Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!
Holly Tse: I heard you mention a lot about a blog being about sharing stories. We have a question here about Charles from Sydney. He's asking, "What happens when you blog about something that's private or could offend others if you were to publish it?" For example, he wants to write a blog article about the bad manners he encounters at his workplace, particularly inappropriate use of smartphones. What advice do you have?
Sacha Chua: It's a tough question, especially since even with how careful I am on my blog to not offend anyone, I've accidentally offended people before. One time I was writing about my teaching reflections. I was teaching computer science in university, and I was writing about what I was learning in the process. The example I often bring in here is the Sartrian existentialism we learned about in philosophy classes in school where when you make a choice, it's as if you were choosing for everybody. In this case, my writing about what I wanted to do made this friend of mine feel that I was criticizing the way he taught. We had a bit of a fight about that.
In terms of offending people… Accidentally offending people, there's not much you can do, because you can't control other people's reactions. When you're writing about something sensitive that you know might offend people… I often like to step back and look for the really, really positive way to look at it. Not the fake-positive and not the constructive-criticism "I will smile as I will tear you apart" – which unfortunately is the way most people put constructive criticism – more along the lines of "This is what we've got. What are some small things I can do to make this better?" When you're talking about what you can do, whether it's… In terms of modifying other people's smartphone use, maybe I'll take my conference calls elsewhere, or maybe I'll mentally rehearse different things that I can say to people in case their conversations are disturbing me.
When you're focused on what you can do about it, then you come across less "this is what you should do" and high-and-mighty and whatever else. Trying to bring that incredibly positive "Well, here's where we are; let's figure out how we can move forward" approach to it will probably will do you much more good. It will probably make you feel better in real life also!
HT: Once again, it's like using your blog to figure things out. In this case, it's a way to take a step back and try to step away from the heated emotion you might feel, and to think of a way to constructively write it… and that might result in a constructive way to approach it in real life.
SC: That reminded me of a time when someone close to me said something pretty mean–thoughtlessly mean, but still pretty mean–to me. I stopped and I thought about it. I managed to slow down and respond nicely during the situation itself. Afterwards, also, I stopped and I thought about it. I thought, well, how would I like to respond in the future, too? Do I want to take the approach I did (stay calm, don't take it personally, and all that stuff)? I realized that having that space – being able to decide what kind of response I'd like to have, and maybe even rehearsing some of the things I might do in the future when faced with a situation like this – really really helped. It's like a fire drill. The next time you find yourself in a situation like that, you're not going for the knee-jerk reaction. You've already thought: okay, for the kind of person I want to be, this is how I want to respond. And I want to respond with love, even though sometimes people have a harder time maintaining their self-control. It happens. People are human, and that's okay.
HT: So I take it then that you blogged about the incident too.
SC: I did. I wrote about it because people run into these situations. If what I've written or what I've thought about can help somebody else put in that little bit of a gap between something bad happening–someone saying something mean to you, or someone doing something that annoys you–that gap between that stimulus and your response to it–and the quote by Victor Frankl is one of the things I used in that post as a point of reflection… Between that stimulus and response is our freedom to choose our reaction. Writing about it, thinking about it–bringing your conscious or more positive or more loving mind to bear on it–really really helps.
I should say that it is also possible to use all of this writing and blogging to descend into a vicious circle of feeling really really bad. For example, if you wanted to take this as an opportunity to rant about all the things that are going badly in your life, and how miserable you are and all that stuff… Being able to look back at your archive will probably make you feel a lot worse. It's a powerful tool. Be careful with it. Try to focus on the things that you'd like to see, because people do tend to find what they're looking for. I like to focus on the really really good stuff, and I'm surrounded by it, surprisingly enough.
HT: Very true. We actually had a speaker last week talking about the "law of attraction" and she basically says the same thing. From a spiritual, metaphysical perspective, what you focus on, you attract into your life. You're a great example of someone who's very positive, and you're surrounded by positive influences.
SC: I wouldn't go so far to call it the "law of attraction", which I don't quite subscribe to. I'd say that you get better at seeing the things you're looking for. For example, if you're writing about the things that you're grateful for–which is a great practice, by the way, if you need cheering up or if you want to make your life extra happy–if you're writing about the things that you appreciate and are grateful for, then you get better at recognizing and appreciating those things. If you write about how you want to improve things, then day by day, you'll find more opportunities to improve your life. It's amazing when you build that habit of asking yourself these questions, or looking for the bright side of things… You do get better and better at it. And why, yes, I do have a blog post about this too. I think I called it the martial art of happy-do.