No sadness or remorse, just anger

The other day, I made a mistake at work. A potentially expensive mistake. It could cost the company nothing. Or it could cost the company tens of thousands of pounds—when including material costs, time consumption, lost labour, and other higher-order effects. But as I reflected on the possibility of being directly responsible for such a loss, I felt no sadness or remorse. Instead, I felt an anger that was directed solely at myself. I realised that, rather than regretting the cost the company would have to bear on my behalf, I felt most awful for the fact that I had done less than my best. 

I used to work behind the bar in a pub. Occasionally, I’d mess up how I processed transactions on the till. Nothing major, just typical human error. I recall one episode in which the landlady, first, lambasted me for my mistake, and second, expressed her exasperation at the expression that would creep across my face whenever she berated me for my errors. She said that it looked as if I was outraged that she was telling me off. She said that it looked as if I didn’t care about what I’d done and instead was annoyed that someone had highlighted my misstep. She was correct, in a way. 

To a certain degree, I’m empathic. I can understand other people’s positions, feelings and perceptions, but I don’t necessarily feel them. For example, in both the above examples, what annoyed me most was not that the businesses involved suffered due to my incompetence, but that I had not lived up to my own standards, which are basically, “Do your best, in everything.” For me, the fact that I did something wrong is more of a motive than the consequences of my wrongness that are inflicted on others. I don’t know what that says about my humanity—or my lack of it—but I do know that it represents an unsettling fact: I’m more concerned with things that directly affect me than I am with things that directly or indirectly affect others.