Have you ever seen a man masturbate furiously? I don’t mean with aggressive pacing, but like he’s angry at you and knows you’re watching, and the only way to get revenge is to gross you out.
My apologies, that’s an awful way to start. It was just as awful to see many years ago when I worked as a computer technician. I received a computer for a standard data recovery, its hard drive so old it ashed with every spin. I saved what I could, moved the remains to a new disk and finally just had to make one last check to ensure the transferred files were actually working.
I opened only three files which I found inside the My Documents folder, chosen at random: first an audio clip, second an immemorable photo and third a video. The first few seconds of the video were of a man speaking to the camera, who I recognized as the one who dropped off the machine. Then I skipped ahead and watched another few seconds before I realized what I was seeing: him, standing nude looking directly into the camera, masturbating with a furious expression and mouthing something I thankfully couldn’t hear without speakers connected. I closed the window in a panic as if it were a door I had just stumbled through.
The man’s paradoxical displeasure haunts me to this day. Being young, I had to share the anecdote (not the video) with my coworkers. The lead wasn’t mad, but he rightfully ordered me to keep to impersonal file checks in the future. However, what struck me most about his reaction was the look on his face when he heard my story, like I had done something uncouth, farted at a funeral or choked out a dog with my simpleton’s strength.
That reaction is what now strikes me most about the whole thing. This was a minor accident and it’s not that it happened, but that it shouldn’t have happened that seemed to bother him most. I wonder often where exactly he thought I failed my obligation to respect others’ privacy.
Over the years, I’ve gained a greater appreciation of the disproportionate relationship between cause and effect. It seems that wherever you look, no matter how much you abstract the concept, the truth remains that only a small amount of concentrated energy is required to cause a large effect. For examples, see politics and society, chemistry, every meme of a cat behind Impact font. And in a universe as unpredictably chaotic as ours, the potential for an undesirable state is greater than the potential for a desired, ordered state, so every small thing we do translates into big potential for an undesirable outcome.
Sometimes it’s just wasted energy, and other times it’s harm. It’s bad enough when a single domino falls, worse yet when it strikes something on the way down and causes an undesireable chain reaction.
Where, then, was the potential for great harm in my silly anecdote? This is how I’ve come to break it down:
- I made my initial, harmless blunder in checking personal files where impersonal ones would do.
- I escalated it into a tangibly harmful mistake by sharing, resulting in 3 people having a laugh at someone’s expense with information they didn’t have right to.
- By sharing, I instigated the potential for further escalation if the others had chosen to share which, after a certain threshold, could certainly affect the man’s real life and well-being.
I hadn’t just intruded, I had also shared embarrassing knowledge I shouldn’t have because it was to me just a “harmless” anecdote; perhaps it was at that scale. But can we qualify exactly how harmless it was? This man was immediately laughed at by 3 people, whether they could place a name or a face or not. That much is a known quantity.
He wasn’t wrong to touch himself (but for in the eyes of God) or to film his sin, and he’s within his right to be angry about it even if his motivations are disturbingly intriguing. No matter the excuse, ultimately, I messed up twice: first, I shouldn’t have seen the video, and second, I certainly shouldn’t have shared what I knew about it.
In my case, no real harm came of this, but no one involved had reason to make it worse. We didn’t know the guy and we didn’t care to. In another context however, that may not have been the case. I was already talking about someone within my social sphere, and it’s entirely reasonable that he fell within the sphere of others in my group as well. What if I shared that information with someone who turned out to be the friend of a girlfriend, or a bully from the past?
Finally, what did I gain in sharing it? A chuckle, sure, but little more. At most, a lesson that I can only hope connects with others. But above all else, if I learned anything substantial, it’s that I need to delete these videos in my documents folder before someone finds them and writes about it.