Direct Answers – Code of Silence

Give me your interpretation of two scenarios.

First, I have a younger cousin I will refer to as Ed. Until just a few years ago, we were tight, more like brothers. You would like my cousin, though you would never get close to his hot buttons like I do.

For example, he gets into disputes with the Boys Club and YMCA over how they administer his son's sports leagues. It's not so much the wins and losses, but his way of doing things is always the more sportsmanlike way to go.

Ed and I and his brother picked football games for years. The arrangement was that Ed would collect our picks and keep up records. You could change your picks until right before the game started. All you had to do was call or send an email, and all parties would be notified of all changes.

Recently I beat my other cousin on a game. Ed tells me "Kevin" changed his pick before the game. I received no notification so I did not accept it. Ed accused me of being a bad sport. Ed would have held me to the letter of the law, but to do so with him was just not sporting.

Second scenario. Two days after Christmas I had a wreck on the way home from work. The trooper ticketed me.

I told her I would fight the ticket. I knew I was in the right. In addition, the trooper was talking with the other guy, an ex-cop, about people they both knew on the force. She almost ignored me, other than to keep changing the reason why I was at fault.

Though she advised me not to, I fought and beat her ticket. I called the top ranking trooper. He was most concerned about my allegations of favoritism.

The original trooper comes to our house to apologize, tells my wife and me an amended accident report would be issued, and a ticket issued to the other guy. She assured me it was an honest mistake and not favoritism.

What lessons can be learned from this craziness?

~ Gavin

Gavin, someone said life is the only game where the point of the game is to figure out the rules. Both incidents illustrate that point.

Ed's behavior follows a simple rule. We often judge others by a strict standard and ourselves by a more relaxed standard. When Ed sees others bend the rules, he thinks they are of bad character. When he bends the rules, he thinks the situation justified his actions. In psychology this is known as the actor-observer bias.

The trooper story involves the same rule enlarged to a grand scale. We protect people in our group and expect them to protect us in a similar situation. The phenomenon often goes by the euphemism "professional courtesy."

The doctors' code of silence about colleagues' professional mistakes is legendary. It's also well-known among police officers. But the practice of protecting your own extends to bishops, street gangs, the military, and you-name-it.

Like actor-observer bias, it is self-protective. It shields people from something they would rather not face. The consequences. In every group some do what's right in every case. Others follow the cultural norms of the group. It is to our advantage to understand this wellspring of human behavior, rather than falling for platitudes like, always think the best of others.

Life is the only game whose purpose is to figure out the rules. We didn't sign up for the game. Our parents signed us up. Now that we're here, we should understand how things work.

~ Wayne & Tamara

Direct Answers column for the week February 5, 2018

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