A Good Time to Keep My Mouth Shut

I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective, lately, and how it relates to me, in both my personal and writing life. But over the past few days a few incidents have really highlighted the fact that there are times to relate your perspective, and times you should probably keep your mouth shut. 

It started off in the beginning of the week when my working life imploded in a serious of incidents of unprecedented ridiculousness and violence. Despite what I viewed as the extreme hardship of some of the files I attended with my team, we were highly successful, and in one of the events I was praised for my performance as a leader. That is all well and good, but what I did with that praise is not something that makes me particularly proud.

One of my junior members came to me to tell me a story about something he’d encountered during the shift – something he’d never seen before and forced him into a steep learning curve, but gave him valuable experience and a cool story to tell. He came into my office and laid the story on me, and instead of praising him like I should have, I pulled a, “Oh, yeah, well let me tell you about what I did.”

As I bulldozed over top of his experience with my story, I saw the enthusiastic smile slip from his face. By the time I was done the air was sucked out of him completely. It took a while for the defeated expression on his face to make it through to the interior of my empty head, but when I realized what I’d done I felt terrible and had to think really hard about how to never do that to anyone again.

Due to the difference in our rank and service, our perspectives were very, very different. Was my scene bigger than his? Well, yes it was. Was my scene more dangerous than his? Well, yes, but it’s my job to do that kind of thing. Did any of this make his task or experience less valid than mine? Fuck, no.

I felt bad about the way I’d treated that young constable for a couple days, and I was still thinking about it when and I was on my first day off and noticed several of the authors I follow on Twitter lamenting about their interaction with their fan-base, and how to deal with negative reviews. As I read their posts, about how they only had ten thousand twitter followers, or some one gave them a negative review, I wanted to reply to them and say, “At least someone bought your book, you whining shit!” Then, of course, common sense got a hold of me, (specifically the concept that no one was forcing me to follow anyone on Twitter, and if I was that grumpy I could go elsewhere – and the guy had so many followers he wouldn’t notice the departure of little old me) and I decided not to be the crazy person on the internet.

I thought, after I’d calmed down, about the difference in perspective for myself and the lamenting author. For him, writing is his livelihood and the issues he was discussing were vitally important to being able to feed himself and pay his electricity bill so he could power his lap top and keep writing. I, too, would like to one day make my living from my writing, but I am not going to starve if no one buys my book. His perspective was vastly different than mine, but was also extremely valid.

One of the most salient points I experienced this week came while I was perusing Facebook last night. A friend of mine (who shall go unnamed, because I think he’s done enough verbal fist-fighting over this already) posted an article by another writer. The article had to do with, what the author believed, was a major downfall in modern literature, and he was very focused on a certain group of people that he believed to be majorly responsible for that downfall.

I read the article and I’m still thinking about the content. There were points I agreed with, and points that I thought were a little off-side and had degenerated into nothing more than a rant. I didn’t say anything about the article, because this was one man’s perspective. The thing that bothered me was the string of hateful comments the article generated, many of them directed at the person who had shared it. Many of the comments, from my layman’s perspective, were attacking the article, and the person sharing it, because it went against their own perspective. It did not validate what the commenters believed to be their own monumental struggle, and because of this they felt it necessary to go on a vicious attack. I didn’t weigh in, because I didn’t want to be the crazy person shouting into the internet, but I thought a lot about the perspective of those comments and tried to understand the place they were coming from.

I don’t think I’m ever going to understand, but I know that I can peacefully allow people to have their perspective and not feel the need to correct them for it.

I believed that I actually learned a bit of a lesson today, and I was vaguely proud of myself. A friend started talking about their work place, and the internal politics that were ruining it. As soon as they started talking about work-place politics I looked around for an apple box to stand on, so I could launch into a diatribe about how it was so much worse at my work place; where my friend worked in a place with about twelve employees, I worked in an organization of over twenty thousand people where politics decides whether or not I get proper safety equipment and adequate resources to keep me alive at work and…blah, blah, blah…

Before I could open my mouth and make an ass of myself, my brain actually kicked in. My friend’s perspective, my brain told me, was valid, and important, and deserved my attention. The fact that it was very different than mine did not make it any less valuable. Now, I told myself, was a good time to keep my mouth shut and listen.

Perspectives are much like stories: they are all very different. And it is the difference, I think, that makes them all important. I am not going to like everyone’s perspective, just like I am not going to like everyone’s stories; I can’t stand “Twilight”, but it encouraged a large cross-section of youth to put down their cell phones and actually read a book, so maybe it isn’t as bad as I want it to be.

The thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the last few days, is that even though I don’t like something, or maybe don’t understand it, does not make it any less important. Barring anything that preaches violence against a given group (and there are lots of examples this), I think we need to give everyone enough space to have their own opinion, and tell their own story.

After all, nothing is more important than a story.

As always, thanks for reading.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “A Good Time to Keep My Mouth Shut

  1. storyteller5

    Great post. I think it’s also a good lesson in why writers shouldn’t whine over the Internet, something we’ve probably all been guilty of at least once. The guy who’s worried about his poor Twitter following and reviews–I’m sure he does have a valuable perspective, but doesn’t he have friends or family? Why gripe publicly? I’m sure many of his fans had the exact same reaction you had initially.

    My life coach told me that when it comes to social media and blogging, 80/20 is the rule–only 20 percent of our posts should be about the struggle and how tough we have it. Because that negativity will hit readers much more strongly and stick with them more than our positive posts. And who wants to be around someone who’s constantly whining? It doesn’t take too many negative posts for people to get that impression.

    I think the lessons you learned are valuable, but you can be forgiven for having to learn them. You’re human, just like the rest of us. And being a good listener is definitely a dying art form.

  2. Zan Marie

    That’s a great lesson for all of us, writer or not. We all need to engage our brains before our mouths. But, oh what a hard job that is sometimes!

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