science

Following my Gut

And no, I don’t refer to needing to lose weight. Over the last day or two, I’ve had a conversation about ‘getting a weird vibe” from a person, a bad feeling about a job I had to do, and a gut reading of a group of people I ran into. I’m not one to be all touchy-feely, by nature I prefer to figure out logical and rational approaches to a problem, and implement them.

But I have learned not to ignore the gut feelings. Because they aren’t based on my ‘feelings’ about a situation, rather on a subconscious processing of information, often before I have the time to analyze it in detail. Sometimes it comes to something, more often it doesn’t. But those head’s-up reactions are important, in a bad situation. Out of it, they can be annoying, and something one needs to be aware of so you don’t overreact.

I have a class where the teacher gives off a weird vibe. I told a friend about it, and she immediately came back with ‘don’t be alone with him” which isn’t what the vibe is… although it’s good advice. No, this person has a certain level of intensity that makes my neck hairs all go up, but it’s more reaction to someone watching you, hard, than anything else. It’s unnerving. I had a conversation with someone who will remain anonymous, about being too intense, and the consequences in today’s workplace. This person, a veteran, and interested in science, was newly employed at a research facility, and in the process of his job, was engaged in conversation by a female researcher. He was interested in what work she was doing, had a brief conversation, and carried on with his job. Shortly after, he was surprised and dismayed to be called in for counseling as she had complained that he was too intense, and that was sexual harassment. He learned not to talk to anyone, just do his job and keep his head down.

Both of those are cases where the natural reaction to ‘being watched’ has gone overboard. While the teacher and the veteran both share a certain training, myself and the researcher were perfectly safe with them. The difference being that I was actually aware of what was happening, and why, while she freaked out and threw a fit about it. It’s just as important to be able to evaluate a real threat, as it is to detect it. There’s a very good reason the story of the boy and the fictitious wolf resonates so well with human nature.

Yesterday, I had a gig to go to. For some reason, it was setting off my internal alarms, this sort of dull jangling that something is going to go wrong, and don’t do this… It took me a while to process through what was setting me off, and why. I had a bad feeling, but didn’t know why. Rather than allow it to keep me from working, I double-checked with the client, maps for directions, everything I could think of, and went to do it. I took my First Reader with me, which I rarely do for a longer gig. When we arrived at the gig location, I approached a small group of people, to ask if they were the right party…

Are you a clown?! The woman was all excited. No ma’am, I’m a facepainter. Are you ****? She wasn’t, but she immediately went on, you stay here and clown for us! I retreated, telling her I was expected at another party. There was nothing obviously wrong with the group, they had decorations, and kids running around, but the adults had a hungry look to them. The First Reader, watching me from the car, understood what I meant despite that ineloquent metaphor. That look is the reason I rarely (if ever) do charity work any longer. When you give something away, you get treated like dirt, and the hungry ones become angry when you can’t give any more. I saw a heart-wrenching essay on this recently, over at Hopelessly Sane.

But when I found my party, I relaxed, and so did the First Reader, who has a much better radar than I do for threats. This was a group of happy, healthy, proud people. I had a wonderful time with them, and it wasn’t until later that I was fully able to process what it was that had been setting off that warning bell. We were headed into a region of the city I’d rather not work in, first of all. It’s congested, feels hostile, and makes this country girl very uncomfortable. Secondly, the booking had been completed outside my usual channels, without the usual exchanges of information. I can’t always (because I book through third-party websites a lot) pick and choose where I will or won’t work. And I know that area is full of hunger. Not a physical hunger, but the kind that means I don’t linger, and I’m careful not to be paid where it can be seen.

It doesn’t have to do with actual poverty. I’ve worked for parties where they were poor, desperately so, but the children were important, and I was a luxury they indulged in to celebrate. I had tiny translators, so I couldn’t talk to the adults much, and I will tell you it is a lot of fun to have an elbow-high charmer teaching you words for animals and colors while handling any interchanges with aplomb. But you can see it, on their faces. They are working hard at this, and they are the parties that urge me to Eat, eat, it’s good… and sometimes, although it’s my policy not to eat at a party, I do. Because then the grandmother beams, and that… that is a GOOD feeling.

I may be stubborn, but I do try to follow my gut. Instincts, we call it, but in reality it is a reading of many tiny things, from physical location, to micro-expressions on faces. Just remember not to blindly follow it down a dead-end road. Not every bad feeling leads to a bad result, and it’s just as important to know why, at the end of the day, as it is to duck and dodge when you get those feelings. Because that is how you refine and train that gut to keep you safe, and not harm others in your own fears.