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We have awesome personal power, even though we may not fully realize its extent. The small choices that we make as we go through our days ripple outward, touching others around us—and indirectly, others around them—in a cascade of consequences. With this power comes responsibility.
In today’s busy world, where we encounter so many decision points, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by anxiety about making wrong choices. Having to foresee all the consequences of our everyday actions seems like a huge burden; and we know there’s no way we could do it perfectly, no matter how hard we might try.
So, all too often, we punt. Instead of doing the hard work of making decisions, we let things pile up while we distract ourselves with habitual comfort behaviors, which turn into addictions when they reach the point of seriously interfering with our responsibilities. When we’re addicted to negative thinking, it’s much easier to complain about what others are doing wrong, rather than taking a hard look at ourselves and becoming aware of our own shortcomings.
But when we commit to being honest with ourselves, we understand that we are nowhere near blameless and that failing to make a decision is itself a decision. Then we’re faced with the big job of fixing the damage we’ve done to our relationships, which a traditional 12-step program refers to as making amends. At Step Nine, after having put together a list of people to whom amends are due, we move on to making “direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
That basically boils down to not being a wuss. A past incident of acting like a jerk generally calls for a direct apology for acting like a jerk, as opposed to leaving an anonymous note in the person’s mailbox or asking a mutual friend to pass on a message.
Sometimes it’s not possible to make amends, especially in the context of online negativity. We may regret having treated someone unkindly in a forum discussion several years ago, for instance; but the forum has been closed for a long time, and we have no idea how to contact the person anywhere else.
Or maybe it was the sort of online community that’s always full of flame wars and random nastiness. If so, it’s probably best avoided regardless of who might still be there, for much the same reasons that an alcoholic probably shouldn’t go into a bar to apologize for having been rude to a drinking buddy. Good intentions tend to get overcome by familiar bad influences, which is why judges imposing probation conditions generally hand down a long list of bad influences to avoid.
And sometimes people are so suspicious that an unexpected kind message can cause more harm than good. I know a woman who tried to smooth things over after an online argument by sending a friendly email to one of the people involved, mentioning that she had noticed he lived very close by and their families were neighbors. Instead of giving her a neighborly reply, he publicly accused her of stalking him and threatening his family.
I’m not suggesting that it is always best to be exceedingly cautious online, avoiding all contact with anyone who might possibly hold a grudge. Still, it’s wise to exercise a healthy degree of caution.