When cowards hide behind digital walls and hurl grenades...

Someone did something rotten to me a few weeks ago.

A person who I have never met but who performs in the same New York storytelling community as me, who knows many of the same storytellers that I do, and who was connected to me via Facebook, decided to block me.

I didn’t notice. Though I post to Facebook regularly, I don’t routinely scroll my feed. Even if I did, I have more than 1,300 Facebook friends and 1.400 fans. It’s unlikely I would’ve noticed the departure of someone who I had never actually met.

Once I was blocked and unable to see any of her content, she wrote a scathing post about me. 

Already disenchanted with me (thus the block), this person had seen my post on an NYC storytelling group promoting my monthly author newsletter (which includes storytelling tips), and this had apparently sent her over the edge. She took to Facebook, calling me, among other things, obnoxious, egotistical, self-important, average, and “Mr. Full of Himself.”

She didn’t name me directly but included enough biographical info to make it perfectly clear it was me. “Produces his own show.” “Published author.” Multiple Moth StorySLAM winner. Other details very specific to me.  

There was no doubt over who she was writing about.

It was a cruel and scathing post that painted me as a self-absorbed, opportunistic narcissist who treats the storytellers in my shows with contempt. She called for someone in the community to “sit me down” and inform me that I’m “not all that.”

“He needs to STOP,” she wrote.   

There were also factual inaccuracies in the post. Some of her accusations were simply untrue. She was criticizing circumstances that she did not fully understand.

All of this was upsetting, but I’m a grown man. I can accept criticism, as unfounded and unhinged as it may be. After a decade of publishing novels, magazine columns, podcasts, and a blog, in addition to performing on stage hundreds of times around the world and writing and producing my own musicals, I’ve received my share of criticism. I can accept that. I’ve grown a very thick skin.

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But there’s one important difference here.

Because this person blocked me on Facebook before posting her diatribe, I could not see (and would never see) this otherwise public post that was fully visible to my colleagues, friends, competitors, and business partners in the storytelling community. Rather than addressing me directly or posting something on the public network that I could also see, she attacked me behind my back. 

It was an act of cowardice. She called for someone in the community to "sit me down" and make me stop while conveniently and cowardly hiding behind her Facebook wall. 

Had multiple friends in the community not sent me screenshots of her post and cut-and-pasted the text of the post into emails to me, and had she not mistakenly remained Facebook friends with Elysha (whoopsie!), I would have never seen this scathing, libelous attack.

This is one of the insidious parts of social media that doesn’t receive enough attention. As an elementary school teacher for 20 years, I have witnessed firsthand the rise of cyber bullying and know all too well how terrible it can be. It’s devastating to see ugliness, hate, and lies published on a network for the world to see.

But this is different. It hurts to hear that someone despises you and is publicly critical of your craft, but to know that everyone who is important to you professionally can read and respond to the accusations but you cannot is downright insidious and terrifying. To think that this person could continue to attack me again and again, behind my back, in such a cowardly, despicable manner, without me knowing or having any recourse, is scary as hell. To know that your community is reading such hateful comments while you are unable to respond is both enraging and unsettling.  

Elysha didn’t sleep well for days after seeing this post. She couldn’t understand how someone who I have never met could be so angry to attack me online in such a nefarious way.

I can’t either. I can’t begin to imagine her motives or what she hoped to gain from this bit of nastiness.

In response, I wrote to the woman, asking to speak on the phone. I promised to be open-minded and polite. I offered to let bygones by bygones in hopes of finding a middle ground of understanding. And I meant it. I'm nothing if not forgiving. 

Not surprising, she refused. Instead, she sent another screed, calling me among other things a liar. She also widening her target package to include Elysha, who she referred to as a “ditz and a flake.”

It’s an email filled with anger and cruelty and stupidity, and I am so pleased to be in possession of it if I decide to take action someday or (even better) simply post our exchange of emails online for entertainment purposes.

It makes for a fun read. Perhaps a holiday gift to my readers. 

But at least the attack was directed at me this time instead of behind my back. At least I knew what was being said about me. At least I had an opportunity to respond. Defend myself. Challenge her blatant inaccuracies with stubborn little facts.     

Human beings have undoubtedly been speaking behind the back of other human beings since the beginning of time. This is nothing new. It’s awful but unavoidable. But with the ability to block people on platforms like Facebook, we can now speak poorly, cruelly, damagingly, and libelously about another person without their knowledge and reach an audience of thousands with a single click. We can malign a person within their own online community without them ever seeing the insult. We can besmirch their reputation. Levy false allegations. Damage their means of making a living.

All without the victim ever knowing.   

This level of behind the back cowardice is new, and it is terrifying.

The good news about my situation is that the community came to my defense. They did the right thing. They alerted me to the post and offered to respond on my behalf. Elysha was then able to find the post and take screenshots as well. 

It’s important that we all do this.

Public criticism, as harsh and even unfair as it may be, is something that I’m willing to accept. As an author, storyteller, podcaster, playwright, and blogger, I accept my position as a public figure. Criticism is part of the deal. Those who create understand this reality. 

