There are things other people know that you will never be able to truly know. This reality suggests caution, even silence, for any unknowers considering challenges to the knowers.
But we can’t help ourselves. You see that co-worker hobbling a little less than you imagine someone with a broken ankle should be hobbling, and your mind races to theorize that the “broken ankle” is a lame excuse to get out of work.
If you express these feelings publicly, you’ll surely be met with what appears to be an impenetrable defense: “You can’t know how I feel. I’m in so much pain. You’d never understand.”
Yes, it’s true that nobody but that injured person can ever know how that exact injury feels. Yet questioning is still fair game because an outsider understands how incentives work. Just as we can see a conflict of interest in a politician receiving millions of dollars from a corporation he’s supposed to regulate, we can also clearly see how exaggerating an injury may produce great returns.
The injured person actually has about the cleanest path to deceit thanks to the “impenetrable defense” and a host of holier-than-thou defenders who fake indignation at anyone who would dare question an injured person. This creates an environment ripe for cheating, and, when cheating is easy, it’s more likely to be undertaken. But since everyone who has faked a cough to miss school understands this calculus, a cheater knows there will be silent judgement at the very least, and verbal judgment if the cheating becomes too egregious.
In the mental health community there is concern that because mental health is invisible as compared to a broken ankle, judgments will be overly unfair. I find this concern to be compelling. There’s no doubt that I feel more sympathy for people suffering pain I can “see.” I also don’t really doubt that as we reach deeper levels of understanding about brain function and the human body, these knee-jerk reactions will evolve.
So at this point in time it seems like the concerns of not enough attention on mental health are more significant than the cheating concerns. But that doesn’t mean questioning should be off the table; we can’t have a society where reasonable inquiry into anything is off-limits.
And man, I couldn’t help but question Joe in Operator. I know I don’t know what it’s like to be you, but it’s clear that you have structured your life in an incredibly unstable way (one that relies on attachment to other people for your sanity), regardless of the legitimacy of your mental condition.
There was no sympathy, just annoyance, as he dipped further into a place of madness that was unbelievable. Granted, this feeling that his turn was outside the believable realm of outcomes comes from a person who knows nothing about mental illness (i.e., me).
Though, I wasn’t alone in this determination. Thankfully, his wife, Emily, who knew more about Joe’s condition than anyone, was also appalled by his devolution.
Emily and I could be totally wrong in our assessment of the situation. Joe may actually be dealing with his mental pain in the most impressive possible way. He may desperately need help that can only come outside of himself.
Does any of that matter, though? I contend that it’s fine to extend extra benefit of the doubt to loved ones, but that there is always a threshold where pure selfishness is going to take over (and it should). When caring for someone makes you miserable, that’s a good guide for the threshold. You are choosing yourself over someone else who you probably won’t be able to help anyway. It’s a painful and guilt-ridden choice, but it’s also a pretty obvious one. (Marriage and children are complicated insofar as you’ve given your word, and choosing yourself means breaking a commitment. Since just about everyone makes these types of commitments, I guess that renders the obvious choice significantly less obvious. OK. Fine. Geez. It’s not obvious or easy. Solution: Never commit to anything and then you can safely reside in the obvious camp. Ha.)
What matters in the case of Operator is that 85% of the way through the film I was convinced an intriguing story had been spoiled by Joe’s over-the-top behavior.
It’s hard for a movie to make me cry. It’s basically impossible if I’ve totally disconnected from the characters to the point of actively disliking them. That’s where I was when Joe hit the stage. And then there I was, crying. A truly remarkable turn of events.