There’s a difference between being justified in your response and the response being a good choice. Here’s a question I’ve found useful for gaining a little psychological distance in the heat of the moment and interrupting a response I might regret later.
A woman I’ve never met emailed me. There were 14 sentences in her email. Eleven of them were tsk-tsks and advice on something related to one of my hobbies.
Initially I just deleted it, reminding myself that life is short. Then, when I found myself thinking about it repeatedly, I undeleted it and drafted a pleasant, but very pointed, reply.
My reply began like this: “Advice is a curious thing. It’s curious because it’s quite an odd way to introduce oneself. And it’s curious because, almost inevitably, the advice-giver can be caught making the same mistakes they so vociferously have advised against. Take, for instance, your…” I went on to list a few transgressions I found quickly when visiting her own online work related to the hobby, the very mistakes she had assumed I’d made.
I really wanted to send that email. I’d had a week of feeling like I’d turned my other cheek and bitten my tongue a great deal. I felt weary of others I’d experienced as holier-than-thou, catty, and rude.
I would not have been unjustified in my response. I would have been “right” enough.
I clicked through the questions I’ve taught myself to ask before taking an action I might regret later. Questions like: What am I trying to achieve? Will I even remember her existence in three months?
None helped much. My finger itched to click that send button.
Then I got to this question: Is this something I want to cultivate in myself?
That sure stopped me cold. Because, of course, it wasn’t. It was quite the opposite.
And I was reminded again how much I like this question. I like it because:
- It appeals to my better self, the part of me I will feel good about later.
- It builds psychological distance, which helps clear-headed decision making.
- It reminds me that even a justified reaction isn’t necessarily the best reaction.
Maybe it can be useful to you sometime: Is this a practice I want to cultivate in myself?