The human condition is such that it’s very difficult for us to avoid projecting our emotions on other people, using our stress to paint their words into something that amplifies what we’re feeling. It’s an unfair tendency, and extremely difficult to avoid. The stronger the emotion, the more powerful the projection, and the more likely we are to put ourselves (and those other people) into difficult positions.
For the last several months, I’ve been working incredibly hard on a project. The project has had its ups and downs, and recently had a fairly serious crisis. I was indirectly responsible for this crisis, and my boss spent a lot of time talking to me about how it had affected our credibility, and what we should do going forward. While he was trying to encourage me to take a more sane stance going forward – make a reasonable schedule and keep it, I was feeling guilty about my culpability in the problem, and so I translated his words as “You’re in the hole and you have to dig yourself out!” So I made an impossible schedule (and hit my targets!) but was totally stressed, which distressed him greatly. We finally talked about it and I realized that I had been projecting my fears/stress/guilt on him – a habit I try to avoid, but one which is so easy to slide into. In this case, our discussion helped a great deal. The schedule is well in hand, the customers are thrilled, but more importantly I am once again certain that my position is secure and I can take the time to do my job well.
It’s not just engineery girls who find themselves in this position, though. McCain’s supporters, right now, are angry and afraid – and the McCain campaign has allowed many of those supporters to rev themselves into a frenzy. I’ll note that McCain has never called Obama a terrorist, but these frightened supporters are projecting their fear/anger onto his words and blowing them way out of proportion. I’m pleased to hear that McCain has started talking those people down
. We’re already in a situation where people are terrified about the economy and our country – situations less dire than this have caused violent outbreaks in the past. Adding terrorist fear to this climate, and attaching that to your opponent is not just bad manners – it’s dangerous and stupid. Unfortunately, when the projection is happening on such a massive scale, it’s much harder to sit down and clarify your position. I think McCain has started to see this tactic spinning out of control, and I hope that he’s strong enough to rein in his supporters.