Yep, these things just seem to happen. To me. A lot.
Internet karma has come to bite me on the butt. Mere days after publishing my post about my “Top Ten Most Embarrassing Fitness Moments Ever” I managed to top myself. Yes, even worse than the nose-vomit-headstand incident. And it all started, as things are wont to do these days, with the Internet, an e-mail and a clueless girl. (That girl being me, naturally.)
Here’s my problem: I’ve never seen a porn flick. Heck, I’ve only ever seen one R-Rated movie* in my entire life and that was the original Scream which was a total waste of my one teenage act of rebellion because a) I did it to impress a boy (and he was not impressed) and b) that movie sucks. Who gets killed by a garage door?! I can’t even leave a bike helmet within two feet of mine without it freaking out and flashing lights. And the one time my kids hung from it they pulled it clean off its tracks and we were homebound for an entire day because I couldn’t figure out how to get the car out of the garage with a non-functional door and heaven forbid we walk anywhere. So at least I could have gone for something highbrow like Braveheart or Schindler’s List or Dazed and Confused, right?? ANYHOW. My point is that there is a whole set of, shall we say, nomenclature, than I am not familiar with. (Like how I’m delaying telling you what I actually did? It wasn’t porn. I swear.)
So I’ve long been trying to get a certain fitness picture for a story. It’s a totally innocent picture but the right combination of people, time and place had not yet coincided and it had become a quest of mine. Then the other day my photojournalism intern Brittney managed to get just the right shot! It was perfect! I was so excited I e-mailed it to everyone I work with. EVERYONE. And then I put a subject line on it. The phrase I chose is apparently slang for a particular sex act. And while I have used this phrase quite a few times I had no idea what it meant or where it came from. I certainly didn’t know what it was.
(I know that you are all dying to know what the phrase was but I don’t want it in the body of my post because I don’t need that kind of Google traffic – the #1 search term that lands people on my site is already “fitness porn” after which I’m sure they’re horribly disappointed – but I will write it in the first comment below, along with a link with no pictures explaining what it is just in case you are one of the 10 other people in the world who also doesn’t know what it means. If you don’t want to know it, don’t read the first comment.)
To recap: I sent a professional e-mail with a popular porn sex act as the subject line with a picture attached. Whee.
The reaction was equal parts entertaining and humiliating. The next day one of the recipients (I’m keeping their names out of this – I try to only embarrass myself on this site.) approached me and said, “Well that was a, uh, interesting e-mail you sent out yesterday.” I could tell from his face he was holding back the giggles. “I know, that picture was perfect,” I crowed. “Well I didn’t really want to open it at work…” he answered. Seeing the confusion on my face, he continued, “With that subject line and all.” I repeated the obscene phrase. “That? What’s wrong with that??” He raised an eyebrow. “You really don’t know?” I shook my head. “Really? REALLY?!” I was turning red at this point. Clearly something had gone horribly wrong. Then he did bust out laughing. “It’s probably better that way.”
So I went home and googled it. Word to the wise: do not randomly Google phrases that you have any inkling are dirty. I think I’m scarred for life. I turned 50 shades of red (yeah, I just went there), slammed my laptop shut and then had to run about 5 virus scans. Even then I think I got contact herpes. The only thing to do at that point was send out a sincere apology to everyone who got the e-mail starting with “I truly did not mean to offend anyone. It wasn’t a joke in bad taste, I just really had no clue…” Most of them responded kindly with a mixture of “No worries, I thought your account had been hacked so I didn’t open it” and “Buwhahahhahahahhhh! You are awesome. Best day ever.” (There was one lady who responded with “What was wrong with it? I don’t get it either?!” You know who you are and I love you.) But there was one gentleman who did not respond right away. As 24 hours passed (24 years in Internet time) I grew more horrified. What if he thought I was some kind of perv now? A couple of days later he finally responded (people are busy, who knew?) with probably my most favorite note I’ve ever gotten:
It began: “Please do not worry about it. I don’t think I’ve been offended since I was four…”
I love people who are slow to take offense. And not just because that means we get to stay friends longer (since about 45% of the time I open my mouth, I stick my foot in it). But because he reminded me of something I’ve tried to cultivate in myself: a charitable attitude towards others. For me, taking offense isn’t a state of being but rather a choice we make. We always have the option of assuming the best about people and their intentions. While not everyone has the best intentions, I’d rather think the best of someone and be proven wrong than think the worst and be proven right. And if we’re really lucky, that person may try to live up to our good perception of them, even if that wasn’t where they started.
