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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Ask the Matriarch: putting toothpaste back in tube edition

Not toothpaste but email and the "innertubes" -- how to recover from blurting out a private note to a whole listserve and the person (also known as a "blat") about whom you were writing.

Help -- I sent out a snarky email and thought I was only sending it to a friend. Unfortunately it went to everyone on the list and the bishop. It was not to flattering to the bishop - although true.

Lost in cyberspace

Matriarch Jacque replies:
Whew! All I can say is that this is a reminder of how VERY careful we have to be with the use of e-mail in ministry. The issue extends to confidentiality concerns regarding parishioners, etc. There are many things that I simply do not put into print in emails.

Jan agrees and sends some ways to regroup and points out that there are healthier ways to communicate difficulties:
All you can do is say:
1) "It's been a rough week. You lost your mind and you are sorry."
2) "Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa."
3) "This was a good lesson in sharing the truth in love in a healthy way, like directly to those with whom we are frustrated. And, I'm so sorry Bishop." Then take him/her out to lunch.

We've all done something sort of like this. You have probably spared many of us comparable humiliation in that we will be more careful ourselves. Thank you (and I'm so sorry.)

From revhoney:
Ouch! But you are not the first, nor will you be the last to have been
brutally honest in the wrong context.

I would first call the bishop, apologize in that call, and make an appointment to sit down with him/her to ask forgiveness face-to-face and to speak with her/him about the comments you made. You clearly have some thoughts/feelings about some aspect of this person or his/her ministry.

Perhaps a frank discussion will pave the way to a deeper understanding, or reconciliation, or at least an agreement to disagree. Were I a person referenced in such a way in an e-mail, my respect in the writer would be restored and deepened by this kind of conversation.

Second, after the appointment with your bishop has been set, I would e-mail all those who received the first e-mail and apologize for it, and indicate that you will be sitting down with your bishop to address the comments you made.

Wise layperson offers advice for the future and some resources from the Gothic Charm School:
My advice:

Send a private apology to the bishop.

Go read the following columns on internet manners (good tips for those of us who like to snark) here, here, and here.

The main point being that email is perhaps not the best place to snark or gossip-- anything written down, and particularly anything sent over the internet can be widely copied and spread around. This can happen by accident (as the correspondent has experienced) or on purpose by someone who does not have your best interests at heart.

So next time, think twice about sending that snarky email. Getting together in person or over the phone is a better, in my opinion. A conversation generally leaves no record and when you are speaking directly to a person you have a better chance to ensure that they are understanding what you are saying.

My rule is-- if you don't want everyone to see it don't put it on the internet (via email, blog, forum, what-have-you). The internet is much more like writing graffiti on a wall than writing a note and putting it in the postal mail.

Rector in Hawai’i agrees about writing a note or speaking privately to the bishop:
Apologize for the error (it happens to all of us) and send another apology to the bishop alone. Ask him/her if you can come in and talk about your not-too-flattering comments. It'll be hard but at least you don't have to wait for the bishop to call you in and you won't have to be incredibly uncomfortable the next time you're in the bishop's presence.

Personally I am of the mind to look at how serious the offense is and then decide whether to let it go or to go to the bishop. If you have an on-going relationship and it is not a big embarrassing remark or betrayal of a confidence then I would let it go. Sometimes bringing it up just embeds it in the other's consciousness. Next time you see her or him - you might say something about being sorry. But then maybe you are not really sorry as it was something you needed to say but as Jan says did not use a healthy means of communication.

PS from ATM: Keep those questions coming - there are only a couple left in the queue.


  1. Oh my, I did this VERY THING this week myself...

    Embrace your humanity, apologize if you feel it calls for it, then, perhaps, ask the bishop for a time to sit down and discuss your concerns face to face?

    Peace anyway!

  2. The same thing happened to me, except I was not the sender of the mis-sent email. I was the unintended recipient of it, and it contained some unkind (I think untrue, but that's just me) comments about ME. It was a bit of a shock. The sender did what you have been advised. She apologized. I, hopefully gently, advised her to remember the biblical admonition to go to the one you have an offence against if something must be said. And that was that. We did not have a warm and fuzzy relationship in the first place, but I was glad she did come talk to me. This is an email you will likely never forget...but I am praying that your bishop, and others, will. Ah, thank God for grace and mercy for all of us frail sinners. ((((HUGS))) And thanks for the reminder to the rest of us!

  3. This strikes a cord with me, too. I was recently the recipient of some very unflattering "opinion" about me, dressed up as "fact", (which the person openly admitted she intended to discuss with others in a forum to which I would have been asked to not attend) and I unfortunately, went apesh*t back at the person and made it worse.

    It called for some honest prayer, very deep breaths, some contrite repentance, and a deep and long look at my relationship with this person. I had to realize that we would never have the close relationship that perhaps both of us would have wanted. Then I had to put it aside, for my own sanity.

    Like Singing Owl says, praise God for mercy and grace!

  4. Oh my.
    I have known people to whom this has happened. I think the advice from the matriarchs is so good--anything on the net is like graffiti on a wall.
    I only use my email for communicating, setting appointments, and exchanging information. Yikes!

  5. All of this sounds like good advice. As someone who can be very snarky, I can appreciate your situation.
    I jsut wanted to add in a (((()))))) for you and a emphathtic nod.

  6. I agree, the face-to-face makes SOME kind of future relationship possible; in my experience "letting it go" means letting go of that possibility altogether, as well. Tough stuff, though.

    then there's the problem of IM-ing with one's kids etc. and putting the wrong message in the wrong window *blushes*

  7. I am reminded of a Carrie Newcomer song that always cracks me up, yet contains this same valuable lesson: Don't Push Send.

  8. Been there, done that. I used a phrase ('church lady')in an e-mail that was cc'd to the person in question. I thought it was colloquial - she thought it was an insult. I learned my lesson to be clear, semi-formal and respectful at all times in writing. Of course, sometimes it takes a long time to compose things with the right tone. I save snarkiness for one person - my sister. She gets me, and won't spread it around.

  9. I did something similar a few months ago - I cracked wise for a couple of people and sent it to THE CONGREGATION.

    I realized it right away and sent a followup to the congregation, taking responsibility (and making sure no one blamed my co-workers or senior.)

    One person replied negatively. TEN PEOPLE replied with some love - "could happen to anyone", "oh, that's nothing, you should hear what I sent out to my whole company" family even left me a gift! I think it speaks well of our church family.

    BUT it didn't involve a bishop, or any individual. So it was easier. I shudder to think of that.


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