Mean or misunderstood?

I feel like I’ve been in a doctoral program on dealing with meanness.

For some reason, I have been presented with people being mean more than usual.   To be clear, I do not refer to them as “mean people” because I do not believe meanness is an always proposition.  I do notice the mean action happening more often than in the past.

It is like road rage in person or in writing.

Examples?  (I’ll give you a few, washed a little to keep the people obscure and unknown.  I’m protective of people.  Our actions, taken out of context, lead to unfair assessments about people.  The folks I mention here I do not believe are bad.. I do believe they are acting a way that doesn’t serve them.)

We send out learning e-mails to people after they spend time with us.   They are quick, not fancy and meant to serve as reminders and next steps to the learning.  We started this at the request of our clients.

For one year after the sessions, we send out a quick e-mail to remind them of what they wrote down, what they learned and give additional reading.  These emails are customized to the class we taught.

I do not like writing them. I am not the best writer and I often wonder if people read them. We get some positive feedback so I have continued.

Recently, I received this e-mail (this is an actual email)

Christina,

*The receipt of formulaic e-mail is unwelcome*

*Foolish use of asterisks is also unwelcome*

*Do you actually get paid for this?*

I remember the guy from the class.  He rated us fairly high.  I wonder if he thinks maybe this is spam?  I decide not to respond right away to give me time to see it different than how it felt in the moment.  (The first line of our e-mail says *The purpose of this e-mail is to continue the learning…*   This is why he mentions asterisks. )   I wonder, why didn’t he just write to us and say “unsubscribe.”  Why so snarky?

So I play with my son, build a Lego house with a window so the Lego guy can go out on his diving board. (Sebastian is obsessed with diving boards since hearing how when I was a kid every pool had them.  Now with bubble wrapping, all the pools have removed them.  I digress.)

I get another e-mail from the guy.  In the learning e-mail I had talked about how the best executives communicate directly with individual contributors and know how to get the ‘on the ground’ information they need to run the company.   His next e-mail says this:

*By your criteria our executives fail.*

*Utterly*

So, I think, okay.  He is unhappy about something. I ask one of my team if she will look up his evaluation and make sure he did in fact sign up for the continued learning so I know how to respond.  She writes to me, “He is taking it out on you, it isn’t about you.”   She is so right.  I do get my feelings hurt a little more than normal of late.  Unsure why that is.

I had some fun writing what I would say if I wasn’t a nice person.  Things I’d say if I believed vitriol was the way the world can be improved for my son.  If I just add a little more meanness to the world, it will be so much better. (Sarcasm, if you didn’t catch it.)

I realize I am still in some sort of reaction.  I don’t like responding to people when I’m triggered or in reaction.  I don’t find it helpful nor does it feel better to me to match mean and snarky with the same.  I type out to myself, “I completely understand you don’t like *’s, how about these symbols “)@$*@)%)$%.”   Makes me chuckle.   I imagine all the funny ways I could respond.  I don’t hit send.

I go back to playing with Sebastian.

I find meanness uninteresting.    People who try their hardest to be the smartest person in the room and verbally belittle others, in my view, are not using their powers for good.    They get less of what they really want in the long term.  Well, they do get one thing they want, for  nice idiots like me to just leave them alone.

At a training this year, I had a guy come up to me and say in a loud confrontational voice, “I DO NOT LIKE YOU.  I want you to know that.”

I physically went into a protective stance.  Seriously, I had this instinct to punch his throat and walk away.

Then, I realized he wasn’t going to hit me.   Then I felt tremendous sadness.  I just felt bad for him almost immediately.  I work at my son’s preschool and all I could see was this man standing in front of me as a two-year old who is angry that his Tuesday buddy is playing with another kid because it is Wednesday.

“Do you often do this?” I ask.

“WHAT… TELL PEOPLE I DO NOT LIKE THEM or NOT LIKE PEOPLE.”   He said this spitting anger and vehemence.

“Um, neither.  Do you often waste your time talking to people you do not like?”

He looked at me and walked away.  Later, he came up and said, “I like you now.”

