Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Write Out the Fire

One time, I was quite angry about an article written in a Jewish newspaper. I marched to the computer and typed up three pages of a scorching, raging critique. After the last tap on the keyboard, I leaned back, spent. 
Not simply exhausted, but, well, content. I was calm. All that fury I had channeled unto unfeeling paper, and, oddly, I felt no need to mail this letter in. 

I whittled down my work into three diplomatic paragraphs, and sent that in instead. 

I have numerous posts marinating in my drafts folder; the posts that get posted, and the posts that were simply the expressions of a lady scorned. They won't get screen time. But when I was in a place of hurt and limbo, that private railing against that idiot gave me peace, rendering me fit for human consumption once again. 

Maria Konnikova's "The Lost Art of the Unsent Letter" proves that once again, I'm not that special. Abe Lincoln, Mark Twain, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, you get the picture, all utilized the unsent, unseen, unsigned "hot letter."

Since writing used to be a more laborious process—quill and ink—the ease of social media provides platforms for immediate gratification, and the ensuing remorse. If I am going to send a heated e-mail, I try to remember to save it first, then revisit the matter later. I'm often thanking God that I had the presence of mind to do so.
Now we need only click a reply button to rattle off our displeasures. And in the heat of the moment, we find the line between an appropriate response and one that needs a cooling-off period blurring. We toss our reflexive anger out there, but we do it publicly, without the private buffer that once would have let us separate what needed to be said from what needed only to be felt. It’s especially true when we see similarly angry commentary coming from others. Our own fury begins to feel more socially appropriate.
We may also find ourselves feeling less satisfied. Because the angry email (or tweet or text or whatnot) takes so much less effort to compose than a pen-and-paper letter, it may in the end offer us a less cathartic experience, in just the same way that pressing the end call button on your cellphone will never be quite the same as slamming down an old-fashioned receiver.
Perhaps that’s why we see so much vitriol online, so many anonymous, bitter comments, so many imprudent tweets and messy posts. Because creating them is less cathartic, you feel the need to do it more often. When your emotions never quite cool, they keep coming out in other ways.
Ah. Since we don't really know how to "bring ourselves down," we never achieve the mellow-keit needed to let issues go.
I had to squirm a little as the article went on; even when making a point to make the transgressor anonymous, Konnikova says, the result is usually thinly-veiled.

Perhaps there is out there an unchivalrous date or a tactless "shadchan" who may see themselves in my posts, whether it is them or not them. But I don't claim to be the best-behaved of them all. We are losing our verbal discretion, me included. 

For those who hurt me, I hope they won't hurt anyone else. For those I hurt, I hope to do better. I hope the tales of hurt I tell achieve their purpose. 


Daniel Saunders said...

This was one reason why I mostly stopped public blogging ('mostly' as I occasionally post a coolly analytical essay on my Doctor Who Livejournal). It wasn't just anger that I was worried about, but revealing other emotions and facts about myself while upset or agitated, giving away too much that should have remained private, especially as my blogs were not anonymous.

That said, I'm not convinced that this is the main reason for internet trollery, although it may be a subsidiary one. I think the anonymity of the internet encourages people to use language online that they would never use in person.

Grace said...

This post is SO on point! Many times I have read an article, and written a scathing rebuttal - just to have a problem logging in my response.

I have to go out of the tab, go through log in, try to find the original article - and by the time I do all that I realize I don't really care that much anymore. Funny how that works!

Princess Lea said...

DS: That is true. Anonymity is a security blanket, where one is not accountable for their actions, or realize how much they have hurt others.

But in my case, I like to think I write the same whether I would be anonymous or not. You live in a dream world, princess . . .

Grace: Isn't it? It's not even about being heard, it's about expressing and venting. I should always remember to vent on paper, instead of in person.