Today I have been a bit more direct with people online than usual. I sent off a long-mulled email to a friend over a project that had some troubles, and I fended off really unreasonable and non-serious requests to a call for help (I needed an extra person to make up a big enough group for a convention discount) and ended up losing a few blog readers. As the power of word of mouth, as well as the long memories of some online people have shown me, this could cost me quite a bit as far as my Internet reputation goes.

I don’t think it would be anywhere near the scale of the Givewell controversy, and in my defense I could say I was in the right here. But that, ultimately, doesn’t matter; sometime in the future (as has happened in the past), I would likely be confronted with comments along the lines of “Tiara’s an asshole”. Other people who drop in and not know the context would see those comments at face value, and regard me badly no matter what. I’ve had people dig up past (as in years past) references to fundraising for my Up with People project and tell me off for being a “spoiled rich brat”. Trolls are everywhere.

When you build a large part of your life (or at least your livelihood) online, even the smallest comment or faux pa can come back to bite you – badly. A lot of Internet experts advice on maintaining your online image, being constantly professional so that no one would ever have an excuse to say anything bad about you.

How exhausting would that be!

I’m not perfect. I can’t please everyone. Something that I do or say, even if was to defend myself more than anything, could come off as rude. I try my hardest not to be too harsh but the balance between being firm and direct, and being diplomatic, is a delicate one. I’ve personally found that just keeping it in and smiling away as though nothing has happened rarely works for anybody – real issues never get sorted and people just end up resenting each other. Having the hard conversation, while painful, is necessary – but a lot of it boils down to how well you know someone.

I’m fine with being totally direct with complete strangers (such as random bloggers I read) because it’s not personal (I’m never willfully rude) and I don’t have to worry about broken relationships. I can also be totally direct with my closest friends because we know each other well enough to know that it’s with the best of intentions and that it comes out of love. I’m not a fan of the “you criticize because you love” idea, but at least with my closest ones I am careful to focus on the action and not the person; “That wasn’t the best thing to do” rather than “You’re an idiot”.

It’s the people that fall in between those two extremes that puzzle me. Not total strangers, but not so close that I know they won’t take everything I say to heart. The ones where the wrong word or the wrong move can mean a relationship wrecked. I have lost friends over misunderstandings, over disagreements. In the long run we survive, but at the moment it is hard to bear. You never quite know what’s the right action to take – keep quiet and keep the peace (which is a very Asian thing to do), or clear it out but risk hurting others. It doesn’t help that I too am rather sensitive and tend to take things personally at first go – it takes me a bit of a while before I get rational and think “ok, that wasn’t a jab at ME, it was just a note about what I did.”

What does all this have to do with fundraising and the KaosPilots? Well, a lot of my fundraising efforts point back to my online work. Public comments about me, good and bad, would likely be researched (the Stockholm crew found me very quickly). A funder, or even the KaosPilots themselves, could notice one of those comments against me and think twice about their offer. I could build all the positive support in the world, but one word could be my downfall.

But I am not an “image” person. I can see the importance, but I don’t believe in the idea of having to construct a personality or having to constantly act a certain way just to be accepted. It gets tiring. It puts people on pedestals and forces them to be perfect when no one ever is. Eventually they’ll have to deal with the real me anyway. The real me is a decent, energetic, helpful, kind person who is also direct, honest, and opinionated. I’m not evil by any means. I just happen to occasionally be a feather-ruffler.

Everyone makes mistakes. Heck, most things people do aren’t necessarily mistakes, just things that attract polarized opinions. Could there have been better ways of dealing with the emails I did today? Most definitely. Could there be a balance between being direct and being diplomatic? Of course. I’m still trying to learn it and I’m sure many others have mastered this art. But I am not a single word, I am not a comment, I am not a mistake or a good thing.

I am me, a combination of many things and greater than the sum of it all. And I would like to be evaluated wholesomely.

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