Donna Barstow

Ink Blots Cartoons

Fear

A Little Paranoia Might be Just What You Need

A classic article explored the value of "prudent paranoia".

Posted Jun 24, 2016

© Donna Barstow All Rights Reserved
Source: © Donna Barstow All Rights Reserved

My last cartoon was about magical thinking. Yes, I'm a believer.

When does anxiety or fear turn into paranoia? A lot of us don't trust something new and unfamiliar. But in the old days, avoiding red berries and new animals kept us alive!

How about an emergency, such as in the cartoon, when the desert crawler is dying of thirst, but still hesitates to accept help? Or when we need something, but still can't get close to someone, or trust their motivations?

Roderick M. Kramer wrote a fascinating article for Harvard Business Review in which he asserts that a little paranoia—and sometimes a lot—is good for us. He calls it "prudent paranoia."

Prudent paranoia is a form of constructive suspicion regarding the intentions and actions of people and organizations. ...By awakening a sense of present or future danger, prudent paranoia serves as part of the mind’s early warning system, prompting people to search out and appraise more information about their situations.

Now, keep in mind that this article was written in 2002, soon after 9/11. (And the collapse of Enron, which does not have the same power to most people today.) Still, he makes a lot of sense, and quotes two technology whizzes, people who we assume are well-grounded in reality.

The author suggests that even Steve Jobs used paranoia. Not in a defensive way, but offensive: He convinced young Apple people to be wary of IBM. (Does this remind you of recent politics?)

Be sure to read to the end of the article about a somber case that turned out to be real: sometimes the FBI really is watching you.

By the way, I am not like the guy in the cartoon. I was an early adopter of soy milk... once they invented chocolate.

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