14 June 2011

Aggressive Driving, Poison Pen

There is a certain degree of anonymity that comes with posting things online - comments, email, chat, whatever.  There is also a certain degree of anonymity when we are alone at the wheel of a car.  Or at least it may seem so.

In both cases there can be a personality change.  In neither case should there be.

It's become something of a cultural icon: the Soccer Mom.  Too many obligations, high stress, and time constraints can change our personality for the worse.  We can all sometimes allow ourselves to get wound too tight.  I've had to pull part-way off the road to avoid a head-on collision because someone was absolutely determined to pass me in a dangerous stretch - just to get to the next light and start again at the same time as me.  She really didn't gain 9 more seconds on her schedule.  I've found myself fuming that the person in front of me was driving 5 miles below the speed limit.  My wife had a road encounter with a young Mormon bishop and described her contempt at his aggressive driving - and what that said about him.  Whoa.

The same holds true for writing.  I once met a senior geophysicist in Boulder, Colorado.  He was a very polite, almost obsequious individual.  I subsequently dealt with him professionally over reviews of some manuscripts, and that is where I learned the meaning of "poison pen" - it was a very different, aggressive personality: a Mr. Hyde personality exposed.  Years after I moved away from Denver and this individual had apparently retired, I received what my wife calls a "nasty gram": He accused me of sabotaging an NSF proposal he had sent in.  It had been several years since I had reviewed an NSF proposal, of course.  In the same nasty letter he included two sheets from his professional bibliography - his way of bragging apparently.  I immediately noticed that there were multiple papers - apparently the same thing but with slightly changed titles - submitted to different scientific journals.  Each paper had a number: 746, 747, 748, etc. It was a startlingly overt case of what in science professions is called "padding your bibliography."  It's a form of professional cheating, and anyone who spends any time reviewing such a thing (for instance, while serving on a peer-review panel... or reviewing an NSF proposal) will recognize this quickly and downgrade the bibliography and the worth of the individual accordingly.  I couldn't imagine a more jarring letter: an unfounded accusation and bragging combined with transparent dishonesty.  I learned later that his goal was to reach 1,000 publications before he died.

What a miserable excuse for immortality.  How incredibly sad.

My dissertation director and friend Ken Zonge once told me that in his experience dishonesty will always come back to bite you: in 10 seconds or in 10 years, perhaps - but it will come back at you.  This was in response to my reflective comment that I was glad to have him as an adviser because he was both honest and considerate.  He made it clear that he was this way for his own personal peace of mind.  

Stephen R. Covey observed that trust in someone takes a long time to build - but can be lost almost instantly by an ethical or moral violation.  He describes this pattern as a saw-blade: a long ramp up, a sharp drop, followed by a much longer ramp up to rebuild trust again.  Once burned, twice wary.  This crops up over and over again with politicians in the news.  It seems like a significant percentage of the human population is unable to think clearly in certain areas.  Gonads for brains, a roommate once said.

The take-away here:

Your private life must stand up to public scrutiny.  There is no such thing as anonymity - even hackers who use Anonimizer get nailed (three hackers in southern Spain were jailed on 10 June, 2011).  Misbehaving when you think no one is watching - or with other misbehavers and assume that it won't leak out - is a fool's errand.  Everything, always, will come back to haunt you.

If you always behave in private like everything will become public at some point... you'll never have to worry.

How do you spell tranquility?  Live so you never have to say you're sorry.


No comments:

Post a Comment