Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Telling Tales

For many years I have made a point of telling people when someone else says something good about them. I figure spreading compliments is an easy way to make the world a tiny bit better. By the same token, I never tell people when others say bad things about them. This seems like a no-brainer: if spreading positives makes the world better, wouldn't spreading negatives make it worse?

Case in point: the other day I had dinner with a friend, and in the course of the conversation it turned out that she is not so hot on someone I like a lot. Both these facts emerged organically, and they didn't bother me at all: the things she dislikes about the other person are things I fully acknowledge, but in my case they are trumped by things I like; in her case they aren't. No problem: to each her own. But at the end of the evening, she anxiously said to me, "You won't tell [other person] what I said, will you? I mean, I know you're her friend." I assured her--and it was true--that it had never occurred to me to tell the other person, that this was just something I don't do.

I have a friend who loves to tell me when other people dislike me or say mean things about me. It used to get me very upset. "X says Y doesn't like me!" I'd wail to S. "I must be a terrible person! I need to change everything about me, especially the things Y doesn't like!" because X would inevitably fully detail the dislike and its causes. After a while--and this has been going on for many years--I realized that this was X's issue. X (who doesn't read this blog) and I go way way back, and I've always been older and several steps ahead. She adores me and has also called me up to tell me that in a workshop she realized that I was one of the most influential people in her life--in fact, she's told me many times how important I have been to her, and she still turns to me for advice and commiseration. But as she's gotten older (though never as old as me) and gained her own power and influence, I think it's been hard for her to share space with me, and thus the need to cut me down. It still hurts when she says these things, and probably I should tell her not to, but my issue is not being willing to cause conflict in this relationship, so I live with it.

Yesterday I was having a drink with Local K, and she was telling me about a friend who had told her that a lot of people were having problems with another friend, and how she felt terrible and like she needed to tell that person (these are all people I know peripherally and Local K knows well). I immediately told her I would never do that (thinking how odd it was that this topic was coming up for the second time in three days), but she pointed out that the people who are having the problems all work for the other person, and it was a professional issue. I agreed that in that case it might be useful to tell her: if you hear bad things about someone that might affect them negatively, perhaps you have the moral responsibility to tell them? In that case, does countering the negative by exposing it become a small positive?

Need to think about it, but meanwhile this whole topic makes me feel slightly squeegy, so I must be sure to find lots of compliments to give today. That shouldn't be too hard.

No comments: