Getting Down to Business
By Teri DiMarino
Publication deadlines always seem to be out of sync with current news. It’s an unavoidable part of the publishing industry. That said, I’m sitting in front of my computer and have just decided to ditch my current column. In real time, it is nine days before Christmas, and I am mentally paralyzed by an unimaginable horror that has brought the nation and the civilized world to tears.
“28 people dead, including 20 first grade children.”
Our hearts all sank when we heard that broadcast. Innocent victims paid with their lives by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But what made that particular school on that particular day such a “wrong place”? Everybody there was doing what was right until one young man came along and made so many pay so dearly for what probably started out as just another “bad day” for him.
What goes through the mind of someone when they willfully inflict that kind of carnage on innocent people? I fear that we will never know, as the selfish coward who committed this heinous act took his own life rather than answer for his actions.
The anguished faces of friends supporting the grief-stricken parents have rendered us all speechless. The pictures say what language cannot. The crime is still so fresh that I have no further words to add, as it is all rhetorical at this point. We all hug our children a bit tighter and hold our loved ones just a little closer, trying desperately to make sense of it all.
Tragedies like this make everything else seem so insignificant and tend to put things into perspective for many of us. Trivial conflicts that were once major sources of aggravation pale in the shadow of disaster, and there have been a lion’s share of them lately.
It cannot be ignored that Hurricane Sandy left her devastating mark on many friends and family caught up in her path. While it will not be easy, these people will rebuild and carry on. They may have been wounded by Sandy, but they are not broken. They lost “stuff,” some a lot more than others. Some lost their lives. But while “stuff” can be replaced, life cannot. People will forever be scarred by these disasters, and those that have been have our thoughts and prayers.
Maybe it takes a monumental catastrophe to make some people realize that some stuff that they think is important just isn’t that important at all. I know that sounds silly. We all have our own thoughts or “stuff” that is important to each and every one of us, but when we start thinking that our “stuff” is more important or better than the next person’s “stuff,” that’s when conflict can arise, and we begin to lose respect for other people and their “stuff.” And you want to know something? It’s all just “stuff.” Just ask someone who lost their home during the storm, or even more so, ask anybody in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
Sometimes this hits fairly close to home. I understand that there have been some industry conflicts in the last couple years that have split friendships, caused anxiety among groups, and unwittingly dragged innocent people into places they don’t want to be. Some of the conflicts have gone too far into the personal agendas of some to make their “stuff” heard, like calling for the boycotting of some shows or seminars, not participating in a charity function, or blatant name calling of people who happen to disagree.
Who are these people hurting, and what is their point? They can unwittingly injure a show promoter, who has nothing to do with the conflict. They can injure the charity function, which is a shame. Then can injure innocent parties with tainted information. But most of all, they unknowingly injure themselves by destroying their own credibility.
Social media have become not just fun tools to keep friends and family aware of what is going on in your life, but they are now weapons in the insidious quest to prove that one person’s “stuff” is better than the next person’s. Facebook and Twitter seem to have taken away our ability to deal directly with conflict. It has put our hard-learned communication skills on hold.
It appears to be simpler to tap out a text or post a thought and hit “send,” often without re-reading the post. They just post and walk away rather than pick up the telephone and deal with an issue one on one. It’s easy to hide behind the profile pictures that represent us on these sites, but it is also just as easy to misunderstand someone’s position or to be misunderstood. It has become too easy to post a statement only to have multiple people, many of them strangers, lash out in disagreement behind the thin veneer of anonymity these pages offer. It has become too easy to judge and to be judged. When will this ruthless disrespect stop?
I believe that I, along with a number of friends and colleagues, have done an adequate job of trying to disassociate ourselves from some of the major conflicts within our industry. Like quite a few others within the industry, we are considered “high profile.” We are relatively easy targets, and we all realize that it is part of the price we pay for getting the job done. While some conflicts are unavoidable and part of the job, others are just nothing but crap. I have been asked to pass judgment on issues I know nothing about, and my name has been erroneously tossed into arenas that I am not at all involved in.
Nobody likes conflict, least of all me, but the only way I have seen these successfully resolved is with simple, bluntly honest conversation. I pick up the phone and state my case, listen to the other side, and ask how we can resolve the issue. Period! There is no need for rumor control when you stop the rumor in its tracks. While not all conflicts end in a win-win, this personal confrontational approach at least lets the other side know where I stand while giving me some new insight to the other person’s reasoning. It is a civil and respectful way of resolving conflict.
When communication breaks down, people begin making assumptions. Rumors spread. Misunderstandings abound. Slander and name calling starts. People get hurt. My mother always told me, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And that is SO true. I have found that silence speaks volumes, but sometimes being quiet can also be misinterpreted.
Why are some people compelled to just keep hammering away on Facebook posts where it is so easy to be misinterpreted? Is the importance of making one’s self heard more important than saying the right thing? What is the point of a nasty post? Who is it helping? How many is it hurting?
I feel very bad when I see someone try to do something good only to be shot down by a simple quarrel. Or when differences of opinion turn into all-out personal war, causing total confusion among onlookers. Or people who think they are doing more than anybody else become disappointed when they are not recognized for their efforts. These are all things that fall into my “stuff” category. We all know that “stuff” can be replaced. People, their feelings, and their emotions cannot. And we all end up paying the consequences.
A good friend, who is loved by all who know her, picks and chooses her battles by asking herself, “Am I willing to die on that mountain?” I have begun using this simple logic when faced with any kind of real conflict, and it has really helped me realize that so much “stuff” out there is just not all that important. I use that philosophy in everyday life when dealing with customers, business associates, or my husband. What it really does is make me think about the ramifications of any possible outcome and what kind of collateral damage may result from it. It calms me down and takes the energy out of the situation by putting it into perspective.
So much energy is wasted on frivolous nonsense. If every angry person who spends too much time on Facebook would take that energy and funnel it into their pet project instead of just posting negative comments, think of how positively productive they would be!
Because of some recent events, there has been a call by some industry leaders for a code of conduct in the industry. While this is a gallant suggestion, does anybody really want to write this, much less police it? Where do you start in trying to tell people how to behave? How do you enforce it without causing more conflict? Why can’t we just go back to the golden rule of treating others the way we wish to be treated? What happened to respect? Or as Rodney King so eloquently put it, “Why can’t we all just get along?”
If I am making it sound like the industry is horribly infected with this “disease,” I really don’t mean to. It is not. There are a lot of good, caring people out there, and I interact with you every day. But sometimes it just gets frustrating. Angry people are in the minority, but their anger tends to make them noisier than most.
I love the pet industry and don’t know what I would be doing if I were not a groomer. Nearly all of my closest friends are in the business, and I wouldn’t trade these friendships for anything. We can have heated discussions and are able to walk away from them with no personal damage. Such was the relationship I had with the late Sally Liddick, founder of Barkleigh Productions. We both knew how far we could push the other one without risking the friendship. I truly miss our lively conversations.
But Sally is gone. So are 28 children and teachers in Sandy Hook.
Please take a minute to post something nice about someone on Facebook as a “random act of kindness,” or call a friend you haven’t heard from in a while. Take an inventory of your “stuff” and prioritize it, ditching the damaging “stuff.” Determine what mountains, if any, you are willing to die on. Hug your kids a bit tighter tonight, and hold your loved ones just a little bit closer. And thank your lucky stars that you can. ✂
Comments or questions about this article? Email your feedback directly to Teri DiMarino (firstname.lastname@example.org).