Most of the people who take time to send me messages are kind and have wonderful stories to share so I was startled to receive an e-mail last week that was downright mean-spirited.  Here’s what happened.

In the midst of an otherwise very nice day, I received a snarky message from a woman I know only via Facebook. She had sent me a previous message, I had responded, and she didn’t like my reply.

Not only that, she didn’t like some other things I’d said and done and she wasn’t about to miss this opportunity to let me know. (You may have had this sort of argument with a sibling or partner who suddenly recalls offenses from years past.)

The gist of this rant was, “I admired you, but I’m disappointed to see that you’re a mere mortal.” It would be accurate to say that I was blindsided by her nastiness (not my own flawed humanity) .

I responded immediately, apologized, told her that any offense I’d given was totally unintended, etc. etc. I sincerely meant what I said.

Long after the return message was sent,  I noticed I was growing increasingly upset. I wanted to defend myself, prove I was a good person. You know the drill.

Shortly thereafter, she wrote back saying she felt much better after my explanation. My reaction? “I’m glad you feel better. I feel like crap.” The damage had been done.

Normally, I refuse to let the negativity of others impact my own peace of mind so I was even more surprised that I reacted so strongly. I decided to take a vow of silence for the rest of the day and contemplate what had happened. 

Now I’m not suggesting that we should keep our opinions or displeasures to ourselves, but something was amiss in this situation. Apparently, what I’d said to begin with wasn’t at all what she heard. 

Obviously, I had flunked Communication 101. I wondered if I should reconsider my policy about not using emoticons.

Once I calmed down, I took a look at what I’d learned. Here’s what I found:

1. Being mean does not equal being persuasive. 

2. E-mail may not be the most reliable method for important communication. Things get lost or the recipient may be overwhelmed at the moment an e-mail arrives. Even more common is that intention doesn’t always travel well. 

3. Writing in the heat of the moment or during an upset may provide emotional release, but not necessarily accomplish the desired result.

4. Losing a friend, ally or connection does not enrich our lives.

5. When in doubt, ask for clarification. 

As children, we learned that sticks and stones could break our bones, but words can never harm us. That may be good self-defense on the playground, but it’s also false.

Words have enormous power to heal, hurt, encourage, discourage, elate or deflate. There’s a marvelous book that came out a few years ago called The Right Words At the Right Time that illustrates this beautifully.

It’s a collection of essays from mostly famous people who talk about a moment in their lives when they were feeling doubt or frustration and someone stepped in and turned things around. With their words. 

So I’ll leave you with some new favorite words of mine which come from Dr. Frank Crane: “The Golden Rule is of no use to you whatever unless you realize it is your move.”

3 Responses to “Lessons From a Mean Girl”

  1. Sandy Dempsey

    I can relate to this post.

    I will add that if I am having a difficult day it is best that I avoid reading or sending emails. My view is colored and I can read something that is not there. interpret it negatively and then respond in kind. Not a good thing.

    Thanks for a beautifully written post and sharing what you learned.


  2. Sandra

    I just read this one out loud to Jennie.
    We had something similar happen last week with an irate neighbor at our door (vs. on line).
    We were apparently bad neighbors for putting up a lattice fence 4 years ago to screen our porch from their back yard.
    What you said here applies very well to our situation as well.
    Sorry this happened to you but thanks for putting the experience into words for the rest of us.
    Much appreciated!

  3. becky nielsen

    I suspect most of us can relate to this post. And I greatly appreciate your sharing your thought processes as you worked through it. I love the quote you ended with – might just have to post it on the fridge and bathroom mirror!

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