Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Just heard the event you're at sucks...": When Real Time isn't the Right Time

I was really surprised by a post on my Facebook Wall last week from Charles LaFond, the Canon for Congregational Life of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. He wrote me:

How was the retreat? I have heard some disliked it but expected that. What did you think?

This was rather shocking because I was still at the retreat. We had a few minutes of break before our closing Eucharist, so I checked Facebook with my iTouch.

I also knew that Charles was on a vacation at Disney World. He had, for some reason, taken time out from Mickey and friends to seek my opinion on the retreat.

What I found out later is that Charles, in the process of posting some mobile photos from the Magic Kingdom, came across a "Friend's" post that, on some level, expressed dislike for the retreat. (I didn't ask who, or exactly what was said.) There were additionally some responses of agreement.

Turns out, Charles was the one who suggested the speaker for the retreat. Anxiety kicked in.

Charles told me later: "I Facebooked you quite literally to hear that it wasn't a total disaster, so I could get back to enjoying the roller-coasters."

One of the aspects that Facebook and Twitter encourage is the real time response to what you are currently doing. It's fun (and, sometimes, interesting to others) to post witty comments about life as we experience. It occurs to me, however, that in the ever growing world of real time expression, one should consider pausing on certain things that come to mind, like, for example, before posting what might be understood as a critique on a gathering of colleagues: especally in the close-knit community of a church.

(There's also something to be said here about avoiding Facebook, email and the like while on vacation...)

Most of us have been in meetings or the like where we would rather be anywhere else in the world. In the age of cell phones, many of us have texted or emailed a confidant expressing a virtual groan or sigh, or other choice words.

Facebook and Twitter (like email's "reply all" button ) are rather different animals. What is often intended as playful banter or expression quickly becomes critique or evaluation: and a public one at that.

My hunch is that the Facebook posts expressing dislike for the retreat was not intended to be a formal evaluation of the event. I also realize that anyone who posted anything resembling a critique of the event may feel bad upon reading this post: that's not my intent. The reality of Facebook and Twitter, however, is that everything you post on your Wall or in your Tweet Stream is public. While you may intend it for "friends only", are you really sure of every connection of those who will see what you write? Do you really want your 120 characters of reaction interpreted outside the context of a constructive evaluation or a face-to-face conversation (especially concerning people who you have a professional relationship with)?

As a clergy person, I imagine the perfect nightmare of a Facebook or Twitter post in the middle of one of my sermons: "OMG I am SO bored by this guy!!! When will it end!!!"

I'm also reminded of a story of Anne Lamont: Kookaburra, in her book Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.

Anne was in charge of the big Faith Fair of the church. Exhilarated (and exhausted) after a great day, she emails her bill from the event to the committee. Ten minutes later, she receives an email back from a committee member requesting receipts: Visa bill, cancelled checks.

Moral outrage kicks in. Anne writes:

"I reread the second email. And then I ratted the man out: I emailed everyone on the committee, and included a copy to our pastor, so she could see how unjustly I was being treated, how I was being hassled. I wrote, "Clearly, I do not have what it takes to be a Presbyterian," which means to be an anal-retentive petty bureaucrat. And, I added, "I simply cannot spend one more second on this matter." Then I hit Send.

I felt powerful and righteous, for several minutes. Then I felt like hell. I was a snitch. Why had I sent that email? It was clearly the kind of thing you wrote to get off your chest but not to send. Now the real me was being revealed in the high school showers of life."

This was not the end of the story. Anne reached back out to her friends. "I am sorry; ignore my earlier email," she writes to the committee and pastor. "Please forgive me. I know you already do."

By the next morning, everyone had emailed her back. The man who requested the receipts wrote: "We are here with only love for you, Annie."

In retrospect, I'm really glad that Charles posted to me, for I was actually enjoying the retreat:

"Been good Charles: I'm currently eating M&M's, sitting next to Sarah right before our closing Eucharist."

As it turns out, Sarah, the woman next to me, was the chair of the committee that put together the retreat! How thankful am I today that I really did like the program!!! If I hadn't enjoyed it, I could have easily responded with "Oh, I didn't really like it," potentially compounding the hurt feelings.

Reflecting now on the whole story, I hope to remember for myself that there's a right time and media to express the next time I'm discontented with an event...

1 comment:

Kay said...

I enjoyed your blog and find that what you stated to be so true. God Speed. Have a Great Day.