I had a birthday recently.
Yes, it’s true, I was born and not as some in this world would have you believe, spawned from one of hell’s more pestilent pits.
But birthdays are a funny thing in many ways, especially since this one, and some of the events surrounding it, forced me to look at a few things from a different angle… a new perspective… and admittedly, sometimes, a revelation of the reality of a situation and not just my perception of it.
Now, I can’t lay claim to the title for this post. No, that is an aphorism that has been ‘borrowed’ from one of the races from one of my favourite TV shows, Babylon 5.
See, Babylon 5 is interesting as it shows how communications and perceptions can be so misconstrued that something as simple as a greeting and a gesture of respect can lead to all out war that brings a civilization to the bring of extinction. The premise is simple: 300 years in the future, humanity has learned how to travel beyond our own star system and has met many races in a galaxy teeming with life. Some are friendly and trade, others not so and become hostile and aggressive. Others are a mystery, and it is in a chance encounter with one such mysterious race that humanity makes a fatal blunder that sets them on a course for near total annihilation. In a war that sees this race cut through mankinds military and colonies with practically no resistance, we face extinction with a huge fleet of warships on our very door, ready to annihilate the species. It is only a moment of realisation that stops this race from wiping us out.
And it all starts with miscommunication.
The saying that is the title of this post comes from another species in that series. As the story develops, you find that all the species we see, bar two, are pawns in a war of ideologies between two ancient races that were meant to shepherd and nurture the younger races. One race appear as beings of light and preach a doctrine of obedience, discipline and self sacrifice for the greater good… the other, a darker race, advocate survival of the fittest through chaos and conflict. Ironically, they have each become so twisted over millenia of fighting that the first has tampered with entire races to try and tip the balance, and the second requires obedience to their doctrine, even though it preaches rebellion and chaos.
The saying “Understanding is a three edged sword” comes from the first species, the Vorlons… and it represents the objectivity of seeing things as they are… your side, my side and the truth. Three sides to every story.
Now, me, I play devils advocate all the time. I love picking apart a problem from a variety of angles and perspectives. It makes me good at my job, means i can solve problems rapidly… but it sucks for relationships, as I come off as a cold and detached bastard.
Add other peoples perceptions into the mix, and well, you can imagine the kind of problems i’ve been left with over the years. Even when I am being objective, others put their own spin, wear their own coloured lenses to see things through. And sadly, because I can be quite sarcastic, cynical and have a sharp and rapid wit… well, people tend to read more into the things I say than the face value. Some days, I could care less… others, it makes you want to go postal.
Case in point: years ago, in my early adult years, some friends and I were out enjoying a night of drinking and dancing at a nightclub. I was sort of seeing one of the girls in the group at the time, but whilst her and I had shown interest in one another, we kept hovering around each other in some kind of holding pattern, each of us too scared to make a move for fear of rejection. She was getting attention from another guy that night, attention that she really didn’t want as it turns out, but it served to make me decide what I wanted, quickly. I asked one of the guys there, a guy in a relationship that has since grown into marriage and kids, how he dealt with his girlfriend getting attention from guys.
His response was simply that he trusted her. And that was it. Nothing elaborate, just a man secure in his feelings for his girlfriend and cofident and trusting of her feelings for him.
He took my question for what it was intended to be… however, a friend of his standing with him at the time took it as some kind of insult that I was saying that he was lucky to be with a woman like her or something.
There was fallout to this conversation getting around, but thankfully, only with one person and someone I’m better off without in my life. But this goes to illustrate my point. Irrespective of what I was actually saying, independent of the reality of the situation, someone else applied their own spin and read more into what was being asked and then acted like it was gospel.
To put it mildly: that makes me irritable.
When I get irritable, my sharp tongue get’s the stone out for a razor edge… and my sense of propriety goes out the window.
During school, I put up with years of classmates’ flawed and inaccurate opinions of me. Whilst I’d always been straight, many thought that since I was well presented, well dressed, well spoken, educated and open minded… and that because a couple of my friends were homosexual, that I must have been as well. Girls will always talk to you in that situation, since you’re not perceived as any kind of threat, but the second that you take an interest to one… well, you can imagine the disappointment that one experiences. What was worse, however, was the constant treatment as though I was gay. Now, growing up in a rural area, peoples minds aren’t particularly open minded at the best of times, and when this particular subject matter comes up, they tend to snap shut like a bear trap.
