. But that also means that we are exposed to a multitude of prejudices and biases that harm us every day. In this particular case, a simple negative emotional interaction set up a pattern in my friends mind that i might have a problem with her. After that, all samples of my behaviour toward her that matched that idea were embraced as a confirmation of that pattern. Everything else just filtered out.

What this boils down to is - you need to hide things, because no one knows what happens in your head. If others sample your behaviour they will inexorably filter out or downplay all but the things that confirm their preconceptions. And then you will need to apologise.

A government has, by definition, the same behaviour. And the preconceived idea is that people will try to take power away from them. The difference is, they don’t expect apologies - these days the fashion is to label you a terrorist or a traitor, depending.

So, think again on everything that you did today, this week, last month or three years ago. Now ignore all the things you have in your mind that justify and provide a context for those actions and think like someone who considers you a threat.

Do you still feel like that you don’t need to hide anything because you have done nothing wrong?