Self-Inflicted Pain

One of the basic causes for all the trouble in the world today is that people talk too much and think too little. They act impulsively without thinking. I always try to think before I talk. Margaret Chase Smith

Do you ever do dumb stuff?

I’m a self-taught expert in SPEAKING WITHOUT THINKING. Related skills include REACTING IMPULSIVELY, ARGUING NEEDLESSLY, and HITTING “SEND” TOO QUICKLY. Is this sounding familiar to anyone?

I don’t require any special circumstances to apply these gifts. I just bumble along, doing whatever I’m doing, and—WHAM! I run smack into a conflict I didn’t intend or anticipate.


This one began innocently enough. I read an interesting article on a blog I’ve been following for a while. The writing prompted an idea to further the conversation, so I added a comment. Simple enough, right? A few minutes later the author responded. His comment surprised me. I thought he was looking at the topic a bit narrowly, and I saw the opportunity for a bit of debate. I quickly formulated a clever, penetrating response.

That’s usually my first clue that I’m heading into trouble, though I rarely heed the warning signs. I enjoy “discussing” (arguing about) ideas, but I tend to get too involved and take the exchange too personally. That’s bad enough, but I also forget that others don’t approach discussions on the same level of intensity.

So, deploying all of the carefully crafted skills listed above, I fired back my witty reply. Do you see where this is headed?

I didn’t intend offense, but I also didn’t consider the impact of my words. Next thing I know the author’s telling me I’m “antagonistic” and refusing to post further discussion. And at least one other commenter agreed that my contribution wasn’t appropriate or helpful to the discussion.

I was, as the kids say, BUSTED!


Words matter. I could have communicated my thoughts more effectively, and kindly, without diluting my meaning. Especially in the online world, intent isn’t sufficient. We have to consider how our words will be received.

Being right isn’t the most important thing. I believe I had a good idea, but it wasn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. Some hills may be worth dying for, but this wasn’t one of them. Life contains enough conflict on its own. I’d rather lose a debate than a friend.

Relationships matter. In a virtual world it’s easy to forget that you’re communicating with real people that have their own feelings and priorities. It’s awfully easy to type words you’d never say personally into the perceived anonymity of cyberspace.

People aren’t disposable. In both “real” and virtual interactions, it’s not okay to just toss folks carelessly aside. In the final analysis, I sincerely believe that life is about relationships, and they should be nurtured with care.

It’s not about me. Simple enough.

Trust is hard to earn, easy to lose, and nearly impossible to regain once it’s lost. I don’t want to over-dramatize. No verbal or actual punches were exchanged. The author and I subsequently exchanged emails, and I think we’re good. But this isn’t how I want to represent myself.

The entire interaction wasn’t nearly as significant to him as it was to me. I was a minor annoyance, like a mosquito he brushed aside so he could focus on important stuff. I had little impact on his day while I destroyed my own with fussing and fuming.

What I’d do differently

Build relationship first. This guy hardly knows me. We’ve communicated a couple of times, but he contacts hundreds of folks each week. I feel like I know him, but I haven’t invested the time to connect with him. I’m certain he would have reacted differently if my comments had come from a trusted friend.

Serve. You create trust and relationship through service. I jumped onto this guy’s platform and demanded the virtual microphone, and he rightly wondered why he should comply. That’s just not how it works.

You show commitment by serving, not because you expect reciprocation but because it’s the right path. Sometimes you have to actively seek ways to help someone else, and your service may pass un-noticed. But the noticing isn’t the point. I believe that, in the big picture, service is what makes it all work even when we can’t see exactly how.

Drip, drip, drip. Relationships take time. “I want it all, and I want it now” may be good song lyrics, but it’s not the way to connect. People want to know you’re committed for the long term. You fill the bucket of relationship one drop at a time.


I write and talk a lot about relationships. That’s not because I’m good at them, it’s because I believe they’re the essence of a substantial life and I still have a lot to learn. Richard Bach once said, “You teach best what you most need to learn.” If that’s true, I qualify for a tenured professorship.

We make it up as we go because, honestly, it’s the only way to make it up. Thankfully, there’s forgiveness, grace, and new beginnings. That’s God’s way, and I’m glad because it’s our only source of hope.

Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time—just like it does for you and me. ~Sara Paddison

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Copyright 2009 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance
. Visit his web site

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