You’re so vain, you probably think this post is about you…

I’m going to start off with a little story to establish my empathy and understanding. And then I’m going to go on the attack. First, the story:

Over the weekend, I wrote a rather lengthy treatise to my son’s head teacher, outlining my concerns about a particular behavioural issue. I’d gotten up at 3:30am to write it because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. By the time I’d finished I was looking at something that could have been a blog post. I showed it to my husband the next day (at a more godly hour) and he marveled that I’d written something apparently coherent at such a ridiculous time of the night. Anyway, it passed the “show it to a sane person first” test, and so I sent in the message via my son’s school notebook on Monday.

I was worried about what the head teacher’s reply might be. I was concerned that she’d see it as an attack on her or other people it referenced, so I was expecting a dismissive or aggressive reply. But I felt that it was worth the risk when I wrote my little novel to her, the concerns I wrote about had been robbing me of sleep for a while.

So the reply comes back. I read it through once. I am not surprised at what I read: It has judgemental tones, and a touch of passive aggressiveness. I feel like a child been told off and been told to sit back down. I run through possible replies in my head; should I counter-confront her? Reiterate my concerns more strongly? Bring my own passive-aggressiveness out for a play..?

Instead I remind myself that I was expecting a defensive reply from her, and to just take a step back. Read it again, with a clearer mind, see if my expectations have coloured what I’ve read.

This time I read it as a calming response from a head teacher to a concerned parent. A reassuring reply to show she hears my concerns, and to let me know that they’re trying their best. She accepts some of my insights, and will implement them into her solutions for the behavioural problems. So instead of my rant back at her, I simply write one word in reply: “Thanks 🙂 ” And I put the notebook down, and go back to looking after the kids for the afternoon.

So yeah, I get it. I get when people sometimes read my posts and decide to colour it with their own ongoing concerns, that they come at them with their own agendas. I understand that people walk around everyday with their own pet projects in their minds, and that they will sometimes seek out posts just because they want one more public forum through which to make everyone think about what they can’t stop thinking about. Even a bad day – or lack of sleep – can make us predisposed to seeing the calmest open-minded post, as an out-right and personal attack. At which point a commenter can be inclined to hop on their high horse and go off the deep end. I reserve the right to mix metaphors.

But I’ve reached the point where I’ve really had enough. OK, to be honest, I’ve hit that point many times since I started blogging, but it’s happened again.

There have been times when people dedicate entire posts on their own blogs, to attacking me for something I neither said nor intended, even after I endlessly tried to explain to them that we’re not even in disagreement. The same thing happens in my comments section; people bring along their own agendas and largely ignore my actual words, insisting I mean something else than what my words say; claiming I have hidden agendas (that just happen to be the opposite of their own agendas).

There have been times that I’m left doubting my own ability to write clearly, even though I have two honours degrees in fields that require extremely clear communication, and even though I have been employed for over a decade in roles that require me to mark other’s essays. I’m not a perfect communicator, no one is. But I am a careful and thoughtful one. I run the vast majority of my posts past my husband before hitting “publish” just to make sure they make sense and convey what they’re meant to convey. If I’ve been misunderstood, I really don’t mind clarifying my points. But there are clearly those who are solidly determined to turn posts into whatever they think it is or should be about; to twist words and meaning (or ignore them altogether) in order to justify themselves standing on their soap-box while they waste my time with off-topic and aggressive comments, that I then feel I must reply to. I have to let these ridiculous comments through, otherwise I look like I’m censoring them. I really can’t win.

So I’m writing this post, for future linking reference. If I have linked you to this post after you’ve commented on my blog, then yes, you can be assured that indeed this post really is about you. If you want to comment on my posts, then actually comment on my posts, not on some mysterious hidden message and agenda that you have read into it to suit your own unrelated ends. And next time, before you decide what you read is really an attack on you and your deepest values, just take a breath and remind yourself on the little story at the start of this post: Give people the benefit of the doubt, and take their words at face value, just the way you’d like to be treated. It really does make for a much more pleasant daily existence. Communication is challenging enough, without building your own agendas into everyone else’s words. Sometimes people really do mean what they say. It’s a novel idea for some, but give it some thought, and maybe you’ll stop thinking the world – or I – am really out to get you.


