Back when I was in store leadership at Whole Foods the team members evaluated the management annually. It happened when I was in the bakery as well, but that more more manageable. Our team was only 18 or so people, there were no big surprises. In store leadership somewhere between 100-200 people were rating your performance. Not 18 people you knew really well and with whom you had purposefully developed a working relationship, but 100-200 people who were often casual acquaintances at best. Or who were pissed at you because you had fired their best friend, or who simply didn’t like you, or who legitimately thought you were a shitty boss. I remember being crushed by my results one year. The negative comments were overwhelming and the worst part was they were true. I had so much to work on and felt like the worst 2nd Associate Store Team Leader in the history of the universe. My Store Team Leader saw I was working myself into a tailspin and she did something really smart-she counted the number of negative comments vs. positive comments. There were substantially more positive. It was a valuable object lesson not only for that situation, but for life. The negative stuff carries ten times the weight of the positive stuff (Thanks D, you taught me a bunch of really excellent life lessons).
A couple of days ago I came across a Mommy blog with a large audience that I’d never read before. The post I saw was a direct response to negative comments received in reference to little stories posted on her FB fan page. It was a thoughtful and thorough response that was free of malice. I was impressed. So I scooted over to the FB page to see what these comments were in the first place. There were two of them. By the same person. And I had to search through a couple dozen positive ones to find them. All the sudden her response didn’t seem so brave. The post read like folks were putting her through the wringer. I would have respected her more if she was honest-one person hurt me deeply and I feel the need to reply.
And then someone privately shared with me that they find my blog inappropriate and perhaps damaging to relationships in my life to the point where this person can no longer read and in a sincere act of caring wanted to let me know so I could avoid doing further and perhaps irreparable damage. I felt terrible. Like sick to my stomach terrible. The worst part was I felt like this person thought I was cruel. Then I decided that everyone who reads must think the same thing. And finally I concluded that I was the world’s worst writer because what I’m trying to express was so completely misconstrued by this person.
At no time did I think this person was being unkind to me. S/he was trying to help me, trying to be a friend. Because of that I wrote back and tried to explain myself. And s/he responded that s/he understood where I was coming from which made me feel a little better.
Suddenly I had a hell of a lot more empathy for the woman who wrote the blog post earlier in the week. Because if I’m honest my first reaction was pretty ugly. I was angry. How dare someone write such a thing to me? It took about a minute before the more reasonable part of me reminded the rest of me that I’d opened up this dialogue myself. I make the choice to write this blog. I make the choice to put it out there. My friends have been incredibly generous by reading and being supportive. They are under no obligation to do either. The person who wrote to me had my best interests at heart. S/he was being supportive.
The bottom line is all of us folks who are over-sharing on the internet, no matter what the reason, need to take responsibility for opening ourselves up to criticism, constructive or otherwise. Not everyone is going to agree with us or our approach. Not everyone is going to be nice to us. Although, I’ve been extremely lucky in that regard. Partially because my friends are stellar humans and partially because I have a tiny readership I just haven’t had to deal with nastiness. But if I do get meanies eventually I’ll need to figure out how to cope-if it hurts too much maybe I don’t blog. Or maybe I’ll be able to remember that anonymous nastiness on the internet is to be pitied rather than valued. But everyone is entitled to their opinion. No one has to read anything. And if I’ve been making you uncomfortable I’m sorry about that. Really. But I am still going to write here.
The day that I got the message that was hard to read I also got several messages that indicated my writing was helping some of the folks who were reading it. I’m ashamed that I forgot those messages and just concentrated on the one that found my blog distasteful. Which is self indulgent bullshit. Everyone’s opinions and feedback are equally valid. I don’t get to give the negative one more weight any more than I should only pay attention to the positive ones.
I’m not going for confession-for-the-sake-of-confession here. My goal is to help de-stigmatize mental illness, to acknowledge how hard it is to parent and be a part of marriage, to celebrate the hard work, to remind myself and others that failures will happen but we need to dust ourselves off and try again. If you don’t agree with my approach I get it. If I’m upsetting you and you want to respond I’d be happy to engage in a respectful dialogue. If you’ve given me a chance and I’m not your cup of tea I wish you well. I appreciate the time you did spend here. But time is valuable. I do not want to waste yours.
In the spirit of openness I’m also taking off the verification for the comments and enabling anonymous commenting. If it turns into a shit show I’ll put them back, but a lot of people have mentioned they have tried to comment and been unable to. I’m not expecting some love fest where everyone just agrees with me. We are all entitled to our opinions. I may be wrong about everything. But writing here has helped me a lot. For now I’m going to keep on keeping on.