Tic takeover, a.k.a the mindvirus

by James Somers, October 16, 2009

The instant I notice that a speaker paces, or a writer abuses the em dash, or a partner in conversation says “uh” too often–that is the instant my attention crumbles. From that point forward my brain can process nothing but the tic.

Another example: I remember a friend pointing out that one of the guys in our informal study group would often whisper-chuckle at whatever he was reading, usually as a way of baiting us to ask him what was so funny, and when we bit, he’d read aloud the relevant passage.

This didn’t annoy me in the least, nor did it register that it was some kind of a regular thing. But my friend, well, he thought that this guy’s “habit” was obnoxious, distracting, and happening at a frequency that had “gotten out of hand.”

And of course, once he said this I couldn’t help but look for examples myself. When one cropped up, all I saw were the ways in which it was annoying. In effect my friend had infected me with his frustration.

This worked so well, as a matter of fact, that I started to unconsciously reason that the whisper-chuckler was actually an annoying person–for who else would do such an obnoxious thing so often?–and my negative attention spread to his other “tendencies.” Soon I saw the worst in his every move.

Not to mention that this had all become a topic of regular conversation among the rest of the group, which meant we were constantly sharing and confirming our evil observations, feeding off each other’s captious energy.

We all actually had to “take a break” from our victim, i.e., keep him out of the study group loop for a few weeks, just to save the friendship. He had become temporarily unbearable, for no other reason than because someone had asked if I’d “ever noticed that he always…?”

We later came up with the word “mindvirus” to describe what had happened. We realized that even offhand remarks, if they draw attention to a tic or tendency, have enormous power: they seize a person’s mind, seeding peeves that can multiply into the worst kind of judgment and disgust.

So beware of what you notice, and when in doubt keep it to yourself.