Thursday, October 18, 2007

The spiritual practice of not sending bitchy rants.

I just got an incredibly snotty email.

One of my professors gave an assignment that was rather unclear, asking us to make an outline for revising a paper we have written that we haven't gotten feedback on yet. I didn't email the man asking for clarification, but apparently a decent proportation of my 80-member class did.

He wrote an email that basically said that he wouldn't be around to help us revise any drafts we might write for the final and strongly implying that the people who wanted extra guidance weren't taking responsiblity for their work. It's all about "character," you see.

Character my ass.

My response, if I may say so, was blistering. I pointed out the fundamental attribution error inherent in making judgements about people's characters based on their behavior during the first semester of law school. I said that the people who kept asking for clarification weren't lazy, they were scared. And I get that, because I may be more apt to try and figure things out for myself, but I'm scared, too. All of us are borrowing $120,000 and betting it on our own ability to succeed and when professors are vague about what they want, that is legitimately terrifying.

It was too mean. I wrote another, shorter draft. I sent both to a friend.

Would the professor get over it if I sent it to him? Probably. And the comments he made were over the line. I could send it and my legal career would survive. Our exams are anonymous. Hell, my friends would think it was pretty cool.

But I stepped back from the computer. I thought. I got a drink of water. I did some work. And the anger started to burn away. My friend emailed me back, saying not to send either e-mail, but by then I'd already decided I wouldn't.

I was left with the sad realization that I didn't want to be the person who sent the rant. I was offended. I did take what he said personally and his bringing character into it really seemed gratuitous and judgemental. But I just didn't want to be that person. Buddhism doesn't usually come to mind, but I found myself thinking of the concept of right speech.

The idea of self-purification through well chosen words is appealing to me today, and the idea that two wrongs don't make a right.

So I'm sitting here now, the emails saved far from my e-mail account, and I don't have a sense of destruction. When I rant at somebody, particularly in a nasty and private way, it feels good. The moment of fouling a relationship with someone who deserves it is always a great relief.

But now I'm in the moment after, and this moment after is better.

Off to school.



Lilylou said...

Good work, CC.

PG said...

Your exams are graded anonymously, but many profs have the discretion to bump your grade up a bit if you were a good class participant, clearly tried hard, were always present and had done the reading, etc. For example, if your exam is almost but not quite an A-, and the prof thinks well of you, he might find room in the curve to give you the A-.

This is not to say you should suck up to your profs -- DON'T become a gunner! -- but also don't annoy your prof unnecessarily, especially by email. He probably sounded nastier than he intended, and you might have sounded even nastier than you intended. If the prof's behavior is a problem, talk to him about it in person where you can catch all the nonverbal signals.

Chalicechick said...

I am planning to talk to him about it next week, especially if the snottiness continues. I don't know why that email set me off so much, particularly given that I wasn't one of the people he was talking about.


Anonymous said...

As in marriage, so with life: pick your battles. Good luck whatever you do!

Anonymous said...

It is also possible to give him the same information without it being confrontational or critical. It may be too traditionally feminine, but it can be done. You know, diplomacy?
You can say that the asking for help was out of fear of not giving him what he wanted, rather than needing help in general. etc. But, maybe, as a lawyer, he would be just as offended by an apologizing or appeasing attitude....
Or is diplomacy the same as "sucking up"?

PG said...

No, I think diplomacy is a good lawyerly skill and not the same as sucking up. It's also one that I need to work on; I tend to get argumentative with judges in moot court oral argument, which is NOT what you're supposed to be doing. The key is to find a way to say, "Yes, Your Honor, but..."

PeaceBang said...

I'm glad you'll be talking with him next week, because I think your point about his insinuation that asking for clarification is a character issues is deeply troubling. He is a professor, after all, and should not be lashing out against students who ask for clarity in assignments.

In my experience, people who see themselves as the superior in an argument or conflict don't drop that lens even when presented with a scathing e-mail designed to blast through their smugosity. Don't waste your time, energy and talents on it!