Friday, March 25, 2005

Mea Culpa

It happens to most of us eventually: you write something nasty or private or hurtful or potentially compromising about someone in your online journal, and that person wanders in and reads it. I've heard this scenario from a host of other bloggers; there are bloggers who've lost jobs and relationships when this happens; as a result, some of them made their journals password-protected or ceased entirely to speak of personal matters, and some even took their entire websites offline and retired from the blogging scene altogether.

It has happened to me, now, and my response has surprised me: I found a growth experience hidden within.


My regular readers will remember that I wrote a post last week about how I was in this terrible mood, and in that post I said some nasty things about my boss, my job, and the office bookkeeper. Well, my boss read it, and sent me a furious email about its contents.

Initially I felt violated, then ashamed, then afraid, then self-reproachful and even self-loathing; I considered taking an indignant stance and defending my right to say whatever I want on my own website, I considered taking my entire journal offline and grovelling in obsequious apologies, I considered a lot of possible reactions in between, I even fleetingly considered suicide.

But while I was spinning around in my reactions, I talked to my sponsor, I cried for such a long time and so intensely that I began to fear I was having a nervous breakdown, I prayed a lot, I took down the post in question and any other post I could find that criticized my boss, and in between each of these things I spent a lot of time writing a response to his email; but though each of these steps was important, it was in the writing I processed what was really going on in my heart.

I may well lose my job over this, which is mind-numbingly scary, but the really painful thing about it was that his response to my post forced me to see a view of myself that was very ugly, a view that I have been struggling obstinately to not see for some months.

He showed me that I have been existing in a state of denial in regard to my job performance: I have been making huge, expensive, and potentially disastrous mistakes, then blaming my mistakes on other people, and finally allowing those inappropriate assignments of blame to fester into angry and self-righteous resentments. I have called people incompetent and become angry over their actions or lack thereof, rather than look at and admit my own very real incompentence and how my actions or lack thereof have resulted in serious consequences.

I had taken the arrogant attitude that I was doing them a favor by showing up every day, just to cover up the humiliating fear I had that the only reason I was still there was because it would be too difficult to replace me. Since self-reproach was too painful, I deflected that reproach onto others, and turned on the snide bitchery to disguise the real cause of the problem: me.

It also showed me the petty, dishonest, and simply nasty practice I had taken on of talking smack about people who I don't think will read or hear about it. I wrote sneeringly and contemptuously about my boss, who is a man I actually respect and admire, because I was angry; and regardless of whether or not he might read it, I wrote it in a place where other people would read it... though none of you knows my boss (as far as I can tell), I was nevertheless representing a real person to you, and I did it dishonestly.

Though my anger was real, and my frustration intense, I only showed that one side of this man to you, this one entirely biased and quite narrow view of a complex individual, and did not show you anything else. There is no evidence in that post or any other of recent memory that I do respect him; in fact it is an empty statement for me to say that I respect him now, when I haven't said so before. It doesn't say much of one's respect for another person if the only time you speak of him is in anger; it doesn't say much of one's respect for another person to speak of him derogatively at all, in anger or in jest or in plain bitter bitchiness.

And even if I didn't respect him, if contempt and dislike were the only things I felt, it is still reprehensible to attack someone behind his back in this manner, whether or not one's anger is real and honest or even justifiable, whether one uses real names or not, to a public audience, however limited. This is not an honorable or even healthy way of dealing with anger. All it does is spread the poison in your soul over the internet where it can touch others.

One should never say anything about anybody that one wouldn't say to that person's face; to do so is wicked. I know that, we all know that. At the same time, one should never speak in anger, because one is never honest when one is in the grip of a strong and damaging emotion, one says things that are both hurtful and essentially untrue. It has nothing to do with the consequences of speaking honestly to a boss or a parent or someone whose returned anger will carry consequences: it's about living honestly and openly and honorably.

When I wrote of my anger, I was venting in what I considered a private forum. But I said things which were unkind, unnecessary, and untrue, and I dishonestly did not present balancing information, I did not present a true picture of either my own feelings or my boss's personality. And the very fact that I felt entitled to say such things about anybody shows the meanness and duplicity of my own soul.

Furthermore, I should have known that my boss might read this diary: I knew he knew it existed, he knew where to find it, and though I didn't expect that he would read it, I knew perfectly well that he could. To write such things in a place where it was possible, no matter how implausible, that he would read them, was criminally thoughtless and rude... for all my talk of "manners," I allowed myself this rudeness out of pure spitefulness and ugliness of spirit.

For all of this I have to apologize: to my boss in particular, to everyone at my work, and to you for letting this ugliness out where it can do damage.

I don't expect forgiveness. One of the hardest things for me to do while processing through this situation was to prevent myself from allowing self-service and face-saving... when I was writing back to my boss, I worked very hard to not allow myself to make excuses. Explanations certainly, to help him (and in the meantime myself) to understand what exactly had happened, but no excuses. The fact is that I did these things, I made these mistakes at work and I wrote these offensive things on my website, and I have to accept the responsibility and the consequences of my actions, and make amends.


I don't know exactly how I will make amends... if some of the mistakes I made cannot be fixed, there will be financial consequences in tens of thousands of dollars. Even if I relinquished all of my accrued sick-leave, vacation, and comp time, and took a substantial pay-cut to cover the losses, I would have to work months or even years to make such sums right.

But I do know that even if my boss doesn't fire me, I am going to have to leave that job. I just cannot do the job, and continuing to not do it while drawing a salary for doing it is quite simply fraudulent. I have to step down and let someone who can do the job be found and hired.

Then I have to find a job I can do. I don't know how much of my failures are attributable to my growing depression, or how much of my despression is attributable to my failures, but either way I am failing miserably and I am miserably depressed, and these things along with my poisonous behavior are all intertwined.

But as scary as job-hunting is, I can see a potential for growth in it. If I can find something I'm good at, someplace where I can make a contribution, someplace big and structured where my mistakes can't threaten the entire institution, where I don't have to continually play to my weaknesses, I will serve both myself and society better.

And before I go, I have to clean up my messes, rectify the mistakes I made as best I can and prepare the way for a transition of responsibilities to my replacement so that my institutional memory is not lost.


I want, before I close this post, to thank my boss for giving me this moment of clarity. It is a flaw of my character to enshroud true problems under a morass of other problems, the blame and resentments and psychological twists are the same that kept me wallowing in my alcoholism for so long, and if this situation had continued unchecked, I don't know how bad things would have gotten before I woke up and saw clearly. The burden of all of my convoluted rationales and resentments has been lifted, burned away by the bright light of the truth in his response to my nasty little diary-post.

The relief I feel right now, with a clear heart and clear eyes, was entirely worth the tears and pain that it took me to get here. This can only make me a better person, and as a better person I can be of greater service to humanity. I only regret now is that he was hurt in the process; I hope somehow I can find a way to make that up to him.

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