Saturday, 15 February 2014


In a situation where a person takes offence by the words or behaviour of others the question arises quite often, was it ego or wasn't it?

That's what gets asked. Was it unfair comment, or was his ego just too great to take the slur?

Well, I'll tell you it's always ego. Every time. No exceptions.

Yeah, I know, you don't like that, but hear me out. It's not a bad thing to have ego. It all depends on what you do with it.

I'm going to tell you about a mistake I made.

I try to be error-free in my work but I'm human.

I received this email from a customer:

"This is just stupid..... you send other item than what is in the picture. if I wanted a the colored beads that would have been in the picture that I would have chosen. I want the purple jade ones look up. I see where now it says beads can be any color. bull crap.. if I want a red car that should be the one in the picture and not a brand new picture then they send a old beat up one, get my point, not getting a blue car instead. And the items are so much smaller than the picture shows, like put a quarter next to the real item,not some other item.
You are the only jewelry seller to pull this junk on me and its very wrong. you need to fix it"

I blinked a few times, with my mouth wide open. I said "HUH?" to myself, inside my head. And then I said it out loud. I tried to rationalize the complaint. I've sent out this particular design a total of 171 times, and it has always been enthusiastically received. The photo is a very good representation of the colour of the bead. And just for a minute there, my ego got the better of me and I thought "silly bitch!"

But then I got a grip, and tried to figure it out. Nobody would be that upset just because a shade of purple was not as expected, that can't be right.

Then it dawned on me. Duh. I do two different styles with a similar name. I'd sent the other one. It was absolutely my fault, sheer carelessness. I'd obviously been busy and not checked the photo when shipping as I normally do, and then I had been completely thrown off by the invective.

So, I immediately sent a reply:

"I understand you received the wrong item. This is our error, and I do apologize. Would you like a replacement, or a refund? "

There is no doubt that the tone of the original communication was part of the problem, if I had received instead a message saying:

"Whoops, wrong item sent."

....I would have connected the dots right away. This is a also a good lesson, then, in how not to complain, because obviously what we have here is an inexperienced shopper, perhaps young, and if she'd sent that to a different seller, well, things could have got ugly. Fascinating situation really. But that's a discussion for another time.

What happens when we feel "attacked" by words, is that our ego is the first line of defence. Comes up like a shield. It's so instinctive that it's extremely difficult to prevent that. So perhaps instead of trying to achieve an impossibility, we can check it before we speak or act. Count to ten.

Let's not pretend we enjoy criticism. We may realise in the fullness of time that it was useful or fair or whatever, but nobody enjoys it. The knee-jerk reaction is to feel slighted.

And because we are wise (we are, aren't we?) we deal with it appropriately, eventually. We still don't like it, but we accept that it was accurate, however crude, it was justified.

But what when it's not justified? When we can't be humble.

Being wrongly accused of something is a very difficult thing to deal with. Being unfairly criticized is a type of wrong accusation. Having just our opinions trampled on is almost as bad. All these are equivalent, in many ways.

There is no way round it, we are wronged.

Does it matter?

The answer to that is going to depend on a number of things. Not least, if you ignore it, will it happen again?

In societies based on an honour system, one is expected to react. One guards one's honour. The slap of the glove demands that you stand up and challenge your accuser or critic. Even in a society where this is all of lesser importance, there is a concept that one must stand up to a bully.

But we also have the concept of sticks and stones, and of taking the high road.

Whether it matters or not becomes a case by case decision.

This stuff isn't easy, and it does matter. It may be our greatest regular test.

I suggest that the following factors impact our decision:

1. Who said it. Somebody who is de facto our superior or inferior (in an employment situation), somebody who we merely consider to be superior or inferior, somebody we like or dislike, somebody we know well, don't know well, don't know at all, somebody with power over us, or none, and so on.

2. Who was listening. Nobody. Few. Many. The World.

3. What we can do about it. Nothing. A temporary solution. A real solution.

4. The effort involved. No reply. Dirty look. Smart reply. Threat. Court injunction.

5. The real harm done. Bruised ego. Damaged reputation. Risk of imprisonment.

Because when it comes right down to it, if it was a stranger, there were no witnesses, and that's the last you'll ever hear of it, then what is the point of getting all bent out of shape?

On the other hand, if somebody just called you a pedophile on TV, call a lawyer.

There is no simple answer as to whether or not you should act on the alarm bells your ego sounds. It is protecting you, but it can so easily over-react, like a snappy little dog.

Most importantly, you must not allow the madness to become infectious.

Your ego is a slightly unstable bodyguard. Your executive skills are easily tricked by its hair-trigger responses and this is where your wisdom, your discernment and experience come in. If you sound like a split personality at this point, it's because you are. It's why you can argue with yourself, because the Self is far from homogeneous.

When the ability to discern goes awry it is just as likely to under-react as it is to over-react. It may just do both, randomly.

What often happens is that a person who has been a "doormat" for a long time, just loses it. They can't take the accusations and criticisms anymore and something snaps. They lash out in anger, and this can be dangerous. It's rare, but not rare enough because we've all heard of it or even watched it happen.

To avoid reacting in a way you may regret later, it's a good idea to pause while you think on your feet:

Does this really matter?
What do I do/say now?
Should I wait, and if I do, what should I do/say later?

When you are accused or criticized, pay very close attention to what was said. If uncertain, delay reaction. For now, simply say: "I think there may be a misunderstanding here" and give yourself time to process. If it's text rather than verbal, you have a massive advantage, you need not say anything immediately in most cases.

Take a deep breath. Om.

Thank your ego for alerting you, and send it on its way. Its work is done. Let the rational mind take it from here.

Ask yourself 1-5 above. That may be enough.

OK. What if you decide that, rationally, there is no need to react, really, you can't really say that any real harm was done, and you know it was just that your feelings were hurt, but....damn it....damn it.....DAMN IT! Your feelings were HURT!

Why? Has this happened before? What did you do then? Why is it different now?

I can't answer those for you, but one possibility is that you are being over-sensitive because your feelings were already damaged.

The solution is obvious. If you find a balance between over-reacting and under-reacting, you won't feel so bad about it later.

Now, I'm assuming, perhaps wrongly, that you worry about having regrets. I'm assuming that if you over-react, and then later on you feel a fool, that this will be worse. I'm assuming you analyse your earlier behaviour. I'm assuming you care. I could be projecting my own preference, which is to avoid having to apologize. I'm assuming you want to do the right thing by all concerned.

Because if in fact all this is, is you wanting to look better than everyone else, then THAT is ego, through and through, and I can't help you.

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