Edit: I just wanted to share this blog-response to my post, from Homestyle Mama: “What did you just say?” It’s wonderful to know that a post I was unsure whether to publish or not, could end up being a positive influence in someone else’s life. Sometimes speaking your mind doesn’t just help you out, it helps others too. Isn’t blogging a wonderful thing? Thank you too, to all the supportive and encouraging people who popped up – here and on facebook and on twitter – to let me know I’m appreciated after they read this post. You’re all wonderful 🙂

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25 Responses to You’re so vain, you probably think this post is about you…

  1. Hilary says:

    I’m pleased to hear that there are other people who get up at 3 am to write about their concerns. Being an ‘autistic’ parent is an important part of one’s identity and we often find themselves in battle mode, usually unintentionally. So I apologise if I have done this on your blog.

    I think that any situation can be resolved by building relationships, although that can be risky and fraught. That head teacher probably gets many such concerned letters, and you have now set up a dialogue. The next step is to develop it so you can build a respectful understanding of each others positions in the interest of your particular child and others like him. The good educationalists I have known over the years welcome building relationships with parents unless the parents are really aggressive and not prepared for any give and take (and even then some good principals I’ve known keep their door open). It can be timeconsuming but it is an important part of their job. I suggest you make an appointment to talk it over, so you can avoid future nocturnal worries.

    • Thanks Hilary, and yes we have regular face-to-face meetings with the head teacher through-out the year, so it will come up again at the next meeting too. And no, you were not one of the commenters who I had in mind when I wrote this 🙂

  2. Janine says:

    Hear, hear – good on you!

  3. Angela says:

    I am sending a hug and a virtual cup of coffee to you.This is a hard (delightful) and demanding road we travel as parents- we should ALWAYS support each other despite differences of opinion. It’s not a competition. Go the 3 am rant-still do those occasionally and mine are now 20 and 18!XXX

  4. mrsstone says:

    This is a really interesting and important point for all bloggers and internet users to consider. Some of the dynamic you talk about above is transference. A very common (and human) thing to do. Furthermore we do see everything though our own lens of experience and perspective, which does colour how we perceive all interactions with others, including their writing. This is greatly amplified when people reading our words have suffered trauma. And I suspect many in the autism community have backgrounds of trauma, and we see those unresolved emotions get stirred up continuously on blog posts.

    I adore your example above about how our personal and emotional state informs how we perceive incoming information. And I also think this blog is one of the best around. It is informative, well considered, and intelligent. I had no idea you had been on the receiving end of vitriol from others, but I suppose it was inevitable given the issues I mention above. I’m glad you wrote this post. It’s both brave an necessary.

    • Thank you Sharon. Thankfully, most of the time, my commenters are thoughtful and kind and informative. But you know what it’s like; it’s the 5% who decide to use you for their kicks that ruin your day, when we (i) should remember that the 95% aren’t like that. Human nature to focus on the negative sometimes I guess, especially if we’re already having a tough time of things.

      And on that point, thanks too for your insights about the baggage we bring with us when we read things like posts. And I absolutely agree with you about your trauma and autism comment; if I feel traumatised sometimes having being the mother of an autistic son for six years (facing the extra challenges along-side him, dealing with judgements from others and their ignorance, and fighting for his basic rights) I can only imagine what it would be like for an autistic adult to have gone through that their whole lives.

  5. Jim Reeve says:

    I’m not sure about a hidden agenda or something like that, but to me as a reader, the only agenda you appear to have is to ensure the equal and appropriate treatment of your son. Generally when I come up with an idea late at night, I usually try to go to sleep and then reassess my thinking in the morning. That way I can be sure that my thinking isn’t too emotionally charged. I am glad to hear that you had your husband proof read your letter before sending it. And I also have to say that you did the right thing by reading the teacher’s response twice. And I’m also glad to hear that your son’s teacher understands that your a concerned parent. I hope your letter helps you reach your goals for your son.

  6. I’ve only started reading recently, but this blog is consistently reasoned, level-headed, and well-explained. Your message always seems clear to me!

  7. I’m always comfortable with your posts! I think you are a clear and kind writer with a talent for inviting us as readers to think and add to the conversation, while still offering a strong voice. I’ve often wished I could write like you! My desire to include everyone and invite different perspectives sometimes makes me quiet my own ideas. When I read your blogs I feel like I’m chatting with a fellow mom who loves the idea of searching for answers and raising important questions with an intelligent and kind curiosity in order to create a home, community and hopefully (why not dream big!) a world she can be proud to present to her family. But, of course, that could be me reading with my own agenda!!

