Some things cannot be unsaid

On Wednesday, August 1st, 2012 I was villified on Facebook. The lies that were spoken cut deep and were only made worse because they were said by a member of my family. I won’t go into detail, simply because that is not what this post is about. What I want to say to this, however, is incredibly important to anyone who uses the internet for anything. I said it in the title of the post, but it bares repeating (over and over):

Some things cannot be unsaid.

We live in a world of anonymity. The internet empowers people to say things they might not ever say face to face or even on the phone. People become trolls and bullies and spend hours harassing others simply because they can hide behind the mask of being online.

But it’s not always the bullies and and trolls that hurt people. Sometimes it’s family, friends, loved ones… or, even more removed, reviewers or fellow writers (or other artists). Here’s a simple scenario:

  • Writer A writes a book.
  • Reader X reads book and posts nasty review
  • Writer A retaliates to nasty review on a public forum
  • Reader X claims “I was just offering my honest opinion”
  • Writer A claims “I was just defending my work”

In the above scenario, Reader X did nothing wrong (unless the reader says slanderous things about the writer of the book). Writer A, on the other hand, is seen as petty and vengeful because they retaliated to the review.

Those words Writer A posted… they can not be un-posted.

Everything I say on my blog or write in my books — cannot be undone. Oh sure, I can take down a post, but the words hang in the ether of the victims mind and heart. They cannot be taken back.

Ultimately we have the power to both hurt and heal with our words. When we are in the heat of an argument, it is very easy to speak more freely than you might think yourself capable.

“You’re a bitch!”

“I hate you!”

“You’re dead to me!”

Words that can be said, but not unsaid.

We are adults here on this landscape and we should all act like adults and understand that our words have more power than we think. Before we speak, type, or hit Enter… we should all step back and make sure we understand the ramifications of what we are about to say. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I really, really mean this?
  • Am I okay with the possible fallout this could cause?
  • How would I feel if this was said to me?
  • Does this represent me in the best possible light?

There is a high road that should always be the first path chosen. Only in the absolute worst cases, should that high road be avoided… and even then, maybe it’s best to turn back around and re-trace your steps.

I’ve made these same mistakes in the past. I’ve come up with a solution for avoiding the pitfall of foot-in-mouth. If I have an email to write, one that could come off as angry, hateful, or vengeful… I’ll write it, save it, and revisit it the next day. If I still feel as strongly the second day (and if I’ve answered the above questions) I’ll go ahead and send or post.

That rarely happens.

I’ve seen the question a lot about replying to bad reviews. In a word — DON’T. Not only are you reacting out of a wounded ego, you are only going to look bad in the end. And the words you say cannot be unsaid. Period. If you truly feel a burning need to reply to a review, take it off line. In fact… that is solid advice for anything you want to post online that might be malicious or hurtful. Take it off line. Do not attack someone on a public forum unless you are okay with the fallout from your words. If you’re caught up in a family battle, do not air it out in public. If someone breaks your heart, don’t vilify them in public.

We all hit rough patches. We all get hurt. We all, at some point, feel the need to strike someone down. When you feel that need, fight it. If you can’t fight back that desire to hurt, do the hurting in private — where it belongs.