But insidious, behind-the-back criticism that allows critics to block their victims while taking advantage of a network effect that allows them reach large online communities must be rejected and repulsed every time. You have a right to know if someone is criticizing you, fairly or unfairly, on a platform like Facebook. You have a right to know if someone is writing scathing, libelous content about you that can be read and shared by the masses.

When we see these things happen, we must stand up and say no. We can’t accept this level of cowardice and cruelty.

I’m grateful that my community rose to my defense, but then again, I wasn’t surprised. Storytellers are good people.

Most of them, at least.

Nine rules for making you more efficient with email and less of a jerk face

1. Email is often a means of informal communication. As such, you can dramatically decrease the amount of time spent with email with short, efficient replies like, ‘Thanks” and “Understood” and “Agreed.” Dispense with formalities whenever possible and increase efficiency. image

2. Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) is often the tool of the passive aggressive coward. Before including an email address in this field, always ask yourself why you are using it. If you’re trying to hurt or embarrass someone or conceal something, knock it off, jerk face.

3. Never send an email written to express your anger or disappointment with someone. Those emotions are better conveyed over the phone or in person, where unnecessary aggression and excessive vitriol cannot be shielded by the passive aggressive nature of email. In other words, don’t be a coward. If you’re upset, pick up the phone.

4. “I sent that angry email because I express myself better in the written form and was too anger to speak” is never an excuse for violating rule #3.

5. If you receive an angry email, pick up the phone and respond immediately. The faster, the better. The best way to handle a passive-aggressive person is in an aggressively direct manner. Angry email senders tend to be people who do not handle conflict well and therefore hide behind technology. Pulling back the technological curtain will be uncomfortable for them and will often knock them off their position.

6. Inbox zero should be your goal, if only for productivity and efficiency purposes. Leaving email in your inbox forces you to look at that email every time you access your mail application, which takes time and energy. It’s akin to sifting through the same growing pile of mail every day to find a specific letter or bill. Inbox zero will eliminate the time required to take action on incoming emails by not adding them to an already enormous pile.

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7. Use a mail application that allows you to schedule a time when you want an email to hit your inbox. Turn email into something that you receive when you want to receive it. For me, this is Mailbox, though many other applications offer similar functionality. I often reschedule incoming email for a designated time during the day when I plan to read and respond, thereby keeping my inbox empty and enjoying the benefits of rule #6.

If I receive an email pertaining to taxes, I reschedule it to hit my inbox on April 1.

If my team receives an email requesting action on our part, I reschedule it to hit my inbox in 24 hours in the hopes that one of my colleagues will handle the request before I need to.

I also use the “Someday” time frame in Mailbox to randomly reschedule emails that make me smile or feel good about myself, allowing me to experience the joy of receiving that email all over again.

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8. Respond to emails that require action as quickly as possible, and always within 24 hours. Failing to respond to an email – even if your response is “I’ll get back to you tomorrow” – projects the image of a person who is overwhelmed, disorganized, and inefficient.

9. Choose subjects for your emails that will allow your readers to identify the general purpose of the email without actually opening it and help you search for that email in the future.

I’m going to disagree with “I’m going to push back on that a little.”

“I’m going to push back on that a little.”

A phrase that seems to unfortunately be gaining in popularity, most often used by wishy-washy, namby-pamby cowards who are either:

  1. Afraid of offending the speaker.
  2. Afraid of taking the opposing position in the event that the speaker verbally obliterates that position.
  3. Incapable of an original idea of their own..

“I’m going to push back on that” allows a person to disagree without taking an actual stand.

“I’m going to push back on that” allows a person to question to opinions and ideas without have an opinion or idea of their own.

“I’m going to push back on that a little” is the passive-aggressive way of saying, “I disagree with you” or “You’re wrong” or “I think you’re full of hooey!”

So let’s just stop using that ridiculous phrase. Okay?

Take a stand, damn it. Express an actual opinion. Defend a position. Choose your hill and die upon it if necessary.

Be anything but a passive-aggressive wimp.

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New rule: Women should not make sweeping generalizations about women.

In listening to the most recent Nerdist Writer’s Panel podcast, the writer and show runner of the television show Trophy Wife, Emily Halpern, was asked if she ever fights with her writing partner during the collaborative process.

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Her response:

We are two women, so we get passive aggressive. One of us may pout, and the other will ask what’s wrong, but we’ve never yelled at each other.

Either Halpern is right, and collaborative disagreements in female partnerships consist primarily of passive aggressiveness and pouting, or she has maligned all of womankind with her statement.

I tend to think it’s the latter.

I want to be surprised that someone like Halpern would lump women into this collective passive-aggressive basket, but one the same day I listened to the podcast, I read about North Carolina Representative Renee Ellmers’ remarks while speaking on a panel for the Republican Study Committee, the House's conservative caucus;

Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level. Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and how, you know, the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that ... we need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman's level and what everything that she is balancing in her life — that’s the way to go.

It’s hard enough for women already without the likes of Emily Halpern and Renee Ellmers portraying the female sex as a collective of passive aggressive pouters who are incapable of comprehending pie charts and graphs.