The benefit of the doubt and other mistakes


There is a reason that I trust absolutely no one 100% of the time.  People never cease to amaze me, whether in good, bad, or bizarre ways (usually not the first one).  It does not matter if this person is a blood family member, a best friend, or even a life partner; there is no protected class.  Oh sure, my trust level with my closest posse might reach 90-95% or more.

But it never, ever gets to 100.  That’s the ugly truth.  The truth hurts.  And believe it or not, it hurts me probably more than it hurts them.  (Of course, I don’t run around dispensing daily reminders of this sad little fact; I just let it lie dormant like an elephant in the room under the influence of a veterinary-scale thorazine shot.)

Without giving too much away (it was actually a semi-famous case after all), it all started when I was young, and my family inherited a business.  An expert professional came as sort of an implied package deal with this business.  This individual was charismatic, hilarious, and very sweet.  This person always had a story to tell or a trinket gift for us kids.  This person was a family friend and was loved by all; we kids thought of this person as an extension of our family.

Suddenly, when I was 15, deep in the winter of my uber-tumultuous 9th grade year, this person was suddenly Not OK.  The details were sketchy then and my memory 17 years after the fact is sketchier now, but I do remember going with my mother to this person’s office.  The person wasn’t there and it was kind of understood that their cover had been blown and they had been revealed for the embezzling scum that they were.  We made several trips to said office, collecting bookcases, conference chairs and tables, and other miscellaneous office furniture.  We never saw that person again.  Never had a chance to say goodbye or to tell them off or give them a piece of our minds or question “how could you?” or “what were you thinking?”  My parents lost a lot of money, and we also lost a friend–or at least, the illusion of one.  And skeleton after skeleton emerged from the closet.

Ever since then, I’ve been stripped of any woolen blindfold.  When I meet someone, I might have cheerful mischievous eyes (my Facebook picture says it all) and a genuine handshake, but inside, I’m standing on-guard.  I truly am all of those things – cheerful, mischievous, and genuine; I want nothing more than a budding lifelong friendship.  But I’m also waiting for you to try to fuck me over.

If you never take that chance, you never get burned.  I’ve never lost friendships over unpaid debts because I don’t loan money.  When someone promises something I take a tactful, “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach.  I’ve learned not to expect much from typical humanity; this way,  I’m hardly disappointed.

Well, I’m disappointed anyway, and I continued to endure this letdown until I basically started expecting primitive, animalistic, and insane behavior from people; usually I’m spot on in my expectations, but every so often someone actually displays human, higher-level characteristics, and I am pleasantly surprised.

If you don’t want to get burned, you’ve got to take the stance that words mean dick.  Come on, say it with me: Words Mean Dick.  Nice words are lovely, but only when backed up by nice actions.  Just upchucking nice words all over me without lifting a finger to back them up doesn’t butter me up to you.  It doesn’t flatter me.  I’m not won over.  That’s OK; I wasn’t trying to be a trophy object in the first place.

Also, you’ve got to be able to Cut To The Chase.  When someone is trying to convince you to do something, buy something, or sign something, you’ve got to be able to cut through all of the layers of fluff and look at exactly what it is they’re trying to tell you.

A close second question should be, why?  People don’t just give of their time or energy just to talk to you; what’s in it for them?  The more time and energy people are willing to devote to you, the more they stand to gain.  That gain doesn’t just come from anywhere; chances are, it’s going to come from you in one way or another.  Mentally or even physically, make 2 vertical columns.  Label one, What’s In It For Me and the other What Am I Giving Up, and start listing things off in each one.  And ask questions.  The hard ones.  Don’t be shy.  The more genuine and on-the-up-and-up the person, the more pointed questions they’ll be able to answer.

Recognize, monitor, scrutinize.  When a salesman picks up on a piece of information about me, they’ll often work it back into the conversation, using it as ammunition to play off of, treating it like a weak soft spot to use to get to me, to prime me, to pressure me into agreeing to whatever it is they want me to do or buy.  In fact, I often simply throw out little tidbits of info here and there to see what they do with it.  I watch how they use it, noting the vibe I get in the process.  Are they really seeking solutions to a challenge I’m facing?  Or do they just want to get me to sign their contract or buy their product?  Judging the Sleaze Factor is rather subjective, and it can take practice.

Salespeople, please.  Don’t hurt yourselves trying to convert us; we’re practically impenetrable.  We’re up on every sales technique ever tried.  We know when someone’s buttering us up.  We catch when someone we’ve known for 5 minutes starts trying to flatter us.  We’ll sit and wait patiently for you to get done with your spiel, never taking our eyes off the prize: what is it we’re getting and how much are you asking?  When the time comes, we’re actually going to whip out a calculator and start calculating monthly payments, lump sums, special discounts, prices per square foot or per word or per line, and we’re going to compare you side by side with your competitors.  We’re going to shop around.  We’re not ever going to sign or buy anything TODAY.  You can take your “if you sign up right now” and shove it.  Upon our request, you may leave a catalog and business card behind.  Rest assured, we’ll browse the catalog and keep the business card within easy reach in case we should need your services.  If we didn’t come to you, we didn’t need you.  When we do, we will.

No matter what, I hold people under a microscope.  I analyze their every move, and I eye it with suspicion.  Nobody is ever completely on my whitelist, which is why I don’t even have one.

Instead I have shades of gray, and people have to continue to work to prove themselves trustworthy and authentic in order to advance through the layers.

That said, I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt before striking the hammer.  This works just often enough that I don’t say “screw it” and abandon the idea.  Although everyone is guilty until proven innocent, I have a long reserve of appeals.  (Once the gavel bangs, however…)  I’m going to have to start tallying exactly how many quality relationships this approach has saved, whether or not they’ve lasted this long, and whether or not they were worth the energy to save.  Perhaps my benefit-of-the-doubt policy needs serious reconsideration.

In case anyone is wondering, yes, I have a recent conclusion to a story of major runaround and sleaze factor, which ended up in minor betrayal.  I’m not ready to tell it just yet; the perpetrator may or may not have bought himself another week.

Either way, it’s late and my Witchcraft books beckon (they’re always my books of choice when staying at hotels.  I make sure to leave them on the nightstand, as an insurance policy against cleaning staff vulnerable to a breach of character in terms of valuables kept in the room while we’re out – somehow they don’t want to take chances with messing with stuff owned by people who are openly studying the Craft and potentially learning spells).

Salespeople, however, can just quit while they’re behind.  It’s not like they’re going to get ahead, or even simply catch up.  And everyone else?  I’m watching you too.  If you’re not for real, it’s not like I won’t pick up on it.


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