Imagine: you did something annoying, or forgetful. Not evil, not malicious.. just annoying.
You accidentally put the toilet paper on upside down.
A person notices that you did this. It makes them annoyed. They find you to ask you about it. “Why would you do that? You know I can’t stand for it to be that way.”
What you expect to happen:
You’re surprised. You hadn’t realised you’d done it wrongly. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t real-…”
“I can’t believe you would do that to me. It interferes with my whole toilet process. I just can’t go properly when it isn’t right. Do you think it’s funny to interfere with this basic simple function that people must do?”
“Um, no.. I didn’t..-“
“God! I just can’t understand why you are out to hurt me like this. You mess up my equilibrium when I’m peeing and then next thing I will probably end up with an infection. It is so incredibly messed up that you would try to do that to me.”
“… Uh…?” Is this even serious?
“You know people can get really serious, permanent complications from having a UTI. You can end up infertile. Never able to have children. Never able to leave your mark on the world by contributing to the human race. You want me to be infertile. I don’t understand how you can think so little of me that you would wish that upon me. The ability to create a family and raise children is an almost universal human desire and you don’t think I should be allowed to have that. What kind of person would want to take away another person’s humanity like that?”
“AND sexual impotence. Not only do you want to take away my chance to have children, you want to take away my ability to enjoy an intimate physical relationship with someone else, because of the permanent damage I could end up with after the infection I will probably get from not being afforded the dignity to simply go to the toilet peacefully without your attempts at ruining my life. That is of course, if I don’t DIE. People can die from complications from a UTI, you know. You can get septic and have the infection in your blood and your whole system and you just die because of these new drug-resistant bacteria. There’s nothing that can be done to save you when you get sick like that. Nothing. Why would you want to do that to me? Why would you wish that on anyone? What kind of messed up person wants to do that to another person? Huh?”
You’re starting to become overwhelmed now. These allegations kind of sound ridiculous but the voice and tone of the person speaking them is anything but light. It is absolutely serious. You try to clarify, to point out that you don’t actually wish harm on anyone. “I didn’t .. I don’t want..-“
“What, so you are denying that you put the toilet paper on upside down?”
Good, a simple question, back to the beginning. You can point out that it was an honest mistake, and nothing was intended by it. “No, but it was just an..-“
“Exactly. You did it, knowing what the consequences could be. Knowing it could end up causing a severe impact on someone’s life. My life. Knowing that it could end up in me dying. And you are standing there and looking at me with nothing to say for yourself. Because you know there is nothing you can say. Normal people don’t try to ruin other people’s lives. Normal people don’t do things that could kill other people. What is wrong with you that you could be so cold and uncaring? Do you think other people behave this way? Because they don’t. And what do you think would happen to the people who care about me after I die? Would they be happy? Hmm?”
It’s kind of confusing, how fast this all progressed. How it went from you making a simple error that you didn’t even realise you were making into you being a person who has planned and committed this act with the express intent to seriously injure or even kill another person. It’s kind of unbelieveable. Like.. why would I..? But.. they are really angry, really offended and disgusted..
“Don’t you have any answer for that?”
“No, people wouldn’t be happy.” I don’t want to make people unhappy. But I did put the toilet paper on upside down. I think. I can’t really remember.
“Of course they wouldn’t. No one likes to have a family member die. Or a friend. But you’re so selfish that you intentionally do this knowing that it is going to hurt so many people. How do you live with yourself? How do you walk around interacting with people when you’re obviously really wishing such pain upon them?”
“But it was an accident. I didn’t put it upside down on purpose.” How can you not understand this? Or am I the one who is not understanding something..? This is confusing.
Sighing. A long silence.
“So what you are saying is that you just simply do not care enough to make sure to do things properly so that you don’t hurt people. I don’t know which is worse.” More defeated sighs. “Both options are just as bad as each other. Either way, you just don’t care about people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s just because you can’t be bothered to make an effort to do things properly or whether you actually wish harm on me and everyone who knows me. The end result is still the same. You disgust me. I can’t believe that I have to put up with this. With someone who is so far from a normal human being that they don’t care if I live or I die. What have I ever done to you to deserve this?”
