Thursday, December 19, 2013


Gregor Samsa wakes up to discover he has become a monster. You, on the other hand, wake up day after day, gradually realising that you always have been a monster.

Imagine you were born with a special power: the power to make others do anything you ask them to.

Your power is not foolproof: it works not by magic nor mind control, but instead simple things like charisma and social norms and subconscious terror. Your power has little effect on those deemed your superiors, but works without fail on your peers. You ask for someone’s hand and the implicit lines of obligation and normalcy and shift around the two of you like tangled vines until they cannot refuse you without demeaning themselves. You ask them to betray their friends’ secrets and their tongues are unbound by the unspoken ancient warnings against lying to you.

Thus you cannot bend others’ minds; only actions. You cannot make someone see you as a friend, but by merely treating them as one you can force them to reciprocate.

Now imagine this: you cannot control the power. It is always on.

(Were this truth couched in storytelling, this would be metaphor. This is the reverse. This is storytelling couched in truth. You have a collection of facts; between what lines is the narrative hiding?)

You weren’t always aware of this power. Once upon a time you thought you existed in a world of free information flow, where if you asked someone “Want a game?” they would respond with “Yes” if and only if the answer was yes. You asked questions, you asked people for favours, you suggested favourite books to friends, and sometimes the outcomes weren’t the best possible ones, but more often than not they were. You thought this was normal.

When you begin to realise that people subliminally acquiesce to you, the thought weighs upon your every interaction. You can’t distinguish friend from serf with any real conviction; what stock can you put in anything? Sometimes you drift away from people because you were heading different directions in life; sometimes you drift away from people because they were terrified of you and had no other way of escaping your influence. Whenever this happens, you cannot ascertain the difference. You can only conjecture.

“Do I make you uncomfortable?” you ask your best friend, who you’ve known since middle school.

He looks up at you, countenance equal parts baffled and offended by the question. “Of course,” he jokes without missing a beat, “Who wouldn’t be uncomfortable looking at a mug like that?”

You have the answer you wanted to hear; you have no answer at all.

You could try to change the way you talk, the way you imply. You could swap your “Let’s grab a drink after work”s with “Want to grab a drink after work?”s. You could swap your “Want to grab a drink after work?”s with “Would you be comfortable grabbing drinks after work?, just briefly, no pressure”s. You could swap those with very carefully worded invitations stuffed full of gracefully-decline options, delivered through a neutral third party.

Perhaps it works. Perhaps if you relate to them gently enough, the people around you will be acting of their own free will. But perhaps no amount of equivocation infallibly turns an imperative into a request.

You meet someone you want to grow to trust: a potential new friend, or partner, or mentee, or anything in between.

You make the first move—