A couple days ago, I was updating the online version of my resume, which included some links to previous articles I’d written. First, my link didn’t work–broken links are always a hazard with a website that’s been up for nine years. Then, when I went directly to the site, it appeared that my byline had been replaced by someone else’s. Being the excitable type, quite a few ugly emotions roiled through my mind. While it turns out I misinterpreted the situation, in the end I was glad I didn’t respond with my first flash of anger.
The Outrage Machine
For reasons not entirely clear to me, my emotions are wired like a machine or amplifier. They respond quickly, make a lot of noise in the system, and produce a lot of outraged thoughts and feelings before my rational forebrain even realizes there is something to get excited about. It’s a failing that’s been noted more than once in my life. Fortunately, I have gotten better at not letting myself run off in a rage or panic right off the bat. I usually think things over, then get angry…just in a more controlled fashion.
At first glance having my byline stolen felt like theft or fraud or some other crime. It wasn’t theft per se, since a) I was paid for some of the articles in question and b) I was not making any money in residuals.
Not knowing anyone at the publisher anymore, I emailed the author whose name was now on the byline, who I did know. I explained what I saw on the site and expressed my extreme pleasure that my name had been replaced with his. What I did NOT do was accuse the other author of stealing my work or make a lot of angry, rude, and potentially wrong accusations. I also apologized for getting a bit heated about the matter, but there was a principle involved. Instead I asked if he knew about the situation and if he knew whom I could contact about the matter because I wanted it resolved ASAP. Then I hit Send.
Afterward, the Outrage Machine continued humming, cooking up evil thoughts about who might have done this, with what motive, and whether I would need to hire a lawyer to exact my terrible revenge on whoever was responsible. I expressed these thoughts to a few friends, but held up on taking any further action until I heard from the other author.
The author emailed me and understood my concern: “I’d be mad, too.” Great. He said he would work on it with the publisher’s web team.
Flash forward 12 hours, and I was discussing the situation with another friend who had observed the same problem. While we were discussing the matter, my friend noted that his name was on the post, but further down on the page, mixed in with information about the book (page count, publisher, etc.). What we were seeing as a byline was, in fact, simply the name of the person who posted the article, which turned out to be the guy whose name I thought had replaced mine. He was on the web committee. Whups. I sent an apology and asked if it would be possible to move the article author’s farther up the page because right now it looks like someone else wrote it. (Update: The web team replaced the other author’s name on all articles with the organization’s name. Now the first name that appears in the review is mine…or the appropriate author’s.)
Fortunately, I didn’t let my temper get permanent hold of me…but the Outrage Machine was cranking up the adrenaline in the background, ready to let loose at a moment’s notice. Instead, I realized my mistake, cooled off, and sent an apology.
There are many ways this situation could have gotten unnecessarily out of control:
- I could have accused the recipient of deliberately “stealing” my work.
- I could have used ugly and unprofessional language.
- I could have made ridiculous legal threats.
…all of which would have created a bigger headache and embarrassment for myself simply because I didn’t keep my temper in check.
So if you find yourself in a situation where you think you’ve been wronged personally or professionally, take a breath (or several) and try to:
- Figure out what happened and why.
- Not respond by text, email, or voice in the heat of the moment.
- Not use angry words or make hasty accusations that you might have to take back later.
- See if there might be a reasonable, harmless, non-malicious explanation for what you think you’re seeing.
- Be open to accepting the reasonable explanation for what’s happened and letting the matter drop.
I can see that I’m going to need to get better about my Stoicism studies. Stay cool, all.