Today at work I watched my coworker tap her computer mouse on her desk. “Hmm,” she said to herself, “it keeps freezing up.”
How often does this type of unexpected malfunction happen with technology? Often! For example, an app closes out on the iPhone, forcing us to reopen again and again without warning or explanation. Or Netflix is unable to load Narcos, so we sit, always right at the climax of the episode, waiting and watching the little red wheel spin, stuck at 25%. A text won’t send, despite having “full bars” of service. A computer won’t connect to the internet, even though it says it’s connected.
Furthermore, our cars malfunction, our watch batteries die, our pens run out of ink, and our shoe laces come untied.
Material items malfunction all of the time. They do things to us that are unplanned, inconvenient, and annoying. That’s what things do.
This is relevant for me especially as of late. For the last few months, my TV has been shutting off randomly every 30 or 60 minutes. My wife and I now have an ongoing joke that when it happens it is our commercial break. We’ll be watching a great show on Amazon and all of a sudden, the screen goes dark. Without speaking, we typically reach for the remote, turn it back on, and keep watching until it happens again. We don’t get angry with the TV itself, although it’s frustrating. We don’t say, “Ugh! some TVs are just so careless and inconsiderate!” No, we let it off the hook because it’s a piece of plastic and glass. We let it malfunction without judging its character.
This is how we always respond with material items. When they malfunction, although we are frustrated, we typically do not let it take over our emotions, unless we are a toddler… A toddler throws her body on the ground in a fit if her toy breaks, but an adult realizes that this kind of attitude will accomplish little, so she taps the computer mouse on the desk, waits patiently, and then emotionally moves on. She doesn’t judge the iPhone app for shutting down, and she doesn’t despise the Netflix show for being stuck loading at 25%.
Yet, why is it that we don’t react this way with other humans? A driver merges in front of me without a blinker on the highway and I immediately create a story in my head about this person: “He’s probably a big selfish jerk who is inconsiderate and incompetent and totally intended to cut me off and he is mean and hates puppies and…” You get it.
When humans malfunction we judge, despise, complain, and criticize. When humans malfunction we assume it is either deliberate disrespect or we assume it’s inherent selfishness or incompetence. When humans malfunction we don’t forgive and move on, no, we build up a story about how it is personal. We get offended and we get nasty. We do this with strangers on the highway and we do it with our husbands, wives, friends, coworkers, and family.
I propose that we start treating humans as well as we treat technology. After all, humans malfunction too. The next time a person does something to offend you, can you chalk it up to a malfunction? Can you assume it is an innocent error rather than a deliberate attack? Can you assume the person means no harm and is human just like you? After all, when you yourself have accidentally merged into another lane of traffic cutting off another car, you certainly didn’t intend to ruin the other driver’s day, right? Then why do you assume such things for others in the same scenario? Let’s start letting other people off the hook and chalk their mishaps up to innocent malfunctions – because it’s true and because it will make your life better.
What would happen if we started treating humans as good as we treated technology? What would happen if we let other people off the hook easier? What would happen if we put as much thought and care into others as we put into our possessions? What would happen if we gave our spouses and friends and kids as much attention as we gave or smartphones? We’d be a lot better for it, and a lot happier too. But until we do that, I’ll just assume we mean well, but we’re just malfunctioning. Because humans malfunction too.