Sunday, 19 December 2010

Saying the wrong thing

There's a certain irony to this post, given that writing a blog is all about choosing the right words, but I guess in real life we've all done it - said the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time.

Sometimes it's just plain funny. Like the time when my Mother, sitting under the hazelnut tree in the garden, turned to my beloved and exclaimed loudly, "Oh Philip, what lovely nuts you've got"

But at other times it’s more complicated. 

It was probably my twelfth birthday when my parents' gift to me was a hairdryer and some money. I've never really been a hairdryer person; I'm vain but lazy, so the effort of standing there for hours with aching arms to achieve a perfect hair-do was never my thing, but they meant well. And the money was brilliant - ten pounds was a lot in those days, I remember my friends at school being really envious and I was genuinely grateful for it at the time. Until... until my youngest sister's birthday six months, later when they bought her a Chopper bike.

Choppers were all the rage at the time. I'd never had my own bike, and never learned to ride one, I was horribly jealous. 

I didn't stop to think about the reasons behind the gift, or the tight finances that might have stopped them buying me one when I was her age. To me it was proof that they didn't care enough to think about what I wanted and that they loved her more. Complete nonsense, but it rankled. It rankled so much that next time I lost my temper I shouted "Ten pounds and a hairdryer! That's how much you care about me!"

Cruel, horrible words. Since then I've tried to erase the embarrassment that came to me too late, by attempting to make a joke of it, encouraging people to laugh at my mean-spiritedness and over time, my generous family have let it become just that - a family joke.

As an adult I've haven't eliminated my ability to be insensitive or stupid, but I've learned to recognise the tell-tale signs - the raised eyebrow, the polite smile and embarrassed laugh, or the fleeting expression of pain that comes in response to a thoughtless remark. And that's a kindness because it gives me a chance to redeem the situation.

But it only works when you're face-to-face with people. The advent of e-mail brought with it a whole range of opportunities for misunderstandings from hastily sent missives. And since starting this blog, I've uncovered another potential bear-pit - the comments form.

I love to receive comments; at their best, they make me feel proud of what I've written, at their most useful they help me to see how I could write better. So it seems only fair, when I read other people's work, that I should say something in return. And that's where the trouble arises - because it does feel like 'saying' rather than writing. For me, that sometimes means I'll fall into the trap of trying to make myself sound clever, without really thinking through or understanding how it will be interpreted at the other end and I'll press the publish button just a little too soon.

A few days ago I left a comment on a blog I admire very much. When I went back to look at later comments I re-read what I'd said. I winced at the horrible combination of patronising and glib, at words which say more about my character faults than anything about the person they were written to. There's been no response, so I've no notion of how it was received. The simplest thing would be to go back and delete it, but that might also seem odd and spark another load of misunderstanding. So I'm writing this with that slightly sick feeling of knowing I said the wrong thing at the wrong time and not quite knowing what to do about it. 

If you're reading this as the recipient of the comment, then I'm genuinely sorry. Given the chance, I will try and make a joke or a tradition of it. In the meantime, I shall just sit here and feel like my twelve-year-old self.


caterpillar said...

Hey wrote what I always have on my mind while commenting...when I type out things, I wonder if I said the right thing, if it's appropriate, if it wouldn't be taken the wrong way...that's the one time I feel that a face to face conversation is much better... I hope the recipient of the comment realizes that you didn't mean to hurt his or her feelings.

Roma said...

Brilliant post!

The chopper/ hairdryer scenario made me chuckle, you've already made me smile today!

We've all been there, those words that just slip out and you regret them the second they're said. Someone really needs to hurry up with this time machine invention. But hey, we all learn from our mistake right? In fact isn't life all about making mistakes and the character we show when handling them.

Thanks for always making me think, smile and ponder. Wonderful writing xx

Dan German said...

I recently left a comment on someone's blog that made me sound like I wanted to suck them off. So now I just say love it.

Love it x

dbs said...

