As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a fan of The Walking Dead show on AMC. For the most part, I’m rather sick of zombies as the fiction market is absolutely flooded with the undead. But, the zombies in The Walking Dead are almost secondary to the overall story. I’m finding the show focuses much more on the interpersonal relationships of people thrown together by circumstance.
In a scene from a recent episode, three of the main characters, the “good guys” as it were, meet up with two strangers in an abandoned town. The two strangers, while seemingly somewhat polite and cordial, are obviously very interested in learning where our heroes are living. In the course of a very short conversation, the strangers are able to determine the heroes are staying at a farm near the town. Without any overt threats, they make it known they expect to be taken to this farm, ostensibly to be fed and such.
If you pay close attention to this scene and watch the body language as well as listen to the words that are spoken, you’ll notice several subtle clues as to the strangers’ true intent. While it is of course natural for such a conversation to be very tense, given the overall circumstances, Rick (the de facto leader of the good guys) is able to pick up on the body language and take appropriate action.
Should there come to pass a total societal collapse, this type of situation will no doubt be played out again and again. Members of one group meet members of another and quick decisions must be made by each about the other. Friend or foe? Good intentions or ill will?
On the one hand, your group could take the “kill ’em all, let God sort them out” approach. Doing so may indeed reduce your risk of later betrayal. However, on the other hand, let’s say one of the members of this other group is or was a surgeon and you have injured people back at camp?
If I were a betting man, I’d say the odds of your group meeting folks just like yourselves are far better than meeting people who mean you harm from the get go. But desperation changes people too so keep that in mind. A well-to-do businessman who never uttered a cross word in his adult life may turn into a homicidal maniac when it comes to providing food for his family.
The best advice I can give is, like Rick did, pay very close attention to body language and word selection. Remember, upwards of 90% of communication is nonverbal. This is why there is often confusion and misinterpretation when using email and chat for communication online. In all seriousness, the guy or gal who invents a font that is universally recognized as sarcastic will be a billionaire.
The point today is this — learn to really pay attention to the subtle clues people give out when they communicate. Learn to “read” people. It just may save your life someday.