2.41 Breaking Bad

The third packed bus flew by. Sardines. The driver didn’t even bother to slow down. I was standing on a busy street waiting at a stop for a bus that was never coming. Correction: three buses had come, but none of them could fit one more person. I felt very unwanted. At this particular street corner, among the affluent fashion boutiques and high-end furniture stores, stood a bank. A car pulled up right in front of me, stopped. The driver, a man who obviously exuded confidence, left the car running as he hurried past me into the bank. I looked at the man doing his business at the bank machine. I turned back to the running car. Bank machine, car, bank machine. He was immersed in his transaction. There was no bus in sight. Bank machine, car, bank machine, car.

This man was either an idiot or he trusted people too much. You don’t leave your car running at a bus stop in front of someone getting increasingly frustrated with public transportation and teetering ever so closely to the edge. It would be so easy. I could jump in the car and be down the street before his bank transaction finished. Just like that terrible Nicolas Cage movie, I would be gone in sixty seconds. I imagined cruising down the road, catching up to the bus, waving to some sucker standing staring through the bus window at me, the bus so packed someone smacks him in the side with their school bag. I would drive and keep driving, on to the highway, out of the city, ride clear across the country, visit each coast. I wouldn’t slow down for anyone and I would never step foot on another packed bus again.

The car door slammed and the man pulled away. The bus came and I shoehorned myself into the front with the rest of the angry people.

Sometimes I want to do bad things, but I just can’t. Something holds me back, whether it is the social contract I engage with everyday or morals instilled in me from a young age, I can admit to these thoughts but never act on them. I’m not the greatest person ever, but I’m not bad either. Or so I think. Some people do act on those thoughts.

Jon Ronson’s latest book, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, explores extreme cases of mental illness but also raises questions about the mental health in our everyday society and how it is measured. Ronson talks with Robert Hare, a well-known researcher in the area of criminal psychology. Hare created the psychopathy checklist, a series of questions that help determine whether an individual has the potential to be a psychopath. Although the checklist is aimed at convicted criminals who display antisocial, criminal and violent behaviour, Ronson raises some valid questions on how the list can be used or misused, including taking the test yourself or applying it to co-workers and friends.

A few years ago, I worked a managerial position in the corporate world. The organization I worked for hired a consulting company for marketing and promotional purposes. Part of my ‘team’ was from this consulting firm. At first, everything seemed to be moving forward in a positive fashion.

According to Ronson’s research, 1 in 100 people walking around free – people not in prisons (25% of people in prisons are psychopaths)! – have the potential to be psychopaths. As much as 4% of corporate CEO’s are considered psychopaths. We often talk about trickle down economics, what about trickle down madness?

As the project progressed, I learned things were not going according to plan. Certain truths came to light and the project moved quickly from an innovative idea to an eroding disaster. At first, I blamed myself for not working hard enough. The person from the consulting company provided false information about the state of things, continually reporting that everything was fine. Everything was not fine.

The first part of the checklist revolves around ‘aggressive narcissism’, and includes: superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, manipulation, lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy and failure to accept responsibility.

I never considered myself incredibly charming, but I do have a reasonable sense of humour. Does believing one is funny mean I have a grandiose sense of self-worth? Most of my humour is self-deprecating, so my ego is usually firmly in check. Who doesn’t tell a little white lie every once in a while? There is no reason for me to be manipulative. Guilt? I have enough guilt to fill a dump truck. If anything, I have too much empathy, sometimes to the point of paralysis. As a writer, I feel it’s my job to put myself in another person’s shoes and while not everything that is wrong in the world is my fault, I often accept responsibility for things that I didn’t even have a part in.

I confronted this individual on the misinformation and differences of perspectives. He grew defensive, saying, “I thought we were a team!” He refuted everything on my list of problems, disagreeing, making excuses and grew increasingly angry. This person had a family and I tried to humanize them in order to better understand where he was coming from. It didn’t work and things only grew worse from there.

The second part of the checklist centres on a ‘socially deviant lifestyle’, and includes: proneness to boredom, parasitic lifestyle, poor behavioral control, lack of realistic long-term goals and irresponsibility.

With how crazy and entertaining people and the world are, how can someone be bored? I’m a pretty independent person and try not to lean too much on others, almost to a fault. If anything, my behavior is too tightly controlled, I should act more on how I’m feeling. Let’s just skip over the last two.

If there was ever a test I wanted to fail this poorly, the psychopath test is it.

Before meetings or conference calls, we would agree on one thing but once in front of others, my former-colleague would contradict me, make me look like a fool. He often lied to my face, took actions behind my back I did not authorize nor support. Mistakes were made and I did not handle the situation correctly. I expect people to do their jobs, when they push me into a corner using childish tactics and resort to game playing, I find it frustrating and immature. This might be naïve, but I believe that if people who were manipulative took this energy and tried to do something positive with it, the world might be a better place.

I used to leave on a street that had a fruit stand on every corner. Out for a walk one day, I watched this old man walk around the corner of the fruit stand down a side street. On his way, he snatched an apple from the pile and kept walking. He looked like he could afford to pay for the apple. He had a complete lack of respect for the people running the fruit stand, they were stacking boxes of oranges, working hard. The man threw the apple up in the air, caught it like he was out for a relaxing stroll: no remorse. Maybe he was just hungry, perhaps he actually couldn’t afford the apple. Or maybe, I’m just making excuses. After all, for every 100 people, there’s one psychopath.

Similar to the apple-stealer, I assumed that my former colleague was just acting like a jerk, but after reading Ronson’s book, perhaps there’s another explanation…