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Hyperion October 18, 2005

The Hyperion Chronicles
“And I ain’t just horsin’ around”

#368 Changing Horses in Midstream

Here’s a scenario. Tell me if it sounds familiar. You ate some cookies that weren’t yours. Now the owner of said cookies has approached you and asked/accused you of taking the cookies.

You need to look at this situation as a horse race, and at this point you basically have 3 horses you can ride. The first horse is Full Confession, or since he was bought by a Roman Syndicate, Mea Culpa. Just admit it and get it over with. Come clean. “Yeah, I’m sorry. I ate the missing cookies. I had a craving and I was weak and I just succumbed. I feel bad. Can I get you some more?”

Some times this horse can win you the race. The person’s anger may be muted by your candor, and respond with, “That’s okay. No biggie. I was going to share with you anyway.”

Even if that doesn’t work, the main advantage to the Mea Culpa horse is that your fear/worry is now basically over. You did it. You admitted it. Whatever is going to happen to you, there’s not much you can do about it now. The pressure is off. I would suggest you take a long look at this horse. It gets out of the gate first and it runs the inside pole the entire race. You and I (and Richard Nixon, for that matter) know it’s often not the crime but the cover-up, and all of that can be avoided with Mea Culpa.

But I’m not going to lie to you, folks. There are some times when Mea Culpa is not your pony. Sometimes that inside pole is a good way to get crushed. For example, let’s say you killed a man in Texas. Mea Culpa is not going to win you any races, except maybe to the gas chamber. More realistically: any situation involving what I like to call “a woman.”

As we all know (even if we all won’t admit it), confessing guilt to a woman gives them the “higher ground.” Giving a woman the high ground is bad enough when it comes to cookies, but friends: it doesn’t end there. A woman will continue to bring up your guilt in any and every conceivable situation from now until you’re finally rescued by the sweet embrace of Death.

Do I seem to be overstating it a bit? Well, then I’d like to welcome you back from you time away in the monastery. Seriously: men can do this too. However, I think I speak for everyone when I say that when it comes to using your own admission of guilt against you forevermore, women are generally superior to men.

So, should you get pulled over by Walker, Texas Ranger with a few unattached heads bobbing around in your trunk, or worse, you get caught by your honey bobbing your head to catch another woman’s trunk, you need to consider two other Champion Thoroughbreds in the stable.

A perennial favorite is Partial Guilt. Going back to our cookie scenario, let’s say there were 20 cookies, and you ate 9. You know you’re one the hook for at least some of them. However: hope may not be lost. There may have been more than 20 cookies originally, meaning someone else ate some. Or, the owner of the cookies might have eaten a few, and is uncertain how many there really were.

In light of these possibilities, you volunteer that you ate, “2 cookies.” That’s a pretty reasonable number. Only the most anal people are going to fault someone who spies a plateful of cookies and only takes 2.

But you could be dealing with one of those people. Another possibility—and I’m sure this has happened to you—is that you took one or two of something while your brother took 8 or 9, but you’ll get the full blame for admitting to eat a couple.

For these situations, the only real horse for you is Complete Denial. Nobody saw you eat the cookies. (Hopefully) there are other possible suspects who could be responsible. Like it or not, sometimes your best defense is to deny, deny, deny.

Now we get to the reason I’m writing this column (other than to piss off women everywhere, which of course is a continual goal). If you pick one of the last 2 horses, Partial Guilt or Complete Denial, you often do so instinctively and without a thorough analysis of the facts in question. This is when the situations often escalate from bad to really bad, from cookies to “everything ever.”

Your Complete Denial or Partial Guilt is not getting any wagers. There are serious doubts as to whether these horses can cross the finish line. So you apply the whip.

We all know that an innocent person squawks mightily when falsely accused. So, often that is our strategy. We become incensed. “How dare you accuse me of taking your cookies? You asked if I had any and I said no. You are now calling me a liar, and I don’t want to talk to someone who’s going to call me a liar.”

By a show of hands, how many of us know people who get more indignant the guiltier they are? (How many ARE those people?) I can’t tell you how many time this has happened around me. You can spot it too. The self-righteous anger is a production. They don’t hit every single note on cue. A couple of times they are oddly hesitant, usually pausing to see if you’re buying any of this.

Those who are really good at the game usually have another horse in the race (to maximize their chances of hitting the winner’s podium): Truly Committed. They follow George Costanza’s advice: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” They convince themselves—to the point of being able to pass a lie detector test—that they really are telling the truth.

Here’s where it can get very dangerous, and this is also where I depart from a pretty solid psychological basis for my comments to give you my opinion; although what I’m about to say is 100% true, even if it hasn’t been thought about enough yet to be proven.

If you’ve ever watched the Kentucky Derby, or any horse race, you know that the riders aren’t jumping back and forth on different mounts. Why? Because they could get themselves killed doing that. You pick a horse, and you ride it and hope for the best.

Most of the time this is what happens in these situations. You pick your horse—Mea Culpa, Partial Guilt, Complete Denial—and you are stuck with that horse.

I believe this is why we so often see such bizarre and terrible behavior from people. I’m a big believer in Free Will, but often we make our choices much much earlier in a given situation than we realize. By the time things escalate we’re committed and for all practical purposes at that point much of what we do is no longer in our conscious control.

If you think about it, a lot of really bad behavior comes from good people who get stuck in a situation they can’t seem to get out of. Throughout history we see a lot of murders that just baffle us. Huge gambles. Whoppers of lies, and other nonsensical behavior. Countries go to war over these kinds of high-stakes horse races, where once they commit they can’t back down. (Best example: Cuban Missile Crisis. The world was almost annihilated because Kruschev spouted his mouth off about destroying the US with no way to back down without losing face. It’s madness, but he’s not the only one to find himself in that spot, is he?)

All right: you have my theory. Here is what I wish we could do about it. We have all been in these situations. We have all picked the wrong horse, thinking to mitigate or escape punishment. And we’ve all seen relatively minor situations amp up in intensity and repercussions because of that wrong choice.

What I would like is for the aggreived/accusor/man without cookies to recognize he’s boxing the other person in. Recognize that we have all been there, all tried to get out of something, and that things are only going to get worse the way they are going. To recognize all of that and call a time out.

Call a time out and say, “You know. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to pick the wrong horse and get stuck with it. Right now I’m giving you the opportunity to change horses in midstream with no added blame. I will not hold it against you now or use it against you in the future, if right now you want to go with another answer.”

Think of the lives that could be saved. Think of the cookies that could be eaten.

October 18, 2005


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