An article by David Brooks. Last updated: September 19, 2019

Every day my teammates hang out on a video call while we work. It’s great for getting things done quickly. But in the afternoon I stepped away from the computer and left the feed going.  

After dinner, I heard a message come through for me. My team knew I was away, and I knew that there was no pressure to pick it up right then. But I had asked for feedback on a design and there was a minute to spare.

On the video chat, I saw the face of the message’s sender. Perfect! 

Our names were listed as the only members of the video conference. Everyone else was probably eating dinner.

“Oh hey, I heard your message come through,” I said. “I thought the video feed would be easier since you’re the only one here.” 

“That is false” another voice chimed in. 

My stomach dropped.

Like a Jack-In-The-Box, the names of my co-workers materialized onto the screen.

The whole team was still on the call. It was a glitch.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t say anything worse!” my friend said.

He was right. It was a good thing I hadn’t said something I’d regret more. I can take a bit of embarrassment, I’m writing this after all. 

But I’ve come to appreciate our natural filter. We all have one, though some people choose not to use theirs.

What happens when your natural form of joking is to jab an insult?

Or, what if I had commented about an email I received from another teammate, my voice dripping with disdain?

What if I had called someone an idiot?

“Oh, those guys left you working all by yourself, eh? What a bunch of slackers!”  

Most of my team knows me well enough that it wouldn’t have been taken seriously. 

But insults made in jest can still hurt. 

Our words, even if spoken in ignorance, can still spread the seeds of resentment and discord. 

We have filters to keep us from saying dumb things. Nobody is perfect. Slips of the tongue are a human condition.

But if you operate on the borderline of something sketchy, crass, or insulting, those things well-up in your mind and come out when you drop your guard. 

Someone I know worked at the Renaissance Festival. One of the common conversations we had was about Renaissance Festival comedy. Most of the time, it’s innuendo or insult. You’re trained to fire off the first thing that comes to mind. 

Personally, I think that’s a ticking time bomb.

Someone will eventually take an insult too far and offend a patron. Or they’ll get slapped with a harassment suit. 

Why? Because that’s what a filter is for. 

“Oh, you can’t tame comedy, David!” 

Sure you can. Your opinion of “clean comics” aside, there are people who don’t go after the “easy stuff.” 

When crass or insult are your routine, it will surface in your professional life. It’s not a “will it?”, but a “when will it?” 

So when your video chat is left on, and you say your dumb thing, for what will you have to apologize?


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