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.

One thought on “Sometimes Text should lack Empathy

  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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