On Jumping to Conclusions

People, as a general rule, are really bad about jumping to conclusions. Whenever someone says something in a public venue (like the internet, for example), the general populace is very quick to assume they know what that person is trying to convey. They make inferences that may not have been intended, leaving the speaker completely dumbfounded as to how someone could have thought that’s what they meant. They then must embark on a PR campaign to try and clear their sullied name because some asshole decided they knew the speaker better than they really did.

I’m not going to mention any names, or point to any specific instance of this, but it happens all the freaking time. It’s orders of magnitude worse when the topic is something racy like gender stereotypes, sexuality, human rights, abortion rights, reproductive rights, First Amendment rights, Second Amendment rights, rape, pedophilia, animal cruelty, etc. The list of people’s hot-button topics goes on for a long, long way. And anytime anyone says anything that maybe kinda-sorta touches on one of those topics, people always assume the worst.

The speaker, then, must wade through a blizzard of negative tweets, retweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, Tumblr posts, and gossip columns bashing them for being anti-(insert groupthink topic here) when, in reality, they meant nothing of the kind. This very thing has ruined careers, friendships, and relationships that should not have been strained because people were in violent agreement and simply unwilling to listen.

So, here’s what I’m trying to say to you all: stop, think, and ask. When someone says something that you think can’t possibly be what they really meant to say, ASK THEM A QUESTION! Clarify. Don’t be a smart ass and make some sort of sarcastic retort that will only fuel a fire they probably never even meant to set. Be courteous, respectful, and understand that some people don’t have the exact same thought process that you do. They may relate things differently in their mind and when they said something that you thought was belittling an ideology, maybe they simply consider their analogous subject to be much more important than you do.

Not only that, but (this seems so obvious to me, but it’s been the center of many a political and social media scandal) make sure you understand the true definition and usage of all the words they used. I know I said I wasn’t going to use examples, so all I’ll say here is “niggardly”. It DOES NOT mean what many people think it means. Given the current socio-political climate, it’s probably a word best left out of your vocabulary, BUT, it’s a valid word that has a perfectly inoffensive meaning. Still, best left unused in a public arena because things can be misconstrued by people who love to jump to conclusions about someone’s beliefs and world views.

The next time someone makes a statement, or posts a comic, or tweets something that you think is so unbelievably insensitive or crass, do me a favor. Step back, breathe, formulate a response, and make sure that response goes something on the order of “What you said came across in a way I was not sure you intended. To clarify, your statement seemed to make insinuation XY. This insinuation could be incredibly offensive to people who YZ. Could you please make clear what you wished to convey here, as it relates to this group?”

If they come back and say that the ignorant bigotry you pointed out was exactly what they intended, then by all means skewer them in any forum you deem suitable, but remember, your words can be misconstrued as well. So don’t say anything you might regret later.

Self Cringe

—After a few people have talked to me about this post, I feel the need to clarify that this is meant to be a commiseration type of affair. It’s meant to say ‘hey, I know some of you out there have done a dumb thing like this, and you’re not alone. If It ever happens again, try doing this thing that helped mitigate the situation.’ That’s it. I’m not trying to soapbox or anything like that. It’s just a blog.—

 

You know that feeling when you’re watching a terribly awkward social situation unfold and you see what’s coming, and you feel embarrassed for the guy who’s just digging that hole deeper and deeper?

That’s Cringe.

When you’re the one digging the hole, and you finally realize what happened…

That’s Self-Cringe.

This just happened to me in a rather public way on Twitter.

I’ve only been actively Tweeting for about a month, so I’ve got a lot to learn about that particular subset of the social media scene. Apparently one of the unspoken rules about Twitter is that you don’t make jokes about why someone is or is not following you. I didn’t realize this, so when someone I follow made a comment about having to re-follow someone after a bug caused them to unfollow them, and a third party commented, I said (innocently, because I thought it was funny) ‘so that’s why <third party> isn’t following me. It’s a bug.’ (paraphrased, but you get the idea.)

You have my permission to hiss, bite your finger, groan, moan, heckle, and look away. Except you probably can’t because it’s a train wreck.

Third party called me out on it right there. Which I’m actually grateful for because it helped to show me what I had done wrong. I hadn’t even realized that what I did was drop a nice sized deuce in the ginger ale. Third party put me on the spot and said it wasn’t cool to call him/her out in a public forum like that.

Of course I immediately realized what I had done, and even at the safety and distance of my desk, I blushed. The bottom of my stomach dropped. This is a person who I respect and who I want to respect me. This is a person who I have met, made a good impression on, and have developed a small professional relationship with. And now I’ve probably fucked all that up.

I did not try to sweep it under the rug. I have always been the sort to own up to what I say/do, and face problems head on so they don’t bite me in the ass later. So I immediately acknowledged that what third party saw/inferred was a reasonable inference, but I did not intend to insinuate that. I saw the subtext, and tried to reassure him/her that it was unintentional. I did this both on Twitter and via email where I could expound more than 140 characters’ worth, and could reassure them that putting them in such an awkward situation is not how I would pay back the kindness and professional/personal courtesy they had shown me.

If you ever find yourself in this position, where someone takes something you said in a way you absolutely did not intend, the best thing I can suggest is to own it, acknowledge that person’s feelings, and then try to make amends by ensuring that is not what you intended to communicate.

Equally important, if not even more so: learn from it. Don’t do that same thing again next week when a similar situation pops up. Not committing the error means you don’t have to hustle to make up for it.

Learn from my mistake.

EDIT AFTER THE FACT: This is not intended as a way of pointing fingers or calling anybody out or trying to make a big stink about anything anyone said or did. This is just me being cathartic, and trying to show people a (reasonably) graceful way to react when your sneaker slides through the social cow pie. Because it’s going to happen.