Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Zippig the lips

This morning, on one of the writers’ listservs I follow, a writer with recent stunning successes,  was sort of philosophically complaining about a man in her critique group who said really ugly things to her at the end of the meeting, like ‘That was the worst thing you’ve ever read. I’m never coming back, going to find a critique group with good writers.” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the problem is with the man and not with what my friend had written. All of us on the list rushed to extend sympathy, advice, and all that. I said she was wise to take the high road and walk away without retorting, but I was surprised at the vitriol of some of the posts, calling him a jerk, a scumbag, suggesting she kill him off in her next mystery (a standard joke among mystery writers). All sorts of anger boiled over. In truth, the woman who wrote originally finally added that her critic was seventy and perhaps on medications that altered his personality; others suggested the personality changes some experience with early Alzheimers. But I am for forgiveness, understanding, and looking the other way.

A close friend of mine had an unpleasant encounter with a woman she of necessity sees often. She did not respond, though she was boiling with anger and wanted to say, “Don’t ever talk to me that way again.” Once more, I was proud of someone for taking the high road. But it’s sure a rocky one. I suggested she should have said, “I’m sorry something has made you so miserable and unhappy but I will hold you in my thoughts and hope you find peace and happiness.”  Truth is, I stole that line from this morning’s exchange, but it seems just right to me. My friend laughed and said she thinks she would have been slapped if she said that.

For some reason all this reminds me of my good friend who told me once when one of her five grown children comes to her with a problem, she says, “Gosh, I’m so sorry that’s happened. I hope it works out for you,” and then zips her lips. And when one comes with good news, she shares their joy, says, “I am so happy for you,” and zips her lips. Oh, to have her wisdom!

All this has gotten me thinking that we so often respond in anger and look for revenge, when maybe we should respond to ugliness with compassion and look for its cause, reach out to the difficult person. Or maybe we should just learn to zip our lips.


Edith Maxwell said...

Wise words, Judy! The woman in question (ahem, me), in fact said, "Why thank you," as she walked way. "I'm glad you shared that with me." Mostly because that was all I could think of to say, I was so blown away. But I think it comes from some history I have of dealing with a difficult ex, and the advice someone gave me back when I was an academic and we were talking about how to handle questions after you deliver a paper at a conference: if you're asked a question you can't answer, just smile and say, "Thank you" and move on.

I have used that tactic since in my life in totally non-academic settings. It's so easy and it actually feels better to stay above the fray than to get down to the insulter's level.

Suzanne McGuffey said...

My grandmother, who gets wiser with each year I get older, often said of rude sales clerks or waitresses, "I bet her feet hurt." I try to remember that when the victim of rudeness, but it can be hard, particularly since attacks such as that author suffered awaken every self-doubt she has been fighting in her career.

Marilyn Levinson said...

I've been told it's also good to zip one's lips when dealing with grown kids, especially regarding how they raise our grandchildren.

Judy Alter said...

Marilyn, I think it's particularly true about advice about grandchildren--I fall from grace sometimes. Suzanne, I love the line, "Her feet must hurt!" Will remember that. Edith, if you've mastered saying "Thank you" and moving on, you are much to be admired.