During university, I used to enjoy totally screwing with peoples perceptions of me by being a chameleon of sorts. One day I would rock up in Nikes, nice jeans and a Canterbury faculty jersey, the next in slashed up jeans, Doc Martens, flannel shirt tied around the waist, a tshirt for whatever band I was into at the time, another day it would be long shorts, basketball boots, baseball hat on backwards, sunglasses. Another it would be a goth fest of black on black… hell, one day i even rocked up for classes after a job interview in a suit. By the end of second year, most of my classmates were convinced I was one of a set of either triplets or quads. The truth of the matter: I simply don’t like being pidgeonholed or labelled by some social stereotype. I forced those around me to act on what they knew of me, not what they saw in the ‘window dressing’.
During my marriage, my ex wife used to take the smallest inference or perception… and then blow it up into some god almighty extrapolation, with inferences, twisted connections and flat out misinformation and then when she would ask me about the truth of the situation… would flat out ignore the answers if they didn’t fit her expectation or perception. I would get all manner of baseless innuendo thrown at me without any kind of direct accusation. You can’t defend an accusation if there is none to begin with, and even when there was an accusation… how do you prove you DIDN’T do something without specifics in the accusation? You can’t… so like any character assassination, the accusation is often enough to smear a person.
At work, a few years back, I was part of a major project that involved a lot of project management and travel. During one of the status meetings, a female colleague made some suggestions that, quite frankly, illustrated just how poorly she grasped the various technicalities of what we were trying to achieve. I, albeit bluntly, stated that her suggestions wouldn’t work and that we should try something different, at which point she laid into me saying “You’re just dismissing my suggestions because I’m a woman!”.
WRONG! Many things I may be… cynical; sarcastic; lazy; anal retentive; self involved; according to the tests, a genius; and of course, terminally late… but I’m definitely NOT a bigot, by race, colour or gender and someone suggesting that may as well have started pouring sugar into my cars gas tank whilst having their wicked way with my grandmothers corpse.
My response? Without missing a beat, I simply shot back, “No, I’m dismissing your idea because it’s stupid and ill informed. The fact that you’re playing the ‘gender’ card just goes to support that.”
Needless to say, the project manager silenced us both quite quickly… but there was fallout to deal with after that. To this day, one of the other women in that project still acts like a complete cow to me, despite my having treated her with nothing less than courtesy and professionalism, despite her ineptitude and incompetence at her job.
In all this, I’m not saying that I’m perfect… but if I’m to be damned, then let me be damned for who I am, not other peoples perceptions of me. Let me go down for the reality of my life, not the aspect of things that everyone thinks is what is going on. If someone wants to go nuts at me, let them, but get your facts straight first… ’cause I see no reason to tolerate people condemning me for something without getting the story straight first.
Which brings me to my birthday.
A group of friends and I got together for a meal, after which, most of us went to watch Queensland Roar FC play Adelaide United at Suncorp Stadium here in Brisbane. The game was a rather ill tempered affair, with a number of incidences missed or misperceived by the referee officiating. Bruce Djiite from Adelaide United whacked Marcinho in the face, scott free, but the part that really incensed the crowd was Craig Moore getting sent for a challenge on Nathan Burns in the 68th minute. I was sitting about 15, maybe 20 metres from the challenge, and as it happened I thought Moore tackled and got nothing but the ball.
Of course, no replay on the big screen.
Since he received a second yellow, the red card came out and he was off to the showers early.
Later I got to see a video replay of the challenge, and well, it turns out from a different angle you can clearly see Moore’s challenge was two footed, over the ball and pretty well whacked Burns in the shins.
It was indeed, a matter of perspective and angles.
Shown one way, it looked ok… from another, certainly not so.
And it makes me realise how I must remain dispassionate about situations I am called to make judgement on, whether that be professional, personal or sporting. Look at the facts, consider the situation from all angles and above all, remain honest, irrespective of what the stakes are.
Three sides to every story, after all.
But I guess, with all that under consideration, The Bards words ring truest…
“This above all: To thine own self be true”