A number of weeks ago I wrote a letter to the New York Times. My email to their senior writer and managing editor was NOT a fan letter.
I was complaining about a front-page “hit piece” I didn’t agree with or like.
But guess what? The senior writer wrote me back within minutes.
He even wrote “I appreciate your writing.”
That’s a lie.
“I appreciate you writing.” Sigh.
What’s my point? And yes, dear storyteller, I have one.
You see, the article I was complaining about… I hadn’t actually read.
You read that right.
I took to my keyboard for one reason: I had been told by a trusted source that the article in question was bad and biased. I’d been encouraged to “hit back” against this writer’s prose.
Rather than read, research and respond like a pro and fellow human, I torched my credibility. Murphy’s Law was right there, offering me matches, marshmallows and kerosene!
Why did I do such a stoopid, stoopid thing? And why admit it?
First off, the New York Times wrote me back. Toot-toot! That’s more action and respect I’ve ever received from Canadian politicians I write to regularly.
I chose not to read the NYT article because
i) I couldn’t bear to read anymore hateful and biased “news” with a sinister and harmful agenda;
ii) I trusted and respected the person (another writer) who encouraged me, and others, to “hit back” by writing back (note the power of a clear call-to-action);
iii) I chose a shortcut, which cut me deeply… and the New York Times writer, ghastly ghoul-goblin that he is, cut me down with charm and poise.
Can you taste the irony?
Imagine saying, screaming and stream-of-consciousness writing to one of the largest newspapers in America and you have zero (sort of) idea about what you’re ranting and raging about.
Thank goodness I am the only person who’s ever made THAT mistake!
As storytellers, certain rules apply to us. And those rules can really, really suck. The integrity bar is set extremely high for people like us. Why?
Because we tell stories.
We create worlds. We influence opinion. In fact, as our politicians so disgustingly show us again and again and again, stories can create public opinion: magnificent unity or monstrous division.
I share this story – let’s be honest, an anecdote – with you because there’s a tremendous learning opportunity here. And not just the reminder that Murphy’s Law (Happy St. Paddy’s Day, y’all) is a living, breathing force.
First off, I did NOT spiral-spin into shame, humiliation and self-deprecation when the writer wrote back and heckled me New York-style (meaning: well).
Instead, I chuckled. My letter had been good – dude, I received a response from the New York Times! – but I’d been smacked on the hand for breaking a writer’s code: do your %^&%^&* research, especially if you’re going to march up that hill, pull up your pants and declare war Braveheart-style.
Secondly, as storytellers we believe in “things,” whether they’re people or places, facts or fiction. When we blend belief with emotion – good, bad or ugly – we’re working in the realm of storytelling magic.
But will the magic we create shine out Loving Light or Dark Light?
While under the passions of outrage and overwhelm, I chose to go dark rather than anchor Light.
I trusted someone else rather than guess who? That’s right – me. I didn’t take the time or make the effort to do my own critical thinking. I reacted rather than responded. I fell under the spell of a narrative I loved, and promptly lashed out.
Why? Because “they” told me to. (I know. So bad and sad.)
Thank goodness I am the only person who’s ever made this mistake. (And yes, not thinking for oneself is always a mistake.)
But guess what? My correspondence with that New York Times writer ended up being civil, witty and gracious.
A happy ending for the most part.
As in life, none of us have a story until something goes wrong. By not demonstrating mastery – observing and responding with compassionate action – I invited a bright New York light to shine on some darkness I’d stumbled into and called home.
I’m grateful for the reminder that when anger bleeds into our storylines, we always have the opportunity to blush, bandage the bleed and tell a better, brighter story.
To mistakes, mischief and Murphy’s Law.
I raise my glass in your direction, storyteller! Happy Paddy’s Day.