Pakku is experiencing some minor frustrations. Just stay calm.
The weekend before last, when I was at a local convention in Colorado Springs, I had a somewhat disturbing experience at a convention for the first time. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly had ODD experiences at cons, and sometimes even frustrating or unpleasant events, but this was the first time for something unsettling. What was also interesting about it was how simply it was resolved.
I took a quick bathroom break, leaving Cory to man the table on his own. When I came back, I noticed a man with a large, expensive looking camera around his neck, leaning against the wall next to my table, somewhat obscured by one of my banners. I didn’t think anything of it, just thought he was taking a moment out of the way to rest. I nodded at him and returned to my seat. At the table were two women, both cosplaying. As I typically do, I asked if they wanted a free sketch, and started working on it as they perused my books.
That’s when I heard the click of a camera. Close. I turned my head, and found the man had come right next to me, behind my booth, and was taking photographs of the women in front of me. At first, I was too baffled to process what was happening. I was in “the customer is always right” mode, and at first wondered if maybe this person was somehow with the two women. As he took his second shot, I noticed one of them tense. Not affiliated, I concluded. At this point, I had my second thought. What if these ladies assumed that somehow, this man was affiliated with me? Here he was, behind my table, in my space of business, and I wasn’t saying a word. The whole thing started getting me really mad, both at him and myself. And before I even thought about it, I found myself opening my mouth, and out popped a question. One that I’ve seen, in different variations, on posters insisting that “Cosplay is not consent!”
“Excuse me, sir, but did you get permission to take their photograph?”
He blinked and turned to me with an air of defensive confusion. “I’ve photographed them before!” he said, to which a snarky voice in my head muttered, That’s not an answer to my question, but instead of voicing that thought I just stared at him. Flustered, he didn’t say another word, and immediately stopped taking pictures and left.
Once he was gone, one of the women said to me, “Thank you for doing that, by the way. He did ask for a photo earlier, but ever since then he’s been following us. It’s been kinda creepy.”
I don’t know if that was the last they had to deal with him for the day, but at least at my table the situation had been solved. It’s occurred to me since how powerful just a simple question can be. In my head, I always like to think that I’d meet problems like that with impassioned speeches and righteous, life-changing lectures, but I’m not sure those are actually effective outside of a movie. But a question…that can do a lot to change a situation in a fairly non-threatening, non-combative way. You can ask a question fairly gently, and the question itself can be brief, but it can convey a lot. It can make people think, let them know they’re observed, that maybe something about the situation isn’t right.
I know at most of the places I’ve worked, one of the ways that I was taught to address people that were unfamiliar and a potential security risk was to simply ask them if they needed anything. “Hi, can I help you? Who are you looking for?” (Of course, this resulted in me once offending a visiting big-wig who exclaimed with a shocked outrage, “Do you know who I am?” to which I had to reply, “Well, no. That’s why I’m asking.” …but that’s another story entirely.)
Have you ever used a question to change the tone of a situation?