Holy cow! I’ve been scrambling to meet an editing deadine for my book, so for once I haven’t been obsessively checking my blog every few hours – and controversy erupts. I’m very sorry that I seemed to be ignoring commenters. Never again will I allow myself to disengage this way, even overnight.
Let me explain what happened. After a post a few days ago about John’s letter from his mother, several people wrote comments that were harsh characterizations of John’s mother – inferring from her letter the kind of mother she’d been and how she might have acted in the past.
The letter was on my blog, and I’d made my own comment about it, so it was appropriate for people to comment honestly, with their own views.
Nevertheless, I felt terrible. I’d read the letter very differently from those commenters, and their interpretation hadn’t occurred to me AT ALL. By posting the letter, without anticipating it, I had exposed two people to severe public criticism, and in particular, a person I thought was acting laudably. What’s more, I worried that posting the letter and opening the door to this criticism would interfere with an admirable attempt by two people to heal a rift. (No matter what you think of John or John’s mother, you have to admit that they are both TRYING to behave lovingly at this point, which I think counts for a lot.)
I was just sick about having thoughtlessly brought these two people into this situation. John had sent me the letter and suggested posting it – but still. I was the agent that had permitted this to occur.
As a consequence, I reacted in the moment and took down all the comments — there were about twelve, many of which struck me as very harsh. Even as I was doing it, a little voice murmured, “Think it over! Wait an hour, don’t react in the moment, this is a bad idea.” But the thought of John and his mother reading my blog and feeling horrible upset me so much that I went ahead and deleted the comments.
As that little voice predicted, I soon regretted my action. (Note to self: always listen to that little voice.) The commenters had taken the time and effort carefully to explain their own views and insights, and I had wiped that away, without any warning or explanation. I’d been so focused on my own distress at the thought of upsetting John and his mother that I didn’t think about the effect of my deletions on the commenters.
Therefore, not much later, I decided I wouldn’t delete any more comments, but would let any new ones stand. I should have written an explanation on my blog at that point, but I didn’t. Just then, I got caught up in re-writing the introduction of my book, a task that requires enormous concentration. I remembered to post, because that’s part of my daily work, but I didn’t allow myself the distraction of checking my blog (I have to admit, checking my blog is an activity that I often use as a procrastination tool, and it feels like “fun” that I could cut out at a crunch time).
Lesson learned: I won’t do delete comments this way again, and I’ll read comments regularly. (This is so ironic! I read comments CONSTANTLY, and this is practically the one time I didn’t. Aargh.)
I’ve never faced this kind of question before; the single time I’d ever deleted a comment was about two years ago, when, out of the blue, someone posted a horrible racist joke, which I took down immediately. People have posted some mean things about me, but I never considered deleting those. (Here is one of my favorite exchanges, if you’re interested.)
I learned something else. Of course, I always ask readers’ permission to post something they wrote, but now I’m going to warn them that comments are sometimes critical, and if comments are critical, I will leave them up. At least that way they’ll be prepared and will know my policy (and so will I). Also, when I post something like this letter, I’m going to add a note to readers, reminding everyone that the people under discussion are actual, ordinary people. It can feel like you’re discussing Jennifer Anniston — nope! These aren’t public figures, who have developed a tough skin, put themselves in the limelight, and don’t read everything that’s written about them — and so it behooves us all to keep a gentle tone. And I will be far, far more reluctant to post notes from readers.
Okay, that’s more than you wanted to know! One commenter gently reminded me of my own Tenth Commandment: Do what ought to be done. I hope that now I have. Thanks so much, readers, for your comments and for helping me clarify how to be a more responsible and responsive blogger. I hope you’ll keep reading.
One of my first blog friends, the wildly creative Danielle LaPorte, has just launched a new blog, White Hot Truth. Can’t wait to see what she comes up with as she moves forward.
New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner of my blog.