Smart post. I've been feeling the same way lately and sort of looking for permission not to reply to the comments on my blog so much. Thanks for the permission because you summarized very well how I've been feeling.

Caroline said...

As the recipient of the chopper bike, I feel obliged to comment. It has indeed become a family joke and at least you're weren't as bad as my daughter who once received a present with the comment, 'it's vile, I don't want it!'. The fact that you are worried about what you say and whether you offend people speaks volumes. We all hurt people sometimes without meaning to but at least we know how to apologise! xx

Cath said...

Like you and others I hover over the keyboard and want to say something. I am never quite sure what, so I send you a secret message by another means or just think - I really like that and say nothing.
Keep being yourself, keep making comments and most of all please keep making us smile.

Baglady said...

I find leaving appropriate comments really difficult - I want to say something apt and clever without saying "aren't I brilliant?"

So hard to get it right. But then just posting a link to one's blog goes too far the other way.

Shruthi said...

I never, and I mean never, know the right thing to say in a blog comment. Especailly if it is a blog I love reading. Mostly I stick to - wow, so well-written, and other similar-reading stuff. When I do manage to say something, after I hit "post comment" it reads back like utter rubbish and I thank the universe that I won't get the opportunity to meet these people... :-|

Mr London Street said...

I have a pretty good feeling that you are worrying unduly, but I loved the post none the less.

Chris David Richards said...

I'm glad somebody else feels a bit awkward about comments forms. Depending on how it's read, a comment can completely change. There's no way to sound sarcastic in text.

That wasn't sarcastic by the way. Ah. Shouldn't have mentioned sarcasm.

Shrinky said...

Oh gosh, I am sure we have all been there at some point or other - it's cringe inducing, and made all the worse because once sent, is impossible to take back. From what you have said here, if the person you are referring to knows you well, I doubt they believe you meant anything but well.

KjM said...

I'm fortunate that all my filters seem to be in place (a sort of 5-minute live delay) when I'm typing.

Would that such were the case when I'm speaking. Not often, I'm happy to say, but every once in a while word-to-mouth without passing through the civility strainer.

It's unacceptable and I'm hoping that this "we learn from our mistakes" will kick in soon.

Good post - and I get the chopper bike vs. hairdryer issue.

Angie Larkin said...

Yes! I agree. I have a paralyzing problem of wanting to sound witty in my comments, but it isn't about me is it? I'm letting it go. I'll save my energy for my stuff.

Jane said...

I do understand. Thought it was just me that pressed send / publish then realized how awful I sounded.
Sure you'll be forgiven once they read this post

Demitria said...

I think a lot of people have this problem, it's hard to convey tone through comments...hopefully enough people realize this and give the commentor the benifit of the doubt.

Sharon Longworth said...

Hello all.
I just wanted to step in and say thank you for all of your supportive comments - it seems it's not just me who struggles to get it right sometimes.

I also wanted to say thank you to the recipient of the clumsy comment, who has responded to me in the nicest possible way and given this post a happy ending.

Jayne said...

When uncertain, always think the best. People respond to your posts because they're interested in what you have to say, and they know that it takes a brave soul to bear her heart for all. Those who comment cheer you on.

Jayne said...

Oh - and I think they'd assume you do the same!

Peaceful Warrior said...

The comments here about the post and your potential comment clanger are all you need to know about the maturity of your readers.
The person receiving the ill thought through (yet well meant, supportive comment) surely is the one who has the opportunity to display the greatest compassion, and I'm sure they knew you well enough to dismiss any malice, if they had read extensively your blog. You are a very kind and sensitive person. You are also talented and gifted when it comes to expressing your thoughts in the majority of cases.
I love your humility best.
Your blog rocks....
No-one is free from doubt about how the thought will be received as we are all human, and life teaches us to go on despite 'mistakes'. Life is too short to keep the issue going..

Jacksquatch Detangled said...

I'd just be shits and giggles to have a comment from you. Love your writing.