Several years ago an old university friend and I shared a hotel room at the stag do of a fellow alumnus. We had returned to our accommodation for some respite after an afternoon of paintballing hi-jinx which had left many of our party black and blue and some even righteously indignant at the unfettered immersion in wanton violence. In our room we were relatively unscathed so we remained sanguine about the so-called carnage. Conversation meandered around mutual friends and life since graduation. I was recently married and pursuing my acting career. He was in a relationship and working in IT and while he was evidently happy with his partner he didn’t have much love for his job.
That unhappiness led him to talk about recalibration. “I need to recalibrate. Recalibration is required.” At the time I was inwardly very amused at his choice of words, using what I understood as a very cold, technical term to solve a very emotional problem. I reflected that perhaps his industry had informed his language and that he might equally have said he needed a reboot or that his software was due an update or that his hard drive was on the fritz. This encounter pre-dated shows like The Office or The IT Guys so computer nerds didn’t have a representative caricature in popular media with which I could equate my friend. In their absence I affectionately constructed my own little stereotype and reduced my friend to a nebbishy antecedent of the cliched characters to come.
To my mind the traditional sci-fi cliche of a robot that thinks it is a human had been turned on its head. “The poor guy” I thought, “he can’t separate the components of a computer from his own internal workings. He’s a human that thinks he’s a machine!” Of course I knew that wasn’t really the case but the language he was using to negotiate such intimate territory felt very alien to me. Despite this, his word choice stayed with me and over the intervening years as I have come across more and more people who in varying ways are ‘stuck’, his phrase has become less and less bizarre. In fact I realise he was strangely prescient of terminology that has become extremely popular when describing emotional and psychological roadblocks.
For example, instead of using the word pathological we often choose to say ‘hard wired’. It’s a snappy way of thinking about someone’s core make-up and it does indeed conjure for us the idea of something less blood and bone and more mechanical and unwieldy. It helps us dismiss tricky individuals as being ‘wired differently’ or even having ‘faulty wiring’. We used to talk about people having a screw loose so as technology has evolved, so surely should our euphemisms! In the future we won’t be hungover, we’ll be ‘pixellated’ and someone in a heightened state won’t be ‘wired’, they’ll be ‘wireless’ with their head in the i-Clouds.
We seem to have a foot firmly in the future and Artificial Intelligence is no longer the stuff of fiction. Although it sounds like it might refer to intellectual poseurs and blowhards, the ushering forth of up to the second smart technologies by mega companies like Apple and Google is making AI a commodifiable prospect for us all. Combine those possibilities with medical science and stem cell technology and it is conceivable that hard wiring need not be something that concerns us at all in generations to come. Whether that is a good or bad thing I’ll leave for you to decide.
To me it speaks to our desire for homogeneity in our fellow earthlings. We like to take the lumps out. And some of us get extremely frustrated when we are unable to do so. We like our milk smooth and creamy, so to speak, not curdled, although I have always had the impression from dairy farmers that cows’ milk is far tastier before it has been processed. But the thing is we are merely the end users, we are not dairy farmers or pasteurisers or homogenisers. Those are professional roles which are best left to the professionals.
Milk analogies aside, it does seem that many of us are ill-disposed to tolerating different mindsets to our own. And this intolerance becomes jarringly apparent when the different mindset resides in a person close to us – say a good friend or a family member. Most things are safe from a distance. We can discount them as being too remote, too alien or too crazy to impinge in any way on our own status quo.