I learned the value of not being easily offended partly out of gratitude to those whom I’ve wronged and have forgiven me before I’ve even asked it of them but also because how much better I feel when I do it. Awhile ago I parked in a spot in front of the grocery store and was in the process of unloading all my children and herding them through the rain for what would surely be a noisy and frustrating “quick” trip to get chicken when an elderly woman stopped me. She was so irate she could barely get words to form but eventually she started yelling at me. “HOW DARE YOU PARK IN THE HANDICAPPED SPOTS! PEOPLE NEED THESE! AND IT’S ILLEGAL! YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT ANYONE! YOU KIDS JUST THINK YOU CAN DO WHATEVER YOU WANT!” At this point I wanted to stop her and thank her for calling me a kid but I let her continue. “YOU MOVE RIGHT THIS INSTANT OR I’LL CALL THE MANAGER! AND THE POLICE!!” Quietly I smiled at her, thanked her for her concern for those who have special needs and loaded all my kids back in the car (still standing in the rain) and moved to a spot farther back from the doors.
The thing is? The spot I was in wasn’t handicapped. I’ve shopped at that store for years and am well aware of the parking areas and that one was legit for anyone. But what mattered was that she needed to feel heard. Did it feel crappy to get yelled at? Sure. Did I enjoy having to drag my kids farther? Nope. But she was obviously upset about something and I’m guessing that something really wasn’t me. I wanted her to have at least one kind interaction in her day and if that was me then I am grateful for the opportunity. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she had a loved one with special needs who was mistreated. Maybe she had dementia. Or maybe she was just a jerk. It would have been super easy to have been offended. But I chose instead to try and see her in the best light. And regardless of how she felt afterward (although I hope she felt a little better), I felt good about it. I know if I’d argued with her or gotten angry back or cried I would have felt bad about it all day. As it was, I felt peaceful about the whole thing.
None of which is to say I’m perfect. This is definitely one of those things I have to constantly work at but I make a point to tell people “Don’t worry – You’d have to work really hard to offend me” and then try to make that true. It’s been a gift to see how this works on the interwebs as well. I’m constantly amazed at how kindly some of you correct me when I say something particularly idiotic (which, when you write every day like I do, can be fairly frequent) and how willing you are to forgive my faults. And on the other side, I’ve had people leave some really nasty comments on my posts and/or articles. Some have made cry. A lot. But 9 times out of 10 when I respond genuinely, they do as well. (There are the trolls just looking for a fight but I think those people are a lot fewer than we think they are.) I’m always willing to listen to your opinion, even if I don’t ultimately agree with it. And even if it makes me feel sad, I still will choose not to be offended by it. Because I adamantly believe people are more beautiful, more kind, more intelligent and more gracious than we give them credit for or opportunity to be.
Someone (and I’m too lazy to Google it to find out who but rest assured they’re way smarter than I am) said “A fool takes offense where none is meant but it is a greater fool who takes offense where offense was meant.” Because the poisonous feeling of offense lives in the heart of the person taking it, not the one giving it.
Are you good at letting things roll of your back or do you have to work at it, like me? Have you ever been in a situation where you chose not to be offended even though you had every right to be? Anyone else ever sent a horrible e-mail like I did?!?
*It’s a lesser-known part of our religion. Sure you probably know that LDS (or Mormons) don’t drink alcohol, coffee or tea or smoke as part of our religion but we also choose not to watch anything over a PG-13 rating which means about 80% of cultural references are lost on me. I’ve never understood why people keep wanting to put untrue weird stuff like prairie dresses and polygamy on us when there are so many legitimate quirks to work with…
** Also, I don’t want anyone to think that this gives people license to say whatever horrible thing they want and then demand that no one be offended. You shouldn’t say hurtful things. Society runs best with some modicum of social decorum in place. Mouthiness = Anarchy. I learned that from Calvin & Hobbes.