Monday, March 06, 2006

Advice, please?

I'm an evil, rotten person. I'm stating that upfront, just so you know.

I'm on the email list of a relative who's senior. Usually, R sends along jokes and such to numerous friends and family on the list, including yours truly. And that's fine and good! I sometimes reply about how funny the funny ones are. I ignore some for a variety of reasons.

Today, though, for the second time in as many weeks, R sent me one of those really irritating urban legend sorts of things, this one the infamous "ship high in transit" endlessly circulating email fake etymology. Now I enjoy a fake etymology as much as the next person, but not so much when it pretends to be real and I know it's not, and it's spread over the internet indiscriminately.

I checked Snopes and the OED, and then performed my evil act: I hit reply to all, wrote a short note about the real etymology, linked the Snopes page, and then hit send.

I immediately regretted doing so.

Last time, R sent the less famous urban legend about how car-jackers are using flyers put on rear windows to fool innocent people into getting out of their cars, at which point the car-jackers do the car-jack thing. (Here's the Snopes page.)

Anyway, last time, I sent a Snopes link and said the thing was an urban legend, and hit reply all.

Unfortunately, that hurt R's feelings. She said I made her look bad. I answered that worrying people unnecessarily about a crime that doesn't happen that way was a mistake. She argued that even if it had never happened, it MIGHT, and she was doing a good thing warning her friends. I countered with the argument that putting out a ton of flyers would be a stupid waste of effort for car-jackers, and especially since in most parking lots we approach our cars from the back, we see and remove any flyers on the rear window anyways. I insisted (stupidly, no doubt) that critically thinking about things before passing them along in mass emails might be a good strategy.

R was unhappy at me. And R is going to be more unhappy at me for doing it again.

My problem is, I just can't keep my mouth (or keyboard) shut sometimes, and I'm tired of people asserting "truths" without even an instant of critical thinking, and I'm more tired of a lifetime of R communicating BS as if it's absolute truth. All my life, I was just supposed to shut up and listen uncritically to anything R said, and nod agreement.

Now, just so you know, R is way smart, smarter than I am by far (okay, so not difficult). She just chooses to use her smarts very selectively sometimes.

And really, R is also a relative, and I shouldn't alienate or hurt her just for the sake of alienating or hurting her.

R is scared in the way that some people are when they feel vulnerable, often beyond comprehension and logic (except not of things I think she should be cautious about, naturally). So really, attacking R is beyond the pale of what I should do, and yet...

How do you balance these issues? How do you try to help someone more realistically understand risk and use critical thinking? Or do you just not bother?

In other news: My colleagues spent the day telling me how wonderful my meeting notes were, and how much they enjoyed them.


  1. I think that instead of hitting 'reply to all', you can just reply to R. That way you educate her without embarrassing her, and hope she gets it for the next time. Explain to her how great Snopes is :). If you think someone else is going to fall for her message, then reply to them, perhaps by bcc, with the same message. That way they don't know that you didn't send it to her too, and she doesn't know you sent it to the others.

  2. Bardiac -- R sounds exactly like my grandma. I grew up listening to her go on and on about all sorts of "dangers" and -- even as a kid -- I knew it was bull. And I couldn't say anything, because I grew up in one of those families where youngsters weren't supposed to contradict their elders. My grandma is 84 now, and I'm 28. She fears the world even more, now; anything she hears on the evening news, no matter how outlandish, becomes the basis for a new rant. The part that gets to me is that she reports every new threat to our other elderly relatives and it scares the bejeezus out of them. Often I can't help but try to reason with her. No matter how polite I am about it, she ends up feeling offended, and I end up feeling like an ass. An evil ass. Sigh. If you ever figure out a more effective way of dealing with R, do share...

  3. Well, ianqui has a good idea about just correcting her, and letting her send out the news that she discovered it was a false report. That way she saves face. However, if comparison to one more evil will help, here's my recent electronically assisted evil. I just sent a response to my one of my aunt's emails, because she has this tendency to sign all email with a funny little joke. The gist is that we should tell all the people who don't want religion in the courts to sit down and shut up, 'cause they're in the minority. Obviously, I am not a sitting-down, shutting-up kind of woman, and I sent her a quick note to that effect. She'll be calling my mother to complain about me very soon, I think.

  4. Mr. Geeky's dad does this all the time and Mr. Geeky responds exactly the same way, with the Snopes link and everything. I don't think it's evil and maybe if she's embarrassed, she's think twice before she sends it. Mr. Geeky claims that his dad keeps sending email; he doesn't know how to take him off the list. And Mr. Geeky, when he's inclined, corrects him.

  5. I guess we all have an R in our family, mine is my sister and she sends not just the urban legends