This one isn’t about autism, but it is about blogging. And liars…. (but I added a few cute pictures of Teghan, anyway).
I have never preferred writing fiction. Not that I can’t, it’s just not what I am best at. It is easier for me to find an interesting angle in a true story than to create an angle and develop a false story around it. If that makes sense. The good news is, the stories I tell are extremely accurate- though often analytical.
Some people are the opposite of this. They might tell true stories, but they find it easier to make up an interesting plot twist rather than work out true angles that make an ordinary situation seem less….ordinary. I am not criticizing. We go with our instincts. And good fiction writers are the best writers. They create the stories we love most. Some of the most amazing true stories I read online make me forget that I know it was embellished a bit- and that can be a good thing. We are often fooled, but it doesn’t always matter. Once in a while it does.
I once got into an argument with a priest over a blog. Considering how few real disputes I have actually had in my adult life with anyone, it seems like a particularly strange thing to have happened to me. Most of my disputes are on behalf of other people. All of them have been work-related. Including this one.
It started out simply enough. I was a district manager at the time, and one of my managers had a customer who had fallen on hard times. He was unable to pay his bills, including ours, and had sought the help of a church. An Episcopal church had agreed to help him out, and sent a check to cover the debt. Unfortunately, it was not only a check we could not accept- but it was written for much more than the amount he owed. It turned out that the customer had not been truthful to the church, and had hoped we would just give him the difference.
There was no phone number on the letterhead that accompanied the check, but there was a website address for the church. The letter was from a woman who was a priest at the church, so I went online to search for a direct line to her. I found one. I also found that she had a blog, and that she had been writing about us.
We had a very strict privacy protection policy. The manager had not spoken to the priest about this account. Apparently, the priest had attempted to contact us before sending the check, but became very angry when told that we could not give her any details. But that’s not what her blog said.
Her blog said that she had indeed spoke with the manager, twice, and had offered to pay a certain amount (which was way more than the guy owed). She claimed that the manager had demanded even more money than that. Then she accused the manager of illegally pocketing money. As I read the detailed account of conversations I knew had never taken place, the incredibly cruel tone of the blogger, and the complete lack of knowledge of the situation…. I wondered how I was going to call this woman.
I knew she had told very detailed lies, but surely some of it was a misunderstanding. This was just too crazy. So I called her. I explained who I was, and let her know what we needed to complete the transaction. I gave her the correct amount, and asked if she had any questions. She did not. This was clearly not a woman who was upset with my manager. But just in case, I asked her if she had spoken with the manager directly. She said she had called once, but was told that no information could be given out to third parties.
I know, right?
So yes, I told her that I had read her blog in as nice a way as possible. I mean, how could I not? I told her that I had found her number on the church website, and that I had read her blog. I explained that I had only asked because I was concerned that there had been a problem with one of my employees. I told her that I was now left feeling a little confused about that blog and wondered if there was something else going on that she would like me to address?
She went nuts. No denial of the obvious lies- just a long, spiteful rant about how people in the financial industry are evil and I should be ashamed of myself for expecting anyone to pay interest on a loan in these hard times. I no longer felt bad that this customer had scammed her (which he had). I was still representing my company, so the worst thing I said to her was that I found it sad that someone in her position would be so dishonest.
Anyone who has ever worked with me knows that I can listen to all sorts of angry bullshit and remain pleasant and professional. It’s the best strategy. Don’t give anyone a reason to still be mad at you after they calm down, and they will just be left feeling stupid once they do (oh, how often I have tried to instill that in employees). Besides, I had already won this argument. No need to rub it in.
The next day I was sharing the story (and her blog) with everyone at work. This was the funniest thing I had encountered at work since a customer called 911 to have me arrested for letting her payment go through the bank as scheduled. And, I guess it should not have come as any big surprise to find that the priest had written a new blog entry- all about me.
It was amazing.
It was a detailed account of our dialog. Only…. not one word was even remotely true. She made up all sorts of things that I never said. Apparently I had repeatedly called her disgusting for being a lesbian. Repeatedly, and with great emphasis on the the word dis-GUS-ting. That seems realistic, doesn’t it? Sounds like something I would do- and definitely a topic I would bring up on a business call.
In her version, I simply accused her of lying about contract details on her blog. She had created a whole fake battle about interest rates and prepayments- all of which were barely discussed (which was obvious by her lack of knowledge on the topic). She said I told her I was a missionary, and a good Christian girl (what?!). And at one point, after a completely made up quote about interest rates, she actually wrote, “I swear to God- hand on the bible- those were her exact words.” Wow.
Now, here is my question: Why? Obviously the true account would have been embarrassing to her, but then why bother sharing anything at all about me? Who cares? It wasn’t like she was getting back at me. She knew that if I were to read it, it would only confirm my belief that she was a liar. Maybe she regretted not discussing the contract, and had some really good points she just had to get out. I don’t get it. Was she trying to prove that she could say whatever she wanted to and there was nothing I could do about it? Was it damage control? I don’t know those people who follow her blog. She lived thousands of miles away from me.
Or was she just rewriting the truth to create a story her readers would enjoy?
And enjoy it, they did. There were plenty of comments in support of her. Lots of encouraging words about how evil I was. And even though the real phone call was a request to send us the exact amount rather than the overpayment she tried to send- in her own comments she mentioned that she might have to follow up to make sure I didn’t pocket that overpayment I had demanded from her. This woman was not in her right mind.
I started reading her older entries, and it was obvious. She was storyteller. Even in her uplifting, happy stories there was a clear hint of “I highly doubt that is how it actually happened.” But this woman was also very mean in some of those entries, just like she was in the ones about us. I understood her storytelling, but I could never understand her cruelty to others. Meanwhile, her followers ate it up and put her on a pedestal. They had no clue about the extent to which they had been duped. But I did a little research, and this woman had made her share of enemies, too. Because you can’t fake it all of the time.
In case you are wondering, I did take the high road. I sent her a private email. I said that I understood she wanted to look good to her followers, and that I had no issue with her that I wanted to bring up publicly. I asked that she would leave us alone, and find some way to put away her anger. I wished her the best and told her I had no plans to contact her again. That was the end of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I still pretty much hate this woman and think she is both crazy and evil. Let’s be clear about that. I am no saint, and she has no business leading a congregation.
The moral of the story is to not always be so quick to stand against someone based on one version of events. Don’t be too trusting. Remember that what you read online is sometimes exaggerated or made up completely- even if the author has good intentions. Over and over I see blog entries or status updates that paint someone as a villain, and we never get to hear the other side. At times, I suspect the villain does not even exist. If we had all the facts laid out in front of us, would we have a different reaction? Probably. When people get angry, they want others to empathize. They also want to paint themselves in the best light possible.
And some of us have more natural storytelling talent than others.
It’s a good lesson. But it’s been four years- and I also like to remind my friends about that stupid priest every once in a while.