Doug Waltman

The Unexpected Audience

When I was in college, I remember sitting in the lab with one of my roommates. We were working on a project for a desktop publishing class. I'm pretty sure it was a Photoshop project because I was razzing him about his liberal use of the drop shadow effect. The word "noob" must have been thrown around a time or two. We would tease each other about this kind of thing often (our version of rough-housing I guess).

The following week I was approached by my professor and given a stern talking to. I was struck off guard and it took me a while to piece together what had happened.

My teasing was overheard by another student who was working in the lab that day. They had taken my words quite literally. I had come off as both intimidating and arrogant, delivering a one-two punch to their confidence.

My heart sank. I had made someone feel intimidated? I had made someone uncomfortable and weak? My desire was sincerely the opposite. I wanted people to feel welcome and encouraged. I could often be found helping students in that same lab, but this time what I said resulted in a strong negative reaction. I felt completely undone and ashamed.

I lost my ability to help someone that day, and I've since realized how quickly who we are can be undone by a few joking words.

I've learned to stop hiding behind sarcasm and act on my good intentions. Almost everything we say and do is received by an unexpected audience. Our words ripple into the lives of others and we usually only see the first wave.

Let's choose to be more aware of the waves that follow. Let's build each other up.