A couple weeks ago I received an angry email from someone I don’t know, chiding me for a comment I made on a blog (not their blog) and accusing me of being “rude and mean.” I have to admit, this is not the first time I’ve received such an email. I doubt it will be the last. Sigh. You’d think I would have learned to shrug it off by now. But this one was different in that I’ve never before been accused of being “mean.” It upset me badly. It hurt my feelings. It made me want to never say anything to anyone in public ever again, if I could be so horribly misjudged.
“You have enemies? Good. It means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” -Churchill
It also made me think about how people “see” me and how that differs from how I see myself. Which view is true? What carries more weight, the intentions behind the words or their effect on others? Never mind the fact that if I ever did decide to say something mean, I sure as hell wouldn’t do it in public. Anyone who earns my wrath deserves a bit of privacy. But if someone saw me as being “mean” and was upset enough to tell me about it, does it matter that I wasn’t trying to be mean, that I don’t think of myself as a mean person?
I’m not sure I know the answer to that. I do know that being misunderstood is one of the hazards of communication, especially written communication. Adding the subjective element of humour — especially dry sarcastic humour, as is often the case with my commentary — just increases the odds of words being taken the wrong way.
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” -Marcus Aurelius
This isn’t about whether people “like” me. I know there will always be people who don’t. Probably a lot of people. I’m fine with that. I can’t think of anyone who I’d say I hate, that’s too strong, but certainly there are people I don’t particularly care for. That’s normal. Frankly, I’d be a bit concerned if I were universally loved. Or hated. This is about being misunderstood.
As a writer, part of my job is to make myself understood, to communicate clearly. Being confronted with such a huge disconnect between what I thought I’d said and what someone else heard was disturbing. And yes, it also stung my vanity.
So what is the solution? Is there one, short of hermitage? People approach the world with their own individual experiences and biases and opinions. In many cases, they hear what they expect or want to hear and no amount of argument will convince them otherwise.
I could filter and analyze every word with the utmost care, scrupulously edit each utterance for clarity and single-minded purpose. But I’d lose spontaneity and creativity. And stifle my voice. Taking that much care, being that concerned about being misunderstood, that mindful of what others think would chip away at my self-confidence until I was unable to write at all. I’m not willing to do that. Plus, quite honestly, I don’t think it would work.
“What other people think of you is none of your business.” –Unknown
So I guess I have to toughen my hide. Learn to hit the “delete” key on my inbox and convince myself not to feel bad about it. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. They are not entitled to my reaction to it.
I’ve got a ways to go before I’m completely convinced of that. It feels too much like I’m being mean.