Accountability

In my recent blog post about Writing Letters, I mentioned that I never write to the grandmother that would probably appreciate it. I received an email the next day from an online friend. He first quoted from my blog:

The article on the radio today made me see just how important it is. And not just for older people who remember letter writing as a primary form of communication. Young people enjoy getting mail too. I think she’s hooked. And I’m glad she’s forging this relationship with her great grandmother. And I think she just might be having an effect on me. Maybe I could take the time to write a hand-written letter to Grandma too.

And then he gave his opinion:

I think it is sad that you can’t take the time to write to Grandma, but you have plenty of time to write several times a week to total strangers.

Ouch! When I say this is an “online friend”, I mean it. I’ve never met him in real life. We have never spoken on the phone. Our relationship has been forged completely on the web. Assuming his presented information is accurate, he’s old enough to be my dad. And in this situation, he played the role of an older, wiser mentor perfectly. Actually, he played the role a friend should play better than most of us do with our real-life friends.

Needless to say, I was convicted by his remark. I went home and found some stationary and a pretty card. I sat down and wrote to Grandma, stuffed the letter in the card, added a copy of a recent newspaper picture of Jane’s volleyball team, put it all in a stamped envelope, and drove to the post office.

His wife was purportedly angry with him for saying what he did the way he did. We talked a bit about it and it got me to thinking about friendships and holding people accountable. It even got me thinking about our general reactions to other people on a larger scale.

I work with a guy who was good at saying what needs to be said. We both like to talk and some of our conversations years ago tended to get long-winded. He came into my work area one day with a look on his face that made me nervous.

“We need to talk,” he began. He went on to make it clear that while he enjoyed the conversations, we needed to curb them. He was very serious and I was very uncomfortable. What he said needed to be said and I appreciated him having the character to do it.

I have still not grown up enough to be able to do the same for others. Out of worry for hurting feelings or a sense that it’s none of my business, when I’ve either had a problem with someone or noticed a flaw in their character, I’ve said nothing. Worse, I’ve often vented to others instead of approaching the offending character. What kind of a friend is that?

Now, I recognize there are limits. You shouldn’t just pop off anything that enters your head. And the way many strangers interact online is offensive and unhelpful. But if you have a relationship of mutual respect, like this online friend and I do, you can (hopefully) say what needs to be said without doing damage.

I have always appreciated the blunt people in my life, even when they anger me or embarrass me. At least I know 1) how they feel about me or what I said and 2) that they will let me know if a problem develops. Carefully avoiding hurting people’s feelings is a significant part of who I am. I’m not sure I can change that so I’m hoping to find a way to gently and oh-so-politely return the favor.

{NOTE: With my encouragement, this “blunt” online friend started blogging. He’s got a lot of funny stories to tell, which you can check out here. Having never met him, I sometimes wonder how true some of these fantastical tales are, but just like in the 2003 movie Big Fish, I’ve decided it doesn’t matter. I enjoy them all the same.}

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2 thoughts on “Accountability

  1. As a blunt person, I appreciate blunt people. I love not having to guess, even if I don’t love every single message . . .

    On the topic.of letters, I have been thinking about my own stack of letters recently. Thanks to writing letters, I received my own now-cherished letters from people no longer here to write. It makes me miss all the handwriting I did.

    • I find myself getting frustrated when people dance around what they want to say instead of just saying it, yet when I need to say something I’m afraid they won’t like, I start up the dance too. Something for me to work on, I suppose.

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