Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

All I Was Doing Was...

There is a local email list for the shapenote singing group, which you'd think would be a mostly neutral and occasionally positive sort of online forum. But, well, it is an email list after all.

Twice in the history of the list -- most recently last week -- there has been a situation where somebody had written something which caused offense or distress to others. The circumstances were vastly different, many years apart, and without connection except for one thing: In both cases, when the person learned of the offense they had caused, their response was a note in the "all I was doing was" format. In the first case those were the literal words used. In the second case it was more a subtext, but a clear one.

Does it matter in the slightest what the specifics were -- or even the rightness or wrongness of the initial writing -- to consider how childish the "all I was doing was" response is, particularly as a first response? I realize that people feel under attack when they are questioned, and defensiveness is somewhat natural, but, um, folks -- can we please grow up?

To help us along in that endeavor, I offer some words of advice. If you find that you have written something that has inadvertantly offended somebody, even if you don't believe that it should have, your first order of business is apology, or at least to try for some damage control. What I mean is that (as a rule) it's not a good thing if you find that your words have hurt others. Defensive justification (in lieu of apology and clarification) for your original offense will only excalate the tension you have already inspired. At which point the necessary damage control is left to others.

Of course I am assuming a situation where the offensiveness was not the intention. Sadly, offensiveness may not have been the intention in both the cases I speak of, but in both cases the person who offended gave no indication that they cared particularly whether they had offended or insulted anybody. And so, reluctantly, in both cases I have concluded that the offenders are just assholes.

I won't think you're an asshole solely on the basis of an "all I was doing was" note, but if you find yourself writing such a thing at some point consider what you really want your first order of business to be: Asserting that you were right, or trying to contain the damage you have caused.
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