By now, you’re just so, so confused, and you don’t know what to say. Part of you wants to believe that this isn’t real, but the rest of you knows that the anger and disgust in that voice and those eyes are 100% real. And so you have to wonder if maybe you are a bad person. And stupid. Because how could you not know that such a seemingly inconsequential action would potentially be so damaging to so many people? The idea that you could actually be responsible for someone’s death is almost too much to bear. You don’t want to be a murderer. But the evidence is there. You did a thing and you didn’t stop to think about how it would affect others.
“You don’t have anything to say for yourself, do you? Because you know there is nothing to say. It’s inexcusable. It’s not right, and it’s not normal. Just go. Just leave. I don’t want to see you standing there looking pathetic and sorry for yourself. What do you have to feel sorry for yourself over? It’s everyone else who will feel the consequences of what you did.”
Stunned, you start to turn, to leave, as you’ve been instructed. Maybe later, when things have calmed down a bit, you can try to ask Someone Else what they think. Try to figure out if you really are as horrible as it appears you are. ‘Cause surely you’re not, right? It was just one tiny thing. It didn’t really mean all that stuff..
“You’re just lucky it was me that noticed what you did, and not Someone Else. At least I’m the only one who has to know how really horrible and selfish you are. Someone Else doesn’t have to live with the knowledge that they have a person like you in their family. Imagine how much that would hurt them. How disgusted and disappointed they would be with you. At least they don’t have to deal with that. At least I can keep them from having to understand how really malicious and how completely inhuman you actually are.” Another heavy, laboured sigh, laced with the sound of finality.
You flee. Forget about trying to ask Someone Else. What if you tried to do that and they told you exactly the same thing? You’d know for sure how utterly fucking terrible you are. And disappointing them as well would be unbearable.
But.. I mean, it all seems so crazy. So exaggerated. Can me making a little mistake like that really tell people that I don’t care and that I would prefer to have them dead? I don’t want them to be dead. I don’t want them to think I’m a horrible person either. So maybe I should ask.
But what if they do tell me I’m horrible? No, I can’t ask.
Surely if I wasn’t so bad and selfish a person, I wouldn’t be worried about what they would say because I would know and be confident that they would tell me it was ok and it was just a misunderstanding. If it was just a misunderstanding, a miscommunication.. (First person) wouldn’t have gotten so thoroughly, completely, unmistakably incensed. If it was just a mistake, they wouldn’t be so absolutely infused with disappointment, sickened with disgust. If it upset them that much.. then I must really, truly be…
What actually happens:
You’re surprised. You hadn’t realised you’d done it wrongly. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t real-…”
They roll their eyes. “Sure, you didn’t realise.” They grin. “You know people have gone to jail for lesser crimes.” Then they laugh and wander away and have forgotten about it.
But you… immediately reacted expecting the first response. And even though it didn’t happen, your body and your mind are running wildly, your heart thumping not just in your chest but through your whole body and your eyes are filling with tears and your stomach is filling with guilt. And even though they weren’t actually angry, part of you has learned to doubt your own value so much that you can’t just take their silly joke at face value. Maybe they really are angry and disgusted with you, because it’s already been established that you’re a horrible human being. Maybe they are walking away because they don’t want to look at you and don’t want to hear your excuses. In fact, the absence of them specifically saying, “I am just joking and I am not angry at you,” probably means that they definitely are angry at you. God. Why do you have to be such a fuck-up? And this all happens in your head in the space of a single second.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, they wander back into your proximity. They look at you and notice that you’ve been upset. “What’s wrong?”
More tears spring to your eyes because now you know that even though you mostly managed to convince yourself that it was all ok, explaining to them that you were upset because you thought for a moment that they were angry at you is probably going to actually annoy them. “I thought you were angry at me.”
“With the toilet paper..”
“What? Why would you think that? I didn’t.. I just made a joke about it?”
“I know…” But their confusion at your upset just makes you feel worse. Because they don’t deserve for you to react that way when they didn’t do anything to prompt it. “I just.. don’t like making you angry.”
“But you didn’t..” It’s almost like they’re talking to a very young child or an AI with limited capacity for understanding simple facts.
You nod. But your eyes are still brimming with tears that you are desperately trying to will away with the power of your mind.
A sigh. Such exasperation. You can tell they almost feel like they’ve been accused of doing something to hurt you when they haven’t, even though you did try to explain that you knew they weren’t angry.. you’re still fucking crying. It’s just so fucking weird and unexpected in their brain that they forget what they were coming for. “Ugh. Whatever.”
And now, you have succeeded in making them actually annoyed. Good job.