Several readers sent me a link to the following story from the UK in which a prominent stepmother sent a scathing email to her future daughter-in-law blasting her for her apparent lack of manners. The recipient of the email then forwarded it to a few friends who in turn forwarded it and the email went viral. News articles here and here.
My first reaction after reading this was, “Good grief, have we, as a culture, become so enamored of reality television that this would be considered newsworthy?” Second thought, “What kind of pathetic news outlet would deem this to be newsworthy?” Didn’t anyone else feel somewhat sullied just reading about this? It’s like we communally all decided to debase ourselves by being crass voyeurs.
I decided to not post the full text of the email because I do not want to perpetuate the idea that publishing what should have been private is somehow OK. I’m not going to delve into the content of the email either since it is clearly a case of different and dueling perspectives and we’ll never know the truth of what really happened. I will, however, address the matter of writing such a missive and how one receives it.
This story really demonstrates, in quite spectacular clarity, the old adage that one should never write in an email what you would never want to see published on the front page of your local newspaper. We’ve all done it however. Everyone of us has written something in a chat, letter or an email that probably would have been better said in person or not at all. We all have a hope that private communication stays private between the sender and recipient but the reality is that once it leaves your hand, you no longer have control over its dispersal.
Confronting someone about their ill manners should be done face to face, in person and only as a last recourse. Particularly with family and future in-laws, only the most egregious, long patterned behavior should be addressed. Everything else should be overlooked as a practical expression of the belief that “love covers a multitude of sins”. The key motivation should be to encourage them to see how certain behaviors are actually detrimental to themselves and their relationships. Confronting someone merely to assuage your own sense of discomfort or offense often will not have the desired effect of actually influencing someone to change.
Receiving a scathing email or letter will certainly tempt one to share the contents with co-workers, family, and friends. Why? To receive validation from others that we really are not as bad as the letter writer claims we are. We want our damaged ego stroked back to normalcy by people telling us how evil that email/letter writer is and how we didn’t deserve to be treated this way.
But what of the consequences? The bride’s father encouraged her to take the “moral high ground” and ignore the email from her future mother-in-law. Sending the email displayed a lack of discretion, unkindness and selfishness by the MIL but the bride confirms to the world that she is just as unkind, selfish and devoid of discretion as her future MIL is. She held the power to choose whether this debacle ended in her In Box or whether it was perpetuated beyond her immediate family. It’s retaliatory rudeness at its stupidest because while MIL’s email was private, the bride’s actions exposed everyone in the family to international ridicule and shame. Both women displayed a profound lack of foresight to see how their actions would affect the family relationships. In other words, in order to preserve the hope of better relationships in the future, sometimes the best response in the here and now is to do NOTHING.
Years ago when my husband and I were first married, he received a long letter from a then young adult relative who bitterly complained that after marrying me, my husband now had very little time to spend with him. It was a letter written with a lot of angst, jealousy and selfishness. My husband wisely filed away the letter never showing it to me or anyone else. It would surface years later during a decluttering project but by this time, the author had matured, gotten married and promptly started having children (thus experiencing firsthand how time consuming it can be) and the relationship between us and him had strengthened and solidified into something positive and productive. His family is a great blessing to us.
For the Withers/Bourne families, there are now a huge, nearly insurmountable barrier to familial harmony and the children born into this family dynamic are to be pitied. Such a shame.