Sometimes Text should lack Empathy


Yesterday’s “Text Lacks Empathy” talk got me thinking about the times when I’ve put others on the spot.

Sometimes empathy is overrated. Sometimes it’s a waste of time, and sometimes it’s wrong. There’s a time and place to pin someone’s ears back against their head and clean their clock. It can be very productive to employ linguistic judo. And sometimes very cathartic.

In 2006, I had a billing problem with Countryside Pet Supply. They weren’t answering my e-mails, so I escalated the issue by sending a message to multiple countrysidepet.com addresses. A company employee did a reply+all to my mail. He asked another employee to deal with this, and referred to me as a “west coast jerk.” He didn’t realize he had done a reply+all. He thought he was communicating only within his company.

But he did a reply+all, and I got his mail. In fact, two mistakes were made: He did a reply+all, he referred to a customer who had done $1,500 worth of business with his company as a jerk…

I didn’t feel very empathetic about this guy. I did a reply+all and let him have it.

Should I have tried to understand that he was having a bad day, and laughed it off, and continued doing business with that firm? No. There are many other pet supply companies on the web, and I didn’t owe it to them to cut them any slack. It didn’t help any that the apology I got back was, um, less than effusive. I loaded my shotgun and blew him away.

Sometimes you need to punch back. You’re under no obligation to always turn the other cheek.

1 comment
  1. Saw your post via the Open Source Bridge hashtag on Twitter.

    I disagree in that I think you’re setting up a false dichotomy and you’re defining “empathy” as martyrdom. For example, there’s nothing in my definition of empathy that demands that you stay a customer of a vendor who treats you badly.

    But then again, I didn’t see the “Text Lacks Empathy” talk so I don’t know what definition you or the speaker are using.

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