    The truth is I rarely read comments because I see the type of behavior you are referring to very often. It kind of puts a yucky taste in my mouth, which then takes away from my enjoyment of the original article. So, when a post, article or status update moves me to share my thoughts, I share! I do check back a little bit later to see if the author of the article responded, but I almost never peek at the other comments anymore. I’m sure I’m missing out on many wonderful and interesting points, probably even many more interesting links and friendships, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. It’s important to me to hold onto the feeling and thoughts offered by the original piece!

    If I’m the author of the piece I do feel compelled to read the comments. When some are hurtful or completely off topic and argumentative, I just remember what my mom says. “Act as if, and then simplify.” I act as if they meant to be kind in their own way, and then I simplify my point while suggesting a kinder tone. The truth is, my son still struggles to understand social cues and he often has knee jerk reactions that are less than kind. He’ll fight for his rights when they haven’t remotely been taken advantage of. But he is a wonderful boy who is doing the best he can with what he knows. I am very often insisting on kindness from him by simplifying.

    In my opinion you are a brilliant writer who thoughtfully encourages the sharing of ideas. I LOVE the way I feel after reading your posts!! Especially all the ones you write just for me!! (tee hee!)

    • Aww Tsara, you always brighten my day!

      I think this is such an interesting approach:

      “So, when a post, article or status update moves me to share my thoughts, I share! I do check back a little bit later to see if the author of the article responded, but I almost never peek at the other comments anymore. I’m sure I’m missing out on many wonderful and interesting points, probably even many more interesting links and friendships, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. It’s important to me to hold onto the feeling and thoughts offered by the original piece!”

      So often I don’t comment on a post because I feel obligated to read every response before I have my say. If there are too many comments – or as you say, if the comments have degenerated into something unpleasant – it can completely turn me off sharing my own thoughts on what was originally written.

      You’re a wise woman Tsara; I enjoy learning from your own perspective and insights 🙂

  8. blogginglily says:

    Nobody EVER disagrees with me because I’m so agreeable. I sort of mean that. But it’s not really a “compliment” to myself.

    Two of the (many) things I enjoy about your blog: 1) You present intelligent, seemingly well-thought points and 2) You argue your points with conviction . . . politely.

    Not everyone agrees. . . but some need to disagree more agreeably.

    btw, what is up with this FOURTH inquest into the baby-eating dingo? Is this maybe enough inquests? I realize you’re not in Australia. . . but you’re CLOSER than I am. And you’re an attorney. ‘Splain it to me! And talk slowly. . . I r a dum ‘Mercan.

    • mrsstone says:

      I am in Australia. It’s a long story. Incredibly sad, and now put to rest.

      • blogginglily says:

        I’d have thought it was put to rest after the previous three inquests. I’m passing familiar with the story via news/movie, etc.

      • mrsstone says:

        As more evidence has come to light, including better scientific procedures to determine actual cause of death as opposed to simply relinquishing Lindy of any responsibility, calls for a proper and formal inquest and apology were made. And this last inquest provided that for the Chamberlains.

    • Not sure on the whole baby-eating dingo thing blogginglily; I’ll let dear mrsstone field that one for me. The closest I ever got to a real interest in the story, was through my passion for the band in Buffy 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words about me and my blog. One of the unexpected fantastic things about this post is I’ve received a lot of support and compliments in response. I should complain more often!

      • blogginglily says:

        I think you scared people into thinking your voice of reason was in jeopardy. The line was, “But I’ve reached the point where I’ve really had enough.” Blogging is cathartic for me. . . but sometimes it’s also a little depressing, and it seems every blogger struggles with “I’m done with this” moments. When I read that line I thought what a shame it would be if you’d reached that moment. I read on, and realized that wasn’t what you were saying. . . but still.

        Happy blogging. . .

      • Thanks. And yes I can see how that line might might people think that! I meant – what you picked up anyway – that I’d just got to the point where I had to say something because it was so frustrating; that I had to blog about the nuisance, and was tired of silently putting up with it. And absolutely I’ve had those “I’ve had enough” moments – the times I want to just stop blogging altogther, I think you’re right that we all have those now and then – but I’m not ready to walk away just yet 🙂

  9. Sarah says:

    Amen!! Your blog, your thoughts, your experiences, your life, your words, your family. I blog daily and actually get very few comments which may say something. I will certainly follow your blog and see where your journey takes you. Laughter, Could be the Missing Piece

  10. Joanna says:

    Hello, my sister flagged your post to me and I see why she did. It is very well written and applies to all bloggers I suspect and the problems they sometimes have with their commenters. I have an autistic brother and wonder sometimes if I have some traits myself after all these years. Anyway a great post, thank you 🙂

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