When I think about my ideal weekend, there are a few inevitabilities that come to mind. Part of it will be spent quietly, either reading, writing, or watching lots of things I’ve already seen on Netflix. Part of it will be spent with friends, ideally over brunch. And a good portion of it will be spent in a Crowdrise T-shirt.
For those unfamiliar, Crowdrise is one of several crowdfunding platforms designed to help its users raise money for outside causes (or, as of recently, individuals). I first came upon them a few years ago when I participated in Women’s Health’s Run 10 Feed 10 initiative and fell in love with their approach- they provide outstanding logistical and technical support for fundraisers, while also bringing a spirit of fun and familiarity to their interactions with customers. While I don’t have the same relationship with them that my friend and colleague Paul has with his beloved JetBlue, my time spent fundraising and working with them has shown me that they “get” me.
But “getting” people doesn’t mean that we don’t make mistakes, and Crowdrise and I got through one a few weeks ago. As part of their customer relations program, they award points toward merchandise such as their super-comfy T-shirts if you pose with items you’ve recently received. I did so enthusiastically, posing with one of my new T-shirts in my office on a busy Monday. A few weeks later, I came upon the picture (which I was not tagged in, which seems an important detail) on their Instagram account with a caption that stung a little. It was nothing overtly rude, but it was something that cut deeply in an area where I’m already vulnerable. Some would use this as an excuse to write off the company altogether, insisting that any company that would do something like this was no longer worthy of their business. But after nearly four years and thousands of dollars raised with them, I elected to give them the benefit of the doubt, and wrote them a quick email letting them know how I was feeling. Sure enough, I received a message back shortly after with an apology and a strategy to fix the situation- which included taking the picture down (even though my initial email mentioned that I didn’t want to mandate that), as well as a donation to the charity of my choice. While the initial incident wasn’t what I would have wanted, I appreciate how it was handled and the care that I felt from people I’ve never met about putting me in a situation I’d find hurtful.
Why am I telling you this? Because any of us could find ourselves in Crowdrise’s position on any given day. As someone who comes in contact with many, many people over the course of a day, I am guaranteed a few unpleasant interactions. We all are. But how we choose to deal with these feelings and frustrations is up to us. Could I throw a status up on Facebook, execute a snarky “subtweet,” or find the perfect “inspirational” quote on Instagram to express myself? Sure. But there’s some danger in that. Being visible in an online space with many of the same people that I interact with in person, means that I can be seen. And it’s a rule of mine that my interactions in that space should be explicitly named (meaning that there is NO question who they are about), or entirely anonymous (meaning too vague to be ascribed to any one person). The passive-aggression that we sometimes find ourselves engaging in, falls in that expansive middle ground, and it can lead to hurt feelings. The hurt feelings I felt are subtlely different from the ones that I felt when I saw my photo and its caption, but the principle applies here too.
Earlier this week, now-former Chronicle Vitae columnist Jesse Stommel spoke out against this sort of hurtful snarking in places where it should not be, namely a publication designed to develop higher education professionals. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between his argument and the one I’m trying to make:
Giggling at the water cooler about students is one abhorrent thing. Publishing that derisive giggling as “work” in a venue read by tens of thousands is quite another. Of course, teachers need a safe place to vent. We all do. That safe place is not shared faculty offices, not the teacher’s lounge, not the library, not a local (public) watering hole.
He goes on to say that Chronicle Vitae is also not one of the public places where this venting should take place. And indeed, those of us who are visible would do well to remember that our words shared in the heat of a moment or otherwise less than thoughtfully, can easily be seen by anyone who has access. Rather than airing these concerns at the proverbial watering hole, find those water coolers or other appropriately private places instead.
What’s my point in all this? First and foremost: watch it. You have no idea what people will see, or how they will come to know what was posted. Paul Jarvis wrote in his newsletter this week about audience growth, and made this point better than I could have (thanks Paul, you came in clutch this week!):
Think about it. In order for your numbers to grow, people need to first hear about you. How do they do that? By listening to people they already listen to. If those people they’re already listening to mention you, you’ve got a good chance of adding them to your audience ranks.
The student, coworker, or superior you’re venting about might not be friends with you on Facebook or follow you on Instagram. But their friend, roommate, or mentor might. And because the world is far smaller than we’d like to believe most days, don’t take that possibility for granted. Take these conversations offline, find your private setting and use it liberally, or even employ the Lincoln letter strategy.
But there’s a second piece in here: if it happens to you, and you do find yourself on the receiving end of a stinger, I’d encourage you to assume best intentions rather than lashing out based on impact. I will allow for the fact that zingers based on dislike, and truly thoughtless outbursts, can sometimes look the same. In that moment, think to your relationship with the person or entity in question: would they mean to hurt you? Interestingly enough, the shirt I had in the photo said on it, “Decent Human.” I love it not because that’s what I believe myself to be, but it’s what I hope to be able to expect from the people around me. Again, it can be incredibly difficult, but ground your response in the answer to that big question “would they mean to hurt you?” All of our most meaningful relationships have to be able to endure occasional disagreements, lapses in judgment, and honest mistakes. That’s what makes them stronger. I will continue to use Crowdrise as a resource for fundraising and awareness projects- not because they’ve been perfect, but because they displayed some heart when they were imperfect.