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Pardon me! The things you hear when they missed the mute button

Question: During a Zoom meeting, a colleague told us they were going to put themselves on mute. They then either failed to do that or accidentally pressed the button twice. After a pause, I (and the other meeting participants) heard an extremely loud pop-off.

To everyone’s credit, we mostly kept it together. Even still, I’m quite sure this person knows what happened, and they have not been their usual happy self in subsequent meetings.

My question is: Should I bring it up with them and assure them there is nothing to worry about or just pretend it never occurred?

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Illustration: John Shakespeare Credit:

Answer: Oh, this poor, poor person. One thing we talk a lot about in Work Therapy is anxiety coming from feeling alone. This is yet another example of someone probably feeling like they’re the only person who has ever gone through an experience such as this, but in fact being one of many.

True, the Australian Bureau of Statistics doesn’t publish audibly farting on Zoom figures, but I’m certain it happens hundreds, if not thousands, of times a year in this country alone.

I should say before I go on that there could be many reasons why your colleague’s demeanour has changed, especially given that global news hasn’t been particularly uplifting recently, but I think your assumption is pretty fair. They made a mistake with the mute function, emitted a sound for all to hear and, when they went to ‘turn off’ mute, saw there was no little crossed-out microphone icon and realised what had happened.

It would have been mortifying.

A cold and pragmatic part of me thinks this is for the best. Not for the person, of course, but for everyone else. Nobody wants people blasting flatus with merry abandon during every work meeting, in every supermarket queue or during every COVID-19 press conference. Making it socially unacceptable to the point that it’s worthy of immense embarrassment enforces decorum.

My more thoughtful and compassionate side vividly recalls my teacher in year 1, an old school disciplinarian with a no-nonsense approach to basically every facet of education, using these words when it came to classroom peeps and squeaks: “Nothing to laugh about, boys and girls. It’s just a natural part of life.”

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