During our Independence Day festivities, I had a conversation with four-year-old Ellie, the daughter of a family friend. It went like this…

Gini: Ellie, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Ellie: I’m not sure yet. I don’t have to decide until my birthday.

Gini: You don’t have to decide until your birthday? When is your birthday?

Ellie: November. I will be five.

Gini: When you turn five, do you think you’d like to be President of the United States?

Ellie: No because Obama is taking our money.

Gini: He’s taking our money?

Ellie: Yes. He’s giving it to the poor people.

Gini: Well, that’s nice of him. Poor people need money.

Ellie: Yes, but we need money too so we can buy stuff.

I thought she was hilarious (a little stinker, as my mom would say). She’s precocious and very sassy…you’d almost think she was my kid the way she held herself and the way she talked with adults. I was mesmerized. But I tell you about this conversation because, no matter your politics, it was hilarious, but also because it shows you how we perceive things as human beings, no matter our age.

Which leads me into a conversation I’ve been wanting to have with our community for a couple of months. Perception does, indeed, equal reality. But what happens when your perception is coupled with your politics, your values, your opinions, and your life’s experiences? As human beings, we tend to make rash judgments, we absolutely judge a book by its cover, and we form first impressions of people that are hard to break.

A few months ago, I was talking to my friend and client, Doug Davidoff, and he told me he’d noticed I had lost my blog enemy…meaning I hadn’t written anything in a while that got people riled up. So I wrote a blog post about MY feelings around wearing jeans when you speak. Boy did I get my enemy back! People called me names, they commented on this very blog about their perceptions of me (of course, most never even having met me, nor were those who were rude regular readers of this blog), and one blogger was so riled up he wrote a blog post about me and used the F word to describe me (again, someone who has never met me). On the flip side of that, there were a few people (such as my friend Teresa Basich) who disagreed with me, but handled it extrememly professionally both on Twitter and on their blogs.

But the professional discourse, like Teresa’s was few and far in between, and the name calling and unprofessionalism went on for more than a week. I got my feelings really hurt. I really want to be liked. I don’t like being called names. I love discourse, as long as it’s professional. But when it turns rude and insulting, it’s very hard for me to handle. I’m pretty sure I cried more than once and I also got that stabbing feeling in my heart. It’s hard to have a blog enemy when it turns unprofessional.

I was commiserating with my friend Nancy Myrland and she said something very profound, “Commenting on one’s blog is like coming into someone’s house. You must have manners. By saying something rude or calling that person names, you may as well be in their own home doing the very same.”

Which really got me thinking. We are a society of people who like drama, who like to watch people be really awful to one another, and who like to see the person who is on top fall.  Sure we like to know that Reggie Bush was only dating Kim Kardashian for the publicity and we like to know that Jon and Kate of the Plus Eight fame really are a mess, but who are we to judge? We all have challenges, weaknesses, and hardships. All of us. So who says, just because someone is famous (in social media, Hollywood, or politics), that we get to judge?

This one blog post won’t change human behavior, but maybe, the next time you go to say something negative about another person or write a comment that is unprofessional, you’ll think about how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of your words. And perhaps a four-year-old named Ellie will make you think about the fact that not only poor people need money.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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