Okay, let’s be honest here (says the man who writes a quasi-anonymous blog). Can we please have a show of hands of those who have ever mistakenly sent out an embarrassing e-mail? Oh, come now, we can do better than that. You there! Yes, you, the woman with the cool-looking glasses hiding behind her laptop screen eating that apple — I bet you have an electronic embarrassment in your past, don’t you? I thought so. Don’t worry, we’ll keep this just between us.
The fact is most of us have done something embarrassing on the computer whether we’re willing to admit it or not. Whether it was ruining someone’s surprise party, commenting on Aunt Betty’s excessive drinking, or bragging about a sexual escapade, a good majority of us have experienced that awful chill down the spine of realizing that you hit the SEND button without looking closely at the recipient(s). “Oopsy Daisy” doesn’t even begin to come close to expressing the humiliation that we feel when that happens. Usually it’s a gratuitous usage of both the “S” and “F” words, followed by either a literal or figurative fetal position posture that lasts for hours or days. Stepping out of your office into the general workplace after such an error can be an embarrassing and gut-wrenching experience, as is seeing your friend/neighbor/family member about whom you may have made an off-color comment. Sometimes one will overcompensate to make up for the gaffe only to get him/herself even further embarrassed.
“No, Mr. Jennings, you see, when I said you wouldn’t understand a contract revision if it hit you in the face, I literally meant the ones that I write. I mean, they’re terrible. I can’t even make sense of them!”
Yeah… as Rocky Squirrel would say, “that trick never works.”
What makes me think about all of this is an absolutely delicious controversy from earlier this week involving the political commentator Tucker Carlson and his quite colorful brother, Buckley. I’ll let the above article link explain the details of the inadvertent e-mail snafu, but suffice to say that not only did Brother Buckley make one of those terrible “reply-all” errors, but his use of vulgar, sexist, and misogynist language to describe a female is so far out-of-bounds that it is indefensible. However, one does have to give Brother Tucker some credit for family loyalty. He says that his brother’s comments were meant in “the nicest way” possible. Outstanding! We have a new standard for inflammatory language — we just have to say it nicely. I’m not even sure Ripley would believe that one.
I must do a full disclosure here and admit to my own foibles. While thankfully mine don’t come even close to Brother Buckley, I have made a doozy or two.
Probably my most embarrassing e-mail mistake was when I created an online photo gallery of a work event party in which we were celebrating the opening of an office in our new building. In what I thought was a truly devious and diabolical method of sharing the pictures, I created two albums of the same pictures — one for my co-workers and a second one for my friends. I bet you know where this is going, don’t you? Yep, I mistakenly sent the wrong link to my co-workers and they all got to see the “colorful” remarks I made about the function. Most of the comments were actually just silly, but in one particular picture I happened to mentioned how I thought a co-worker’s glasses were ugly. That was the caption everyone noticed, of course. My later apology to the poor person wearing said glasses was the most uncomfortable conversation I may have ever had.
Another brilliant move by your humble blogger was when I incorrectly sent an instant message to the wrong person. The intended person never got my message (Hi, H.), but the one who did receive it got to read about, well, himself. Somehow I managed to extricate myself from that one because what I actually wrote wasn’t that bad. But it was nonetheless not my most shining moment.
A sister of mine is only now communicating with me after many years of shunning because of information that I once shared about her with a second sister. Promises were made that I wouldn’t share certain dirt, and in fact I kept my mouth shut for a very long period of time. But when I thought the conditions of the promise had expired by certain circumstances having taken place, I did go ahead and share them with Sister #2. I was wrong. I should have checked and confirmed before breaking the confidence. As a result, Sister #1 quickly informed me that my breach was an act of betrayal. Only after many years of silence are we now taking baby steps at rapprochement. Probably my toughest lesson in hitting SEND.
Harry Truman made his own inadvertent communication indiscretion in an era way before e-mail, cell phone texts, or chat. Our 33rd president had a long habit of hand-writing letters or memos, putting them in a closed envelope in his drawer, and taking them back out 24-48 hours later and re-reading to see if he still felt the same. Most of the time he didn’t, and into the garbage went the missive. However, his most infamous moment occurred after a Washington Post arts critic panned the president’s daughter Margaret’s singing at an operatic recital. Our feisty president wrote a note to the critic afterwards and ended up sending it to him in the following day’s mail. Mr. Truman defended his daughter by promising to punch the critic in the nose if they ever met in the future. While initially embarrassed and mortified by his actions, the public ate it up and the President ended up getting political mileage out of the act. His advisors, however, kept a closer watch on his outgoing mail after that.
I don’t know much about the Brothers’ Carlson and their own level of chagrin and embarrassment. Today’s politics is all about electronic machismo with a general lack decorum and decency. This makes me assume that we won’t be witnessing much of a sincere mea culpa or apology to the victim of the awful e-mail. Issue a denial, go away for a few days, and then change the subject. Collectively we all tend to have a short memory now anyway.
But for us mere mortals who have to play by a more common set of rules — having to show up for work the following day, or going to Aunt Betty’s home for Thanksgiving next November, for example — we know we have to ultimately make amends and give a sincere apology.
As Hill Street’s Sgt. Esterhaus used to admonish,”Let’s Be Careful Out There!”