April 21, 2018 by readlisaread
Recently a colleague shared an email he had received. In short, the email was scolding him for his choice of words. It was obvious, in the moment, that his words were said in jest, that the woman they were directed at was a good and long time friend, and that he was poking fun more at himself than anyone else. And yet… despite this one off-hand remark as part of 90 minutes of sharing deep, meaningful and important topics, someone in the room took offense.
Here’s the thing. Everyone has an opinion they are entitled to, but I’m not convinced we have the right to share our opinions unsolicited and anonymously. I have called people out, and people have called me out, and I feel we have a collective responsibility to shine a light into dark corners– the dark corners of racism, mysogeny, and systemic abuse. But I think we have a duty to do that loud.
Because here is what happened. The anonymous emailer had an opportunity to educate my friend. He, in turn, could have received the “lesson” with gratitude, equanimity, or dismissal. But, despite the reasoning and calm tone of the content the email, the anonymous sender lacked the courage of his or her conviction. (Anonymous in the sense that the address was essentially a no-name hotmail account, the letter unsigned, no signature block to indicate location, association, connection). And in turn, the receiver had no opportunity for meaningful engagement, and his reaction to the accusations was based on the nature of having an unsolicited (and sanctimonious) shot across the bow. The words hit the bullseye, but it was the wrong target.
It seems as if it’s become a trend to choose to be offended. Intelligent people should be able to disagree without taking offense. Intellectual discourse can still include emotion, but it shouldn’t be driven by it.
I wonder if the emailer had instead extended an invitation to a conversation if the result would have been different. I wonder if instead the tone had not been one of accusation and not offered anonymously, instead with context and connection there could have been forward direction.
But then…. I wondered if I was being ungenerous. And this is the problem with dropping a screen of privacy in front of communication. Reconciliation only happens if all parties come together, in equal partnership and with a common goal. We can’t learn from another’s experience unless we are given the opportunity. That invitation is only extended if we trust. We can’t trust if we are closed.
Always shine a light on darkness. But don’t hide behind the flashlight.
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