Mind Games

P1010361Here’s an interesting thing that happened to me while I was in Austin. It’s a short story but it bears repeating. I was on my way from the governor’s mansion, back to my car. Sadly the mansion was closed but I did get some nice pictures. Anyway, I was walking past a bus stop in front of the capitol building. I stopped to take a photo then carried on walking, as I did, someone walking in the opposite direction shouted: “You know what? You’re now on what’s known as 24 hour TV!”

I raised an eyebrow and carried on walking a few paces, then turned around and lifted my sunglasses inquisitively. The man who had said this was now on the other side of the bus stop, pacing in an irritably. Some young guys near me were chuckling nervously behind their hands.

I turned to go then turned around again. I was curious, I wanted to know what he had meant by that and if he was talking to me, he seemed to be in a great deal of distress and I wondered if I could help. Besides which, the place was littered with police and it was the middle of the day, what could he do? Yell some more?

I walked up to him. As I approached he sat down and diverted his eyes in a very anxious manner.
“Hello” I said in my brightest, least threatening voice. “I was bemused by your earlier statement. What did you mean by that?”
He didn’t answer.
“What I mean to say is: were you addressing me?”
“No, I was talking to the police.” He gestured vaguely towards the police stationed just inside the capitol grounds.
“Oh, well, you seem rather agitated with them, I wonder why that is?”
“They have a death warrant out on me.”

He said it with such dead-pan seriousness I didn’t even question why anyone would say that. The next question popped out of my mouth unbidden.
“Oh, and why do you think that is?”
He looked up and his eyes met mine: tired, sunken eyes, in a long haggard face, the eyes of a man on the run.
“Well, you see, you already have all the answers and now you’re playing games with me. Good day!”
With that he turned away from me and refused to look at me.
“Aaah, I see.” I said soothingly, turned on my heel and quickly made my way back down the sidewalk.
“Paranoid schizophrenic, I am afraid” I said to the young men as I passed them. It must have been the accent because one of the boys responded in kind: “I believe that diagnosis is correct.”

It struck me then how incredibly powerful and self-supporting a belief structure is. How perfectly comfortable and necessary it was for this man to believe that the police wanted him dead. How, if this belief were to be challenged, the cognitive dissonance alone would cause him a great deal of stress. So much the same for our own delusions! Let’s hope for the wisdom to see through the comfortable images we paint on the insides of our own minds and into the harsh light of reality.