Bridge Burning

I think one of the most important habits I developed early on is tongue-biting. I get into tense situations with people just like anybody does, and am sometimes tempted to destroy these people with my great intellect(ha!) I call this “bridge burning,” because, in my experience, once a person is insulted, especially publicly, they will likely associate hard feelings with the insulter for a good long time. I’ve been tempted to relax this prohibition on occasion, with the rationale that I’ll never see this person again, so why not just let ‘er rip? Then, sometime later, that person has been reinserted into my life, and in a position where they could help or hurt me. Had I have burned this bridge, the outcome of that later interaction could have been much different.

Alongside this habit of mine lurks a couple of character traits. I do not tolerate betrayal well, and I hate to waste things. Which I think partly explains the disdain I have for junk mail. Whenever I’m asked, I always say do not add me to any catalog or other paper mailing lists. ALWAYS. Yet I get a lot of junk mail. When a piece shows up, I do whatever I can to get my mailing preferences changed so I’ve seen the last of it. And living in a world of forests, I’ve seen the aftermath of hardwood pulp logging, the kind of logging necessary to produce the glossy paper that is often used in junk mail. It is not pretty my friends. Particularly up in the Keweenaw where the harsh weather coupled with thin topsoil makes trees grow very slowly. I’ll be driving past a place that was once a thriving forest ecosystem, and see what looks like a bomb has gone off. Perhaps the logger was able to make his monthly payment plus a few dollars as a result of this day’s work, but the aftermath will take decades to heal.

With all this in mind, you can imagine how I may have felt the other day when I opened the mailbox and found a junk letter from the SETI Institute. I support these folks annually because they produce a podcast I really like called, “Big Picture Science.” It seems that they misinterpreted my wishes when I started sending an annual donation, and started a mail campaign to get me to up the ante. The first time a letter arrived, I sent an email asking to be removed from their list. I don’t recall getting a reply. A few weeks later, another envelope arrived. My blood pressure went up.

I came inside, sat in front of the computer, and composed a somewhat snotty email saying that if the junk didn’t stop, I’d reluctantly rescind my annual donation commitment. Now we aren’t talking about big bucks here, and knowing how under-staffed some of these non-profits can be, I really didn’t know whether I could expect to receive a reply from them. Within an hour or so, to my surprise, the Senior Astronomer and host of the podcast emailed me telling me he was working to get to the bottom of this problem. My blood pressure declined about 10 points. I was eventually directed to the person in the organization who is responsible for fund raising; a woman named Anne Dimock.

Anne sent me a lovely email saying she was sorry for the confusion, and had coded my membership record so I would no longer receive any further mail from them. Problem solved! Her last sentence said she’d seen a reference to my blog in the email I’d sent to her, and that as an ex-Minnesotan, enjoyed reading it. My blood pressure declined again as a smile spread across my face.

We exchanged a few more emails, and learned that we shared an appreciation of Garrison Keillor’s work, and that each of us had interacted with him in interesting ways. Then she told me, “…I too am a writer.” She went on to explain she’d convinced Garrison to write the cover blurb for her book, “Humble Pie: Musings on What Lies Beneath the Crust”. I wound up reading the introduction to her book on Amazon, and buying her book for my tablet.

So, SETI sent unwanted mail to my address. Rather than burning a bridge, I wrote an only semi-snotty email to these folks. As the situation developed, I made a connection with a very nice person that I wouldn’t have otherwise. And I’ve already learned an important lesson from the forward to her book: if someone goes to the trouble to make you a pie from scratch, NEVER scoop out the insides in order to avoid eating the crust. Never!

One Response to “Bridge Burning”

  1. Chris Moore says:

    I agree!


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