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Monday, August 23, 2021

Human shielding and how things impact a person

In reading some of the news today, I got to thinking about my own experiences at big companies, and then started wondering how much I had written about a certain topic. I went looking through the now-decade of posts here, and somehow, I've never talked about "padding". I mean, sure, the word itself comes up, but that's when talking about padding out meeting times, jamming a C-64 into a suitcase, or sticking spaces or zeroes in front of some number.

No, this kind of padding is the personal, emotional kind. You might call it shielding, or energy, or a "buffer", or "spoons", even. I don't think the name matters much. It's more about the concept.

For me, it goes something like this: if things are generally okay in my life, then I start the day with some amount of padding. If something happens, that impacts the padding. If there's enough padding, it ends up being a mild inconvenience at worst. For instance, this time last week when I had my flat tire at 75 mph, I was in a pretty good place to handle it. I just pulled off the road and got to work doing what I knew needed to be done - crack the lug nuts, jack up the car, remove the bad wheel, put on the spare, and so on.

Now, if the same thing had happened a couple of years earlier, I might not have had things together so well. I might have just pulled off the road and wept for a while until eventually figuring that I should call someone to save my bacon. The car would have still needed the same service, but I wouldn't have been so fast to just jump out on the side of the road and start getting greasy.

What's the difference? That's where my so-called "padding" comes in. Nothing too interesting has been weighing on me, so I can just deal with it. A dumb thing like a road eating my tire turns into a few wasted hours in some one-horse town and a few hundred dollars gone. I can handle that, and so life goes on.

Stuff like this is why I have to remind some people that "we don't all start from the same place every morning". Different personalities, different comfort levels, and all sorts of other dimensions come into play.

Let's try a little thought experiment here.

Say I have $1000 cash in my purse. Don't ask why, I just do on this day. I don't have any particular use for it, so it's just there. I'm driving through the middle of nowhere and I blow a tire. I drag my car into the nearest service station and - surprise - I can get it fixed, since I can just throw money at them until they make it go away. I can probably even pay for a ridiculously long tow if I feel like it. Maybe I can have the car towed back to California while I hop a plane back home. Whatever.

Now imagine me at another point in my life when I have no cash on hand, and my credit cards are pushing their limits. I'm driving along and hit the same hole and blow a tire just the same. The car gets dragged to the same spot, but now it's not going to be a certain thing that I get help and continue on my way. It'll mostly be through the kindness and generosity of whoever is out there on that day. Maybe I can get them to patch it up even though they don't advise it. Maybe I can promise to mail them a check when I get home.

Same person, different resources, different impact, different outcome.

I just need people to realize that just like money can make a situation "no big deal" or "end of the world", there are other, less-visible dimensions in the human sphere which can do the same thing.