Two good examples of this, of differing levels of gravity, are Lance Armstrong and ISIS. Good old Lance, the ultimate cheat and dissembler who has ensured professional cycling’s long road to recovering its credibility remains as treacherous and accident-prone as an early cobbled stage of the Tour de France, was back in the press recently launching another charm offensive during which he effectively said he would commit all his wrongdoings again, dubiously painting his misdeeds as an operation worthy of admiration and wishing he could ‘change the narrative’ of him being an asshole. Hard luck Lance, you are an asshole. If the cap fits…
In the context of our discussion I remember being slightly appalled if not surprised that he still remained incapable of genuine contrition. His arrogance, his contempt for those who had exposed and castigated him, his self-righteousness; all still intact. Not a blemish on his megalomaniac armour. My conclusion? I just thought, “wow, he really is wired differently. There’s no coming back for him. There’s no changing him.” And that was it. Dismissed. A crazy, win-at-any-cost Texan, removed from me by distance and celebrity.
Lance had no impact on me personally apart from incurring my disapproval as a sports fan and sportsperson who deplores any form of cheating. Meanwhile ISIS or Islamic State, continue to get what they crave, which amongst other things, is ongoing media exposure. News broke today from Yemen of yet another atrocity where people at prayer in mosques around the capital of Sana’a were targeted by coordinated IS suicide bombers, culminating in over a hundred and fifty fatalities and hundreds of others wounded. The event is horrific and upsetting and I can’t bring myself to think of the scale of personal tragedy and heartbreak that is being endured in Yemen as I type. But once again, I can put the perpetrators at arm’s length and write them off as fanatics, men that have been radicalised and who are beyond the reach of any right-thinking person.
Any right-thinking person. What does that even mean? Anybody who thinks the same way as me? It’s not exactly objective nomenclature. Quite the contrary. The suicide bombers in Yemen think they’re the right-thinking people. So convinced of the rightness of their thinking that they’re willing to take lives for it. The lives of wrong-thinking people. It’s quite an extreme way to assert a difference of opinion. It doesn’t exactly allow for considered debate or right of reply. Do you think those men as young boys were hard wired for murder? I don’t. Which tells me that humans can be manipulated and shaped and directed to the purposes of others. But those humans are cranks so I needn’t worry about them. Right? I’m not so sure.
So while I may be able to pretend I am not affected by the aforementioned sports cheat and jihadists, I cannot pretend not to be affected by the wiring of those closest to me. You look at a friend and wonder why the hell you’re not on the same page. You see a sibling or a parent and ask yourself why you’re so different. You look at your partner, your spouse, your lover, your soulmate (not at the same time nor in the same place!) and are disturbed by an irreconcilable incompatibility. Because of a certain level of intimacy or history it is easy to convince ourselves that we have either or both the power and the right to request or seek change in the person who so exacerbates us. If only we could convince them!
But here’s the thing. You can’t convince another person of anything. You can’t effect change in someone else. A person can only do that for themselves. They have to be on that path already and perhaps seeking a sign or affirmation which is when you might be in the right place at the right time to spark a catalytic moment but otherwise – forget about it! It’s not going to happen. You think they’re wired differently? Guess what. You’re wired differently too. To them. And to many others. What can you do about it? Little other than communicate your point of view. Your desires for a future road that might be travelled together. Your acknowledgements of past failings and yes, crossed wires. A little recalibration might be in order.
And if the wires don’t align? If the sparks and shocks keep igniting? Let it go. You can both say to each other “It’s not me, it’s you.” Breathe out, accept the difference, move on. You can live in hope but don’t keep trying to wield a power that’s not in your gift. Nor should it be. You’re power-tripping. And that phrase now has another meaning you can play with. The trip switch in a fuse board is a safety device that triggers when there is an electrical fault. It causes all the power to shut down. You try and find the problem and then you start again. You reset all your devices and wonder if it’s safe to proceed. I think we all have our own trip switches that are activated by particular people and incidents in our lives. Reflect for a moment on how hard it is to re-wire or change yourself. Now how hard do you think it must be to change someone else?
You can only be yourself. Get comfortable with that idea. Love, be interested in, care for those around you but do accept that you cannot change them. That’s something they’ll have to do by themselves.
Some plugs and sockets just aren’t meant to go together. Why force the issue? Earth, live, neutral – how’s your wiring?