Being nice is a habit from my corporate lackey days that I really need to give up. Not that I want to be a Malcolm Tucker type, screaming and cursing at everyone while still holding a job and getting promotions, and who the fuck am I kidding? I totally want to be like that. Not that I want to make everyone around me miserable, but I've worked in multiple places where I've been told, "we've spoken to Crazy Ted several times about his behavior, and he's just not going to change. He's going to keep working here and he's going to keep being crazy/rude/whatever to you, and you're just going to have to take it because standing up to him is unprofessional." (Note that in many instances, Crazy Ted is Crazy Tina. Obnoxious co-worker behavior is non-gender specific.)
But my deep seated desire to be socially allowed to curse out people in the workplace is not what I'm talking about here.
What I'm talking about is spending an hour crafting and revising an e-mail over and over again so that I don't cause offense. Because that's what you're taught to do when you work with Crazy Ted. Managers insist that it's possible to avoid setting off the crazy if you just try hard enough. (I suspect that they don't really, really believe it. They just think they do because they lack the power to fire Crazy Ted.)
The problem is that you can't avoid setting someone off. Case in point, the reunion story. In which I made an offhand comment about how the cool kids had taken the online planning of the junior reunion offline and made some questionable decisions. In the resulting shitstorm, people started testifying to their own personal experiences with coolness and had no opinions on the decision to not bother tracking down the rest of the class, or illogical location decisions.
The people who'd made suggestions, or offered to help tie down locations said nothing. Which kinda undermines that whole "I've rarely regretted saying nothing" quote that's been going around. Way to let me take all the heat for saying, "hey what about so-and-so's idea?"
Only a true asshole thinks they're never to blame. But I'm starting to realize that how I phrase something isn't going to determine how someone is going to take what I'm saying.
As a writer, the realization that I can't write my way out of someone misinterpreting my meaning and jumping down my throat? Mind blown.
In college, I took a journalism class. The professor was a freelance investigative journo who was teaching one class just to have a steady income. He'd pretty much done it all - music journalism, celebs, politics. He had the grizzled no nonsense attitude that came with the ability to interview Mick Jagger and not be too intimidated to get a decent interview.
One class, he was talking about some little bit of ethics. Not making up sources, probably. "If you do that, people will think you're a jerk," he said. And, of course, jerks don't get hired.
Everyone in the class got it. We did not want to be thought of as jerks.
Last week, a writer acquaintance of mine did a blog post that broadcast her own ignorance about something writing related. (I'm being deliberately vague here because I'm not looking to publicly embarrass her or call her out for her later actions.) I thought it would be ungenerous to let her continue broadcasting her ignorance since she's a pro writer and was intending to continue in this vein in a larger venue than her blog. So I sent an e-mail saying, hey you probably don't know this, but here ya go.
She responded saying, essentially, I don't need to know that, I'm a hack.
Instead of writing her off, I replied saying as gently as I could, yeah, you do need to know that and why are you disrespecting yourself and what you do? I spent an hour I could have spent on my own paying work trying to encourage someone else and give her a pep talk.
And that's when she accused me of being condescending. This has been followed by nasty comments on Facebook including one from a complete stranger who seems to think that insulting my lipstick is part of a valid argument.
So fuck this.
His Awesomeness told me not to bother. He told me it would only lead to aggravation. I have allowed him to do the I Told You So Dance. How is it that he's the kinder, gentler one of the two of us, but I'm the one who refuses to learn that people are eager to take offense?
I don't think I can stop trying to pay it forward to people. I've gotten great unsolicited advice and I know I'll need more along the way. I've made so many mistakes in my life that if someone told me that I was making an ass of myself, I'd probably roll my eyes and say, "Oh, what did I do now?" without even bothering with the kneejerk defensiveness.
But it's just not in me to decide that someone less experienced than I am is hopeless and unworthy of help.
But I'm done wasting time trying to be non-confrontational.
Because the people who will get it, will get it. Whether you say, like my teacher, "if you do that, people will think you're a jerk," or if you spend an hour looking for the gentlest words known to mankind. Crazy Ted in the office is going to find some excuse to cut loose, so why spend time trying to avoid it?
What's your policy on advice? Do you let people sink or swim on their own? Or do you give a helpful word when it's warranted/welcome? And how do you judge when that is? Please no comments on the recent sitch - people have been blocked on social media and it should die down soon. This post isn't about that. It's about how we don't actually have the power to prevent people from getting mad at us.