Last month, Bob, a Sacramento reader, wrote to ask what I thought about the American military burning Bibles in Afghanistan.
I not only answered his e-mail, but I wrote last week’s column on the subject
Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, Bob has been unable to read my reply. I know this because of the note he sent me on May 23:
“I sent you mail, asking for an explanation on ‘Burning Bibles in Afghanistan.’ I was an ardent reader of your column, but since I haven’t received an answer and was naive enough to expect one, please accept my apologies for cluttering your mailbox.”
Bob, Bob. Where are you? In the language of the CBers, “Have you got your ears on?”
I did reply. In fact, I wrote three e-mails and a column — I got nothing. Our words are passing in the darkness of the cyber night.
What do we do when we perceive that we aren’t being heard?
I know what I often do. I start scriptwriting. Scriptwriting is what we do when people don’t respond the way we predict. We write a storyline that comfortably explains what has happened.
It’s not an especially healthy way to communicate, but it generates good fiction.
For instance, I feel sure Bob is blabbing to friends using this script I wrote for him:
“Norris Burkes is rude and arrogant. He thinks he’s too good to reply to his readers.”
Scripts are something we conjure in our heads to replace healthy conversations. We write these scripts because we are afraid to have clarifying conversations with people.
For instance, we don’t want to ask our boss why she hasn’t given us the promotion, so we write scripts about why she’s so stingy. We imagine she’ll say something like, “You don’t deserve a promotion because I like your colleagues better.”
We don’t want to ask our teenager about her sex life. So we compose scripts that unfairly predict her answer. “Mom, it’s none of your business!”
Along with scriptwriting, we use a characterizing label. My favorite label for someone who cuts me off in traffic is, “Moron!” “Idiot” is my second favorite.
I won’t tell you the label I picked for Bob.
We use labels and scripts to silence the opinion of others. The whole process is like forging a prisoner’s confession. With confession in hand, we put on the judge’s robe to pronounce the sentence.
It works well.
I’m wondering whether we could avoid scriptwriting and labeling if we’d bother to take a few extra minutes to our own assumptions and ask for clarification.
I did this after getting Bob’s second e-mail. Turns out, Bob is 86 and the veteran of a few wars. I might give him some credit.
It’s possible he forgot reading my reply. Or it’s possible that his e-mail settings aren’t right, and my reply was junked.
So, I’ve taken a moment to stop scriptwriting and labeling. I’ve decided that Bob is worth the effort and I’ll try to reach him one more time. I think I owe him that. After all, he’s inspired two columns.