Everyone has irrational moments. Perhaps there’s one particular thing that just shortcuts all the sensible bits of your brain and sends you into a senseless rage, or inescapably gloomy mood. Traffic. Marzipan. People pronouncing your name very slightly wrong.
I have a few. I hate to be patronised. It just pushed a very particular brain button and I lose my sense of humour. I think I secretly worry that I deserve to be treated like an idiot, so it rankles when it happens.
I hate misunderstandings. Counter-intuitively, I particularly hate little tiny misunderstandings. I’m sure you’ve seen them happen yourself. One friend says something innocuous to the other, the second friend slightly mishears or brings some odd prejudice to their perception of the message, and suddenly… It all just spirals out of reason.
There’s another one, that’s a bit more specific. It doesn’t make me angry, exactly, just enormously frustrated. Telling the truth, and not being believed.
I remember the first time it happened, as a child. You lie a lot when you’re young, partly to figure out what the rules and when/if you can break those rules. So when I was asked a question, probably by a parent or teacher, I was completely honest, and they still doubted me… Wow. That was a uniquely awful feeling. I think it’s the helplessness, you know?
Say there’s a scale of one to ten, of honesty. If someone asks how you are and you say “Fine, thanks!” that’s, like, a two. Maybe a three. You could definitely be more honest, all the way up to ten, but there’s no need for the time being.
Let me give you an example.
In a previous job, I was feeling a bit run down one day. Nothing major, but a tickly throat and a blossoming headache that seemed, to me, to indicate a potential head cold on the way. I thought I’d be a good, conscientious employee and e-mailed my boss warning him that I felt something coming on, but hoped it wasn’t anything serious.
The next day, when I woke up, I felt like death. You know how those head colds always feel much worse first thing in the morning? That. I contacted my boss and told him I would be taking the day off sick. Not just for my sake, but I certainly didn’t want to spread anything around the office.
I was fine again the next day.
Later on, maybe a week or so, my manager booked a meeting for the two of us. Not usually great news, but not a particular reason to worry.
He mentioned, a bit awkwardly, what a curious coincidence it was that I had been mildly ‘ill’ on exactly the launch day of Diablo III. How odd it was that I had primed him first.
He was very uncomfortable – I imagine it wasn’t his idea, but rather someone had mentioned it to him. “Oh, Tom happens to be off today of all days, does he? Imagine that.”
Immediately, I was dumbstruck. I was at a 10, honesty-wise. I had no room to manoeuvre, nowhere to go next. I couldn’t crank up the honesty in an effort to be more convincing, because I was fully cranked.
Sure, maybe you could dig deeper – why was he so willing to believe that I was duplicitous? Did he have good cause to start from a position of suspicion?
Actually, no, he didn’t. He thought he did, but he didn’t. I had been unfortunate, that year, and fallen ill a few times. At one point I had tonsillitis, which may not have been the first time ever but was most certainly the most extreme – I don’t recommend it. Another time I contracted some kind of debilitating flu-like horror on my final couple of days of holiday, so when I got back I was still laid low.
No, reasons. I could look back and know, absolutely know with a cast iron certainty, that I never taken a single frivolous sick day.
And yet to be doubted like that… I didn’t know what to say. It was awful.
He was an absolutely diabolical boss, to be fair. Very clever man, but no clue whatsoever about managing people.
Yeah. If I tell you the truth (to the best of my knowledge) and you don’t believe me… Don’t be surprised if I wince and squirm and mutter and glower.
Although I might do that if I’m lying, too, just to throw you off.
You never can tell, with me.