There’s nothing like being stuck inside your house to take time to ruminate over things. Thinking of the perfect come back to a conversation from months ago. Configuring the perfect plan to respond to someone who offended you.
In the past you might have let it go, even forgotten. But now we have so much TIME to THINK!
Which is how I finally decided to respond to an email I received in February. I’m part of a writers meet-up for satire writers. The group is so much fun—after all, everyone in the group is funny! It pushes me just outside the edge of my comfort zone: I may be the lone writer in the group who’s never had a satire piece published (turns out you actually have to submit a piece first), and I’m seemingly the oldest, by a good 20 years.
But you wouldn’t know it. Everyone is so wonderful and inclusive—if you have an idea—no one ever says, “bad idea.” In the true spirit of improvisation’s “yes, and,” they just run with it and riff, starting with your premise. It’s so much fun!
So when I saw one of the members tweet about a comedy show that she and at least 2 to 3 other members of our group were performing in, I got excited. I looked up the last “satire potluck meetup” email for the group, hit reply all, and sent this:
Field Trip? I could go Friday Night March 20th. Anyone?
Within minutes I got an email back from the group leader, one of the performers in the show: “THIS LIST IS ONLY FOR THE POTLUCK. DON’T USE IT FOR PERSONAL SH*T. EVERYONE’S MAD AT YOU NOW.” At least, that’s how I remembered it.
Embarrassed, ashamed, I shot back a quick “sorry.” And then stewed for six weeks. I’d see something and it would remind me. “I was only trying to be supportive!” I’d think.
Until, finally, today, I decided to confront it. “I’m a professional,” I thought. “I’ll take the intercultural approach,” a la intent does not equal impact. “My intent was to be supportive of the great people in the group who would be performing live,” I’ll tell her. “Sorry if the impact was inappropriate use of the list.”
So I went to my inbox and found the original email, to respond where it had left off. And here’s what I found:
Thank you so much for helping to spread the word about our show! 🙂 I did just want to let you know that a lot of folks on this list haven’t actually attended satire potlucks/haven’t agreed to receive emails beyond the general potluck invites. I want to make sure everyone feels safe giving me their information, so if you could keep messages like this limited to a small group that includes the folks we know a little better, I would really appreciate it!
Thanks again for your enthusiasm about our show—can’t wait to see you there!!
And I laughed out loud. That could not be a nicer email. Like really nice.
The entire “conflict” took place inside my head.
And in my head also sat the part where I felt like an outsider to the group—by age and experience. For me, I had put myself out there to send the invitation, already afraid of rejection. So when the email came back—with that lens in my head, that is what I perceived. My reaction matched my assumptions going in. None of which matched what really really happened.
Intercultural Communications Perception Model
In intercultural communications we also talk about the perception model. Input from the outside world goes through our own filters—culture, age, experience. Our filters guide our assumptions, and then we derive meaning and act/react.
In intercultural communications training we advise people to slow down and be hyper-aware of this process—to acknowledge that our filters are subjective. If our assumptions about something we perceive from the outside world are correct, we will communicate successfully. On the other hand, if they’re not, there can be a knee-jerk, often biased reaction that happens when our filters “lie” to us.
That is what happened to me here.
The World According to Our Head
As we spend so much time in our own heads these days, sheltering-at-home, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that we…spend so much time in our own heads. How many conversations are we imagining, where WE are having both sides of the conversation? And do you know you can’t always be trusted?
There are so many clichés for this—Clean your glasses! Lose the baggage! GTFOH! Whichever resonates with you, pick it, and go.
For me, with a clear head, it’s time to respond to that original email…
Yay! Can’t wait until we are out of quarantine and can all go out again and laugh together!
Photo credit: I made this original artwork, entitled “Remember the Olden Days when Our Mothers Were Oppressed?” years ago in an intergenerational art class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. But the image of trying to crack your brain open to be free of constraining thoughts seemed fitting here.