Last year, shortly after Christmas, I shared this on my Facebook page:
In late April, I received a rude email from someone who had just signed up for my email list. Amongst other choice phrases, he called me cowardly, unprofessional, and attention-seeking. He said I sounded very uneducated for an Eastern European and asked me how I’d even managed to acquire moderate English skills.
I receive enough rude emails and comments that, perhaps, it might be advisable for me to ignore them. But I don’t. I write back.
I replied and told him that some of his words were actually quite hurtful. I also mentioned that I didn’t seek to be professional, but authentic. I mentioned that I believe we all need to get attention in our own unique ways, and I am comfortable with meeting my needs through helping others. I also mentioned that, if he was looking for someone who was highly educated, he was barking up the wrong tree. I told him that I wished him well in his life and that I was sorry he was so clearly unhappy.
He responded to me after that, this time a little nicer, but still he mentioned feeling pride at having hurt my feelings. Then, he accused me of plagiarism.
Before I go any further, I should answer the question that might be running through your mind: why the heck didn’t I just ignore him?
The reason I respond to rude emails is because I know what it’s like to be rude. When I was suffering, I became selfish, apathetic, judgmental, and sometimes cruel. Human kindness couldn’t get through. I was suspicious of it.
However, when I was healing from the abuse of the world and the woman in the mirror, the walls I had built up around my heart crumbled. Outside those walls, I saw all the unreceived kindness that had piled up outside my self-protective fortress. So many memories of people trying to be kind to me. I couldn’t receive their love at the time, but in those lonely and heartbreaking moments, I did. Those memories kept me strong and taught me how to be compassionate.
I believe that people are unkind for a reason, and unkind people need love most. I also know that this kind of kindness often comes with a price—it is rarely received in the moment. There is no reward. The only reward is knowing, in my heart, that I’ve done the right thing.
So, back to the emails. Over the next few months, we continued to speak. Our interactions became more friendly. I said encouraging things to him, and while he did not say much that was nice, he had stopped being cruel.
Then, something happened that shocked me. I saw his name on an incoming order of The Love Mindset Authentic Edition! He emailed me afterwards alluding to the purchase and was extremely friendly. I couldn’t believe it!
I remember telling Jamie that day: “You see, this proves it. Kindness is healing. Maybe he emails people being cruel all the time, and they ignore him. Just by responding to him, I’ve opened him up, and now he’s opened up to me as well!”
I left a personal inscription in the book, and optimistically sent it off. I doubted that he would agree with everything in it, but it wasn’t really about the book. It was about the idea of the book, the idea that giving compassion to someone who is cruel can be so transformative.
Then, my rose-coloured glasses were not only removed, but shattered into tiny fragments.
I received an email from him that said these words: “Wow I think I’ve really found a few uses for this book of yours. Doorstop, papier mache and confetti. I felt about as empowered by it as watching some corny tampon commercial – as I almost expected to be honest. Nothing of real relevance I’m afraid.”
At the same time, on The Love Mindset’s Amazon page, a 1-star review, my first 1-star review, appeared. It said, “It was boring and badly written. There were no insights for me in this book the author didn’t really have anything interesting or useful to say. I gave up.”
Soon enough, it became clear that the author of that 1-star review was …well, you guessed it. He had bought the e-book while his paperback was in transit and given me my first horrible review. I felt numb, in shock. I thought it must be a mistake.
I emailed him to tell him that I’d figured out what had happened, that this hurt my feelings, and that I sincerely hoped that his own struggle would, one day, alleviate so that he wouldn’t feel the need to hurt people anymore. I was hoping that he’d say there was some kind of mistake, that it wasn’t him. But it was.
For about a week afterwards, I was still in denial. I thought maybe he had just been through a bad mood and that the review might soon disappear. It didn’t.
As denial faded, I faced the truth: not only had this happened, but it’s also possible that it was premeditated. He had given me due warning in the past by saying he felt pride over having hurt me. Why wouldn’t he try to hurt me again? Why would he have, all of a sudden, become generous, kind, and receptive? It didn’t happen overnight for me, so why would it have happened to him?
Did I feel angry? Upset? Used? Some part of me did. There was a voice in my head that said, “He is out to hurt you. You never should have replied to him.” There was another voice in my head that said, “You did your best to be kind, and that’s what is important. Even if he can’t receive it, you acted in accordance with your values.”
I didn’t pick one voice over the other. I listened to both. Because, you know, it is true that I did my best, and I am glad to have left a memory for him of someone being kind to him. But, you know, it is also true that he will continue to hurt me if I keep speaking with him.
So, I sent him one last email in which I said that I hoped he would find a book that’s more helpful to him, and that I could not continue our emailing any longer.
He has tried to re-engage in conversation with me since then. I haven’t replied.
I could, so easily, learn a lesson from this that says, “Don’t respond to rude people because they might take advantage of you or seriously hurt you.” Sure, they could. But you know, most of them don’t. I believe that kindness can change lives, and as long as I feel like I can control when I am unconditionally giving (instead of feeling stuck in that role), then I can keep loving even the cruellest people without expectations.
I will continue to respond lovingly to the rude emails. And when I feel I cannot give any more, I will remove myself out of those conversations. The important thing is for me to feel love towards my fellow human beings—and sometimes, that has to be at a distance.
And while I could interpret that 1-star review as a memory of being hurt and a reason to not be kind to people, I choose to interpret it as a step forward for the book. After all, every single book, if it reaches enough people, gathers its share of negative reviews. It had to happen one day, and now it has. A certain amount of people are going to hate me and hate my work, no matter what I do. And this experience has taught me that, now more than ever, I’m okay with that.