I told someone off yesterday. Someone I care about and want to keep in my life. But I had been complaining about this person for days and I finally couldn’t take it any longer. I sat down and let my fingers fly on my keyboard. I type 70 words per minute; I was surprised I didn’t start a small fire.
I told this person just how mean and arrogant and selfish and devoid of compassion they were and that I wondered what had happened to them. I made up new swear words. I called them names and furiously gave them my armchair analysis of why their whole personality had seemed to change lately. I flipped them off electronically, letting my fingers smash against the keys. Eventually, I told them that yes, I was trying to hurt them just as much as they had hurt me recently but ultimately, I was telling them all of this in the hopes that they would come to their senses and stop being such a fucking asshole.
I’m not going to lie; it felt good. After 17 minutes, I sat back, exhausted but as cool as the cup of tea I hadn’t touched since I started typing. I felt…better.
And then I did something really, really unusual.
I didn’t send it.
I realize that may take a moment to process.
Why not send it? After all, we have so many different ways to tell someone they’re an asshole. I could have texted them – using strangely bastardized language like “ur” and “fing ahole.” I could have tweeted them, just writing asshole over and over until I hit 140 characters. I could have posted on their Facebook page and let all 1,423 of their friends see exactly what I thought of this person and tried to get all of them to agree with me. I could have just as easily sent an email; I could have cut and pasted from Word into an email and hit “send.” I could have. I easily could have.
But I didn’t. Why? Because then I would have been a fucking asshole too.
And yet, plenty of people let their thoughts fly unguarded out of their head and into the virtual world because the means to do so are so darn accessible. Much like the plastic trinkets you don’t need but still buy because they are placed near the register in a store – impulse buys, as they’re called – all the actions we don’t necessarily need to take are at our fingertips 24 hours a day.
Don’t like what someone’s posted on their Facebook page? Call them a name and feel the pleasure in the mouse click. When people disagree with you, call them names. Repeat until you are dropped as a Facebook friend.
Religious or political tweet challenge your own beliefs? Spew a vitriolic tweet back without a second thought.
Someone in your inner circle hurt your feelings? Text them. Instant Message them. Open up that email program letting your pain and anger lead the way and then hit “send” before you can say I wonder if I should send this.
I’m not talking about public figures. I’m not talking about anonymous strangers.
I’m talking about you and me. Our impulses are having a field day with our keyboards. We seem to have forgotten how to take a step back, especially if we’re fuming.
Without that step back, we all have the potential to become a temporary asshole.
Unadulterated thoughts are the equivalent of your Id and Ego having wild, violent sex in the middle of the freeway. They are shocking, disturbing and create nothing but a ripple effect of pain and chaotic response.
And the Internet is their pimp.
I’m not saying we should bury our emotions or avoid productive disagreements. But if we’re interested in maintaining certain relationships, we need to remember how to actually communicate instead of just reacting.
Hurling an email or Facebook post or IM or text at someone in the heat of any blinding emotion is the same as punching them in the face. It’s not going to get the other person to understand you on a deeper level, it’s going to get you a bloody nose.
Perhaps it’s better to wait for your Id and Ego to stop their barbarous coupling before you try to have a conversation.
In other words, like those trinkets at the store, just because the impulse pimps are there doesn’t mean we have to use them.
There was a time when, if you wanted to tell someone off without confronting them directly, you had to write a letter. You had to throw your Id and Ego up against each other on the page, exalting in the freedom of fiery spit. But then all the steps you had to go through – folding the letter, sticking it in the envelope, licking of the bitter glue, checking the address, finding a frigging stamp and getting to a mailbox – made you think twice about what you had written. Sealing your words into a paper capsule was like compressing their power into a bomb that would go off when the reader ripped it open. A bomb you could never diffuse.
You had more time to think about the consequences. Much more time than the nanosecond it takes to slide your mouse over an onscreen button. And so The Letter You Never Send evolved. It was a letter that was so emotionally satisfying to write, that you didn’t need it to blow up in the other person’s face.
So. I wrote that letter. And I know that with time, I’ll find a way to talk to the object of my derision without my Id & Ego flashing their wares like cheap whores.
(If you were born after 1987, none of that made sense. Go ask your parents what a “letter” is.)
I propose we reinstate The Letter You Never Send. We don’t have to call it a letter. To encompass all the online inanities, we can call it The Electronic Punch You Never Send. We can teach it to our kids, who don’t understand the concept of not sending words into the ether and as a result, have highly-honed impulse skills and crumbling communication censors.
Because the bottom line is this: if you fall prey to the impulse pimp constantly, hitting “send” over and over like an addict, it’s harder to prove you’re just a temporary asshole.