Saturday, November 21, 2009

Alpha behaviour

From the Urban Dictionary: Keyboard Courage

1: A quality or characteristic displayed by a person through the written word that this person would not ordinarily possess.
2: The confrontational attitude exhibited by someone via an anonymous entry to an internet web-page or posting.
3: An attitude demonstrated by someone when they realize that actions taken by them or words written by them across a computer connection will have little, if any, personal repercussions.
4: A false bravery possessed by an individual who does not possess the true quality in person.

2003. The last few iterations of Bernie had been on a manic high of enthusiasm. Version 1.0 considered asking for a transfer out of Toronto to coach softball to Lions Club kids in the Ottawa Valley because he believed in the value of teamwork and determination. Version 1.5 had wanted to redesign the office's org charts and version 2.0 had decided to throw everything he had behind small entrepreneurs because they were our nation's backbone.

I blinked and missed 2.5, but Bernie 3.0 was a policy wonk with law and order leanings. He’d been extolling the virtues of watching 24 not because he necessarily liked the show but because it was important; he'd go onto explain that we (North America, presumably) needed a strong prime time conservative voice on the airwaves.

I was pleasantly indifferent to both the show and Bernie's politics. I didn't think 60 minutes of prime time was going to galvanize any political movement outside of the audience who thought that slogans on t-shirts and bumper stickers represented the alpha and omega of thoughtful political discourse. I felt he was shoving a lot of ideological issues into places where they didn't quite fit: he dismissed the movie 'Traffic' for not respecting law and order, or cheapening the family compact, or did something else that that didn't conform with a policy doc somewhere close to his heart. To each his own...right?

The only thing that genuinely bothered me was how familiar his approach was. I was raised in the Baptist church. I am intimately acquainted with that moment where a conversation turns into a sermon and the preacher expects a certain level of deference from whoever they have appointed parishioner.

I was most interested in how Bernie had started referring to himself as the alpha male at weird times. He'd loaned a book to a few people in the office and pointed it out to different departments with “I read the Anthony Bourdain book first and they're all reading it because I’m the alpha male,” or “They've all started going to my favorite biriyani place for lunch because I’m the alpha male,” and so on. He'd started using it with a deadpan, matter-of-fact delivery Bill Murray would have envied, but it segued into sort of a smug, self-confident smile by the fifth or sixth time it dropped into conversation.

The office thought it was a bit weird. Versions 1.0 through 2.5 of Bernie himself wouldn't have tolerated it from anyone else. His tongue was probably housed firmly in cheek, but that wasn’t a certainty; he'd dropped the phrase often enough that it started to feel like a series of trial balloons, a little experiment to see how this new paradigm played out amongst the locals. Maybe somebody would agree that he was, truly, the alpha male in residence and make the necessary arrangements for the rest of the tribe.

He used it one time too many over a plate of chicken tikka masala and somebody followed it up quietly with “Self-appointed, of course?” and the table erupted in laughter. Bernie joined in pretty much on time, laughed the loudest, and the group moved onto other topics. He didn’t refer to himself as the alpha male again. At least not while we worked in the same Ministry.

Long after that job was over, somebody sent me a quote from an online News & Politics forum where Bernie waxed rhapsodic about Greenland and Canada's defense of the Northwest Passage, a region he claimed to know very well having visited it repeatedly. I knew that Bernie made one visit when we worked together; it's possible his next job sent him northward on a monthly basis. Or maybe the high-octane Lions Club forum fuelled enough keyboard courage to simply seize the topic at the expense of the truth.

You can make a case for attention needing to be paid, but leave it to somebody who cares. Telling tall tales on a message board lacks dignity but isn't a shooting offence. I wasn't about to register to view the original post and I refused to be put onto any de facto firing squad over somebody else's snit. I deleted the mail, left the sender to settle their own score with Bernie and left Bernie himself to his own devices.

Years later, I'm sure that there are kids in the Ottawa Valley who found an alternate softball coach to dispense life lessons and seize a teachable moment or two during batting and catch practice. And those concerned about Canada's sovereignty over the Northwest Passage had a booster in Bernie 3.0 to assist them with their struggle.

Bernie's 4.0 specs are out of my purview and I sleep well at night.

Nov 2009


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