(This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post)
It starts something like this.
Dear friend who I care for so deeply I feel I owe it you to spell out how I feel about a recent turn of events. I feel confident you will admire the way I’m controlling my anger and think me brave for being upfront about this. Furthermore, to prove to you this is not a matter I take lightly at all, I offer you this detailed analysis of the situation, carefully worded to show I fully appreciate your side of the story, while helping you to re-evaluate your grasp on the unjustness I suffered and shed new light on where you unknowingly went wrong in all this…
What follows is read like this.
You’re shit. What you did was shit. Anything you have to say on the matter is bound to be shit.
I’ve instigated correspondences that went in this vein as often as, well, you, probably. They never go according to plan, do they? This idea that the receiver will read our concerns, humbled under the glow of new understanding, and rush to us with hugs, apologies and wine is ridiculous. And yet we can’t help ourselves.
These aren’t the messages we fire off in a hissy fit either. We’re talking about the meticulously crafted Dossier of Injustice, where hours can be spent on the wording, penned in the head on sleepless nights, fine-tuned on the screen, painstakingly edited to ensure the nuance packs a punch without delivering an actual one. Then you press send.
And in that instant, the fiery of glow of self-righteousness evaporates to be swiftly replaced by the infinite pit of cringe. What have I done? The ball is in the other court. Somehow, we forgot that the ball gets fired back.
With every refresh, a fresh paranoia. I went too far. At least one of the examples I used to illustrate a point might well be horseshit. Did that line sound like character assassination? Do I come across as petulant? I come across as petulant. How did I not see I come across as petulant before sending it? Why hasn’t she replied yet?
To no one’s surprise, come the response, she’s furious. You’ve lost all your moral high ground, the email caught her by surprise on her way to an important meeting, this on top of her mum being taken to hospital, and now you feel awful, and she’s focused on the one example you used to illustrate your point as horseshit, plus she’s thrown in an example you hadn’t thought of that lands you squarely in the blame corner, and suddenly, you’ve gone from wronged to plain wrong.
The moral of the story of sending the ‘you have wronged me’ email to a friend is nothing new: if you haven’t got the balls to share a grievance face to face, you are a twat.
Problem is, that same hop, skip and jump from indignation to indignity now applies to correspondences we make with strangers too. Logging on to comment with your Facebook account or real name now makes it difficult to sign off with a ‘yours, disgusted from Tunbridge Wells’. It’s even worse now that interactive communication means there’s a personal connection between the wronged and the wrong-doer.
The other day, after feeling wronged by a service, I penned the ‘you have wronged me’ email. Suspecting the lady in question would simply ignore it, I Googled to try decipher her boss’ email, and just in case it wasn’t the right one, CC’d in as many of her peers and superiors I could find on LinkedIn. Then I hit send. Cue the infinite pit of cringe.
She had been dismissive, yes, but she might’ve been busy. While that can be deemed unprofessional, she hadn’t been exactly rude. The list of grievances I’d listed, the trauma I’d suffered at her hands and the cries for vindication all sounded, well, petulant. And then came the responses. Apologies. Explanations. Offers of compromise. From her boss, colleagues and, several times, from her. Long, detailed messages, clearly designed to show her boss she was making amends, but also bearing the unmistakable scent of panic.
I made myself feel more uncomfortable by logging onto her Facebook page. It was open enough for me to see that far from being the Anjelica Huston type with claws and cackles I’d have liked her to be, she was a sweet, smiley little lady who loved The Stone Roses and doing crafts with her little girl and had recently got engaged and here’s our photos from Malta and dear god, they’re only planning another baby! And I was costing her her job.
The email I wrote back to all involved saying I was satisfied with the response and shan’t be taking the matter further, thanking the lady in question for her professionalism and assurance it was nothing personal, ranks amongst the most pompous back-peddling thing I’ve ever written.
To be a dedicated writer of the ‘you have wronged me’ letter, you need the constitution of a seasoned Daily Mail commentator, who shrugs off those red arrowed down votes with the ease of a thick-skinned elephant swiping away flies with its tail. If you’re in any doubt that your attempt at making someone feel bad will end up making you feel bad, maybe don’t send a letter making anyone feel bad in the first place.
Feel wronged? Pick up the phone. Have it out in a pub. Have the courage to have a good old-fashioned argument. If you’re right, you’ll win. The idea is to feel the flush of superiority after the matter is settled face to face, not before you press send, then sit and wait for the confirmation that you’re a petulant twat after all…