I, Robot (But Let’s Talk Anyway)

Colin Wright


I’ve been called a robot before.

More than once, actually.

By girls. Girls I’ve dated.

I’m not too surprised by this honestly. I know that I’ve got a firm grasp on my emotions – outwardly at least – and that’s what people usually respond to. When there’s something crazy going on around you, do you panic or calmly say ‘There’s a fire in the ceiling’?

I know that I do the latter. In high school, during class, I walked to the far side of the room to pick up some notes I had left there earlier. As I was walking back I saw a fire burning through a hole in the ceiling created by a missing tile.

I looked up, looked at the other students and teacher, and calmly said ‘There’s a fire in the ceiling.’

Everyone looked at me like I was making a joke that they didn’t get.

I said ‘No seriously guys, there’s a fire in the ceiling.’ I pointed. They looked…eventually. My voice was so unsurprised, so perfectly calm, that no one’s internal alarms went off. Nobody snapped into action because the cue to do so – an audible sign of alarm – wasn’t there. It was purely intellectual and that kept their reflexes from kicking in.

So obviously there is a time and a place for having that level of control over your emotional responses. I personally value the fact that I can keep a cool head even in the most panic-inducing circumstances, but that doesn’t mean that staying that cool all the time is a good idea.

Here’s a good rule of thumb, one that I’m trying hard to abide by: if the situation requires empathy in order to get the best possible solution, let go of the reins a bit and let yourself get a little worked up. In the case of the fire, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do except convey a solid warning, and to do so I needed to express the concern I felt more effectively.

Similarly, if a significant other is upset and really just wants you to understand why they’re so upset, it’s probably a good idea to loosen the grip and make sure they understand that, no, you don’t think they are crazy, and yes, whatever is upsetting them is a legitimate concern.

Work hard to get that control if you don’t have it, however, because in other circumstances (if you’re being mugged, for instance), it’ll be a great asset and may actually keep you alive.