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Ever Wondered What Other People Think of You? Think Again

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A wise man once said that it's none of our business what other people think of us. I can't recall his name or even his face, but I do remember that this gem came from the mouth of a celebrity during a television interview.

Where he got the quote I have no idea, but I reckon he was responding triumphantly to a bad review, or something of the kind. As a rather thin-skinned author, I can relate to that, and am sure many others can too.

For instance, during the 2008 elections, I imagine President Obama could have done without knowing Rev. Jessie Jackson's crude remarks about him, caught on mike for the world to hear. And surely Gordon Brown's supporter didn't need to know what Britain's Prime Minister really thought of her, after meeting her in 2010.

Now don't misunderstand me. I'm not knocking cutting-edge journalism, which exposes wrongdoings and dirty dealings; it has its place. But broadcasting someone's backbiting is not the same thing. Of course, these two men shouldn't have mouthed off in the first place, but who hasn't said something they shouldn't have said...even if only once? Granted, these two cases were extreme.

Aside from a bit of entertainment for journalists and some gossip for the public, nothing good came out of those situations. Nothing! On the flipside, however, the incidents caused great humiliation to all parties involved.

And try as they might, they will probably never forget those moments, not only because we won't let them, but also because the incidents have surely had a fundamental bearing on their thinking. Apologies accepted, but...The victim will never view the offender in the same way again. Never!

When it's a professional or political betrayal, such as the two mentioned, maybe it doesn't matter as much. In these instances, relationships tend to be transient. But when it happens on a personal level, that's another story.

The fallout can not only be unforgettable, it can also be traumatic.

A good friend was shocked by what a close relation had to say about her in an email that he, inadvertently, sent to her instead of to the person he meant to send it. To this end, he is not welcome in her world any longer; a world about which he was quite cynical in the email, though he had not expressed this opinion to her beforehand. Ever!

'Surely he didn't really mean to refer to you as such?' I insisted. 'It's just backbiting. People do it all the time.'

'It's hurtful,' she said, 'and shocking to find out that he thinks of me in this way. It fundamentally changes the way I see him.'

Furthermore, she pointed out, the response from his wife had been minimal.

In another instance that I heard about, it was the victim who downplayed the situation, too shocked perhaps to own it. After a trusted domestic employee sent her a scathing text message about her, instead of to the friend she meant to send it, she chose to believe the employee when she said that she was not the 'witch' in question. Did she really believe her? Perhaps not, since she is actually retelling the story.

In yet another situation I know of, a woman received an unspeakable text from someone both she and her husband had, for years, taken into their confidence. As in the other case, this text was meant for another, not the recipient. Though the sender desperately tried to wiggle her way out of it, the recipient had to part ways with her. Ouch!

All three situations, though technologically facilitated, come down to human error; a slip of the tongue, followed by a slip of the finger.

Thank goodness, I haven't had any first-hand experiences of these modern-day communication gaffes, not that I know of. But I know the feeling, even if my brush with another's thoughts about me did happen before the high-tech communications era dawned fully. I also know what it feels like to be on the other side of the fence.

In my case, I heard close acquaintances say something about me (via an open telephone line) that they wouldn't have said to my face and, in another instance, I said something about someone (by means of a similar mechanism) that I shouldn't have said, and wouldn't have said to her face.

I remember the sinking feeling on both accounts. And I shall never forget either situation, although they both occurred some 15 to 20 years ago. Admittedly, I didn't feel traumatized in either case, but what happened has had a bearing on me. Let's face it, I haven't forgotten.

The message here is fundamental: it's really not our business what other people think of us, particularly when it is negative. So if you're thinking of mouthing off about somebody, check that your smartphone isn't outsmarting you. And, by all means, if your way is to type off your steam, hit the 'pause' button before pressing 'send'.

If nothing else, it is an opportunity to think again.