courtesy and kindness are winning strategies

Your Karmic Burden

I was looking for an opening to talk with you this weekend, but the opportunity never presented itself. The last time I saw you I was exceptionally rude to you and I feel really bad about that. There are no excuses for putting that much negativity into the atmosphere, but I was going through some medical issues that caused my moods to be erratic…

Anyway, no excuses. I am sorry and I feel bad. I hope you can forgive me and we can be happy friends again.

If not, I do understand and wish you the best.

That message appeared in my email yesterday morning, sent by a fellow attendee at a performing arts conference in San Francisco. I give her a lot of credit for sending it; I’ve talked before about the art of apologizing, and she nails it: identifies what she did wrong, explains without making excuses, and asks for forgiveness. She also makes a point of asking, not assuming or demanding, and wishes me well regardless of my reaction to her apology.

That is the way to apologize with class. I couldn’t have asked for a better example if I’d made it up. In fact, there’s only one problem with me absolving her of the rudeness:

I don’t remember it.
Being nice to other folks is also being nice to yourself

You’re Gonna Carry That Weight

It obviously weighed heavily on her mind, and I feel a little sorry for her. The fact is, while I believe her that the event happened, there are lots of people who are rude to me. Ranging from TSA inspectors to snappy baristas to anxious clients, I’ve been called things like “overrated piece of crap” and “ego-driven attention whore” (and that was from someone I had thought a friend).

I won’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. I also won’t pretend that my inherited response to pain is to get angry. I’ve lashed out on occasion, probably much like the woman who wrote that email to me, and like her I have regretted it for ages afterwards.

That, more than anything else, is why I’ve developed anger management skills over the years. It’s not altruism, it’s self-defense. I don’t want to feel bad about how I treated someone, so I take the high road, even when the other side of the conversation is full of bile and vinegar.

Killing Them With Class

“Gratitude is a sign of maturity…Where there is appreciation: there is also courtesy and concern for the rights and property of others.” ― Gordon B. Hinckley

There’s another selfish reason to take the high road: it drives the other side crazy. Rule one of internet flamewars is Don’t feed the trolls, of course, but rule two is probably Get out of the way and let the trolls destroy themselves. Many an internet “discussion” has been won by simply shutting up and letting the other side dig the hole of their own error, illustrating for everyone watching (and trolls really love an audience) just how wrong they are.

Another example was set by a client of mine just recently. I help monitor the social media for the company, and there was a brief flurry on twitter from a person who didn’t like the quality of the company’s product (in this case, educational videos). The person on twitter was sarcastic and bitter and very confrontational.

The client did try discussing the issue, but it’s social media 101 that it’s just about impossible to defend yourself from an online attack like that. Luckily there were other customers who rallied to the defense (which is also social media 101: allies can defend you better than you can). In the end the attacking party (who had never actually watched the videos they were criticizing) admitted that the attack might have just been motivated by a crappy day.

So my client won, right? Well, yes, but today they did something a bit further: they asked me to send the attacking tweeter a free membership to the video series. Instead of resting in the laurels of victory, my client wants to go the extra mile and prove that they won not because of clever social media strategy, but because of who they are and the quality of their product.

It makes me feel very fortunate to work with clients like that. It sets a good model for all of us when interacting with critics.

On the other hand, it’s not exactly motivation to be nicer to people. Be mean, and maybe you’ll get free stuff!

Ok, so it’s not a perfect model. But the fact is, while it’s scientifically proven that depressed people have a more accurate model of reality, it’s also true that cheerful people have more fun being wrong. Make your choice; me, I’m gonna keep smiling and being nice.

I’m too old to be carrying that weight. How about you?

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