April 7, 2016

Foot in Mouth Disease

Let this be my apology to the world.

The problem with having a blog is that, after a while, you start to think that people want to hear what you have to say, or that you speak from some kind of place of particular knowledge. This is a fallacy and it's sheer hubris. I have found that with alarming frequency, I have started to speak when it is not my place to do so.

Humor me and permit me the chance to make excuses.

--Maybe it's because I prefer honesty to circumlocution. Much of polite society survives on the
whispered, hushed conversations behind other people's backs, and since I personally would rather know where I stand with people (and have them tell me when I've upset them or when I've done something stupid), I often opt for honesty when a little tact would go a long way.

--Maybe it's because I prefer action over prolonged contemplation. Stereotypically, this does follow the surgical mindset and temperament. I'd rather do something about a problem than continue to talk about it. I prefer solutions over extended analysis of the problem. I'm a pragmatist. When something is wrong, I want to fix it rather than continue to complain about it being wrong.

--Maybe it's because I'd rather get unpleasant things over with quickly, and in so doing choose bluntness.

The problem is, none of that matters when what I say hurts someone.

I've been trying to work on this all of this year - as I seem to be unable to learn, every time I think I should share what I'm thinking about other people, it turns out most of the time I'm wrong. Most of the time, those thoughts aren't helpful or useful or constructive, and even when I want them to be, they seem to come out as unbridled criticism.  Plus, then I have the pleasure of eating my own words when the subject of my unsought critique proves me wrong.

There is a fable about a man who tells a piece of gossip about his neighbor at the market. Over the next week or two everyone who hears the story passes it along to someone else until the whole village has heard the story. The neighbor is humiliated and followed wherever he goes by this false piece of gossip. When the man finds out he had spread a false rumor, he is upset and seeks the advice of a village elder. He asks him how he can fix what he has done, and the elder tells him to bring him a bag of chicken feathers. The man leaves and returns the next day with a bag of feathers. "Now, walk back to the village and with every step, throw a handful of feathers in the air. Then come back tomorrow." The man does as he is told. When he returns the next day, he asks how the feathers are related to his situation. The elder tells him to go and gather all the feathers back into the bag. "That's impossible!" the man replies. "The feathers have been scattered everywhere by the wind. I could never find them all again!" The elder nods and says that the feathers are like the gossip the man has spread.

Recently, every time I open my mouth unsolicited, I seem to be throwing feathers in the air. I don't intend to hurt anyone, but the way I speak has been hurtful, many times over. And for this, I am deeply, sincerely, sorry. I feel I owe the world - in particular, my colleagues who put up with me - an apology - and hope that this offering will be met with forgiveness.