I’m sad to tell you what I said.  Mostly because I meant it.  I said, “I don’t give a sh*t.”  I feel guilt for that response.  I wish I would have taken a moment to talk to him.   Take the time to understand where he was coming from.  I got a little of it on me – that mean stuff.  Doesn’t feel good now as I reflect on it.

And the sad part is he said he liked me more for being mean back.

Let me say that again.  He came up to me and said the reason he liked me is because when he attacked me I wasn’t a pushover.

Really?  WHY?

SO, this time with the e-mail guy, I thought I’d wait and not match wits…   Not respond to my asterisk e-mail guy.  Just wait a day so I could respond in a way that is me and not him.  ME not MEan.

I get another e-mail.

*no response*

Why am I surprised?

I get this little trickle up the back of my neck.  I need to respond to him now.  I actually felt scared for a moment.  I have had a crazy person in my life once and this is sort of how it started.  I suddenly feel unsafe.  (I wonder if some men realize how scary they can be to people?  or how close the come to some 5’2″ self-defense trained chick punching them in the throat.)

So I write him.  Not what I wanted to say.  I write him with no human feeling.  Because I am now a little afraid of him.

Ouch.

This is follow-up learning from the session you attended with us on xxxxxx. You had provided your e-mail and checked the box requesting to be included in follow-up learning e-mails.

The e-mail was created specifically from a question we received in your session.

We have removed you from the follow-up learning e-mail list and our database.

I have not heard from him again.  As I watch the sun come up today.  I wonder a few things.

  • Did he remember us when he wrote that e-mail?  Was that just e-mail rage like road rage… where he thought he was taking out his frustration on an unknown person who happened to spam his inbox?  Is that what happened?  Is he now thinking, uh-oh…

Or

  • Was he, in his own way, trying to tell me that he didn’t want our e-mails anymore.  Is there a way to read that e-mail that isn’t persecuting?  Did I over react in my head?

or

  • Do the e-mails suck?  Should we stop doing them?  Can we improve them?   Is there a pony here somewhere?

Here is why I am writing.

It is ALL learning.

Everything that happens, if we hold off being offended, is learning.  It just maybe all 3 above.  We are improving our e-mail outreach, I learned what a trigger is for me in these types of situations and I will never tell anyone the name of this guy.  Some things just need to stay where they are.

When we respond in anger, we get less of what we want.  Unless of course we want to make people afraid of us, protective when around us and less inclined to help or listen to us.  My e-mail to him was a reaction too.  I think I could have just asked him the question about if he remembers me and wants us to simply unsubscribe.   I do believe he is a nice person.  I could have reached out.

The world is very small.   I’ll see him again.  It may be awkward.

It will not be for me.  I realize that every person on the planet has had a bad day.  A day when they acted like a jerk.  As I tie a ribbon on this experience, I will just imagine I got caught up in his bad day.

And I ask again.

Why so angry?   I had a guy behind me on Divisadero Street last month.  I was driving  under the speed limit slowing down to take a parking spot in front of the comic book store.  Sebastian and I had not had fun at Kaiser, we got some tough news, and we were going to buy some comic books as a present to ourselves.

The guy in the car, he just lost it.   Pulled along side me screaming obscenities, gesturing and seriously having a heart attack.   He rolled down his window, stopped his car and just started screaming names and grading my driving abilities.   My son is in the car and the guy can see this.   It is obvious I am parking.   I do have the ‘blinker’ on.  So, I grabbed my phone and I took a picture of him.  He looks at me sort of shocked and drives away.

I took a picture of his license plate too.

Oh, I am missing the days of DMV access where I could have sent him a photo of himself with a little note, “you are not anonymous” to his home.

Oh.  Whoops.  Would that be mean?


2 Replies to “Mean or misunderstood?”

  1. The way we think about things is influenced by the words we use, the definitions they give us. I learned this by excerpting three words of Derrida’s reply to an essay by Searle.

    To reply is to make answer in words or writing, after giving it thought.

    A response is the effect of a stimulus, a reflex or reaction.

    Most incidents of road rage, spontaneously expressed anger, toddlers’ tantrums (and their “adult” equivalents), rude gestures, etc., are responses.

    You are not a mouse in some scientist’s experiment.
    Do not respond.
    You are a human being.
    Think first. Then reply.

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