My Turn in the Barrel
There’s an old joke about a barrel with holes in it, and a guy who asks the purpose of said barrel. Once he finds out, he understandably would prefer not to stick around.
Our turn in the barrel, to my mind anyway, comes when we discover we’ve been a righteous jerk. Or asshole, whatever. If we care about it at all, and I most certainly try to keep mine to a minimum, it’s painful when you and I realize we did some damage.
For my part, and this is not offered up as an excuse, I deal with sometimes considerable emotional volatility, which is the result of 21 concussions. If you saw the movie Concussion with Will Smith, that’s my world. However, what I do, I do, and I own the results. The only saving grace is that I’m aware that the tendency exists and that some days are worse than others. It’s like having a case of Tourette’s asshole-itis.
Granted, some folks come out of the womb like that, but that’s another topic.
Here’s where I’m going with this. I have a number of favorite writers, and some of them are very outspoken. That’s a big part of what I like about them. One of them penned a headline not long ago which, for whatever reason, landed precisely the wrong way on precisely the wrong day. I didn’t bother to note the author’s byline.
If I had, I wouldn’t be writing this article.
I have no clue why my reaction was so visceral that day any more than I know why on other days I can get into a righteous screaming match with some poor customer service rep over a meaningless five-dollar fee. It embarrasses the holy shit of me later. Living with post-concussion syndrome has its moments. Some of them righteously suck.
Happily they are the exception rather than the rule, but they happen.
I later mentioned that headline in a negative way in an article, which was both unkind and disrespectful. Because I know that this particular writer doesn’t do clickbait headlines. Their material is funny, spicy and in-your-face. My comments were unfair at best and a serious slap in the face at worst.
Asshole. Because a responsible and sober person would simply have left the article alone. I have been on the receiving end of the same kind of bashing, including just this morning, from a fellow Medium writer who is usually a lot more thoughtful in their comments. Apparently not this particular day.
Because I still read this person’s work, I found out yesterday morning what I had done. I felt like a shitheel. Rightfully so. The offending article is now deleted, but that doesn’t change what I’d written. I did offer an apology but frankly, were I in this person’s shoes, I’d not be much inclined to accept it.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson about this is that no matter how well-intended we are, there are days that you and I can show up as genuine first-rate jerks.
In the same vein, it’s also a fair reminder that none of us is privy to what is going on in another person’s inner world, the circumstances or their pain. If someone lashes out, it could be that they just received a terrible diagnosis, lost a child in a car accident or their car got repossessed.
Allowing folks that space is a kind of grace. The same grace you and I might like to have if we are having a particularly bad day.
Like the guy who sent me a deeply unpleasant email this morning. For all I know he has too much gas from last night’s anchovy pizza.
Or, in my case, on occasion I go off the deep end for no reason other than I ate the vomit jellybean out of the Hogwart’s candy bag.
We just don’t know.
We’re not privy to what is going on in someone else’s world, any more than someone woke up that morning and crowned me the Medium Morality Police.
If you are convinced you aren’t capable of bad behavior, kindly read this story about the Donner Party. All of us are capable of pretty much anything, given the right circumstances. We’re human. By definition, we’re susceptible.
If I don’t like a headline or an article, I can leave it alone, unless something needs to be reported because the material really did cross the line. This wasn’t that at all. I just had a knee-jerk reaction and didn’t take the time to investigate, consider and simmer the hell down. As in, put my story on ice for 24 hours and re-read it in a more sober moment. Consider the potential impact.
Asshole moments on social media are elevated to level of public censure. It’s deeply disconcerting that I would insult someone whose work I like and whose opinion I value. But I did.
We all get our turn in the barrel. It’s part of being human. However, when it comes to social media and public platforms, that humanity — or lack thereof in this case- is on full display. That is the reason that Facebook, Twitter and increasingly, LinkedIn are part of the problem.
I can’t speak for anyone else but I don’t wish to be part of the problem. Yet, there are days I can be. As can we all, given the right circumstances.
I can’t do much more than apologize, erase the story (both done) and hope for the best. As in, a touch more grace the next time I feel a strong reaction, which in all honesty isn’t as easy as it sounds.
The folks who are kind enough to both read and comment on my articles have the right to expect more.
Hence, this apology; to that writer and to my readers. Most are excellent at inviting me to be better.
Which is why I am not going to respond immediately to the unfortunate comment I received this morning. Might have been anchovies.
I just don’t know.
And that is the whole point.
(There’s a PS to this piece; this morning right after publishing I came across the following story about how to tell if you’re a jerk. Worthwhile reading and right on cue. It’s one thing to fall into a pothole once in a while; quite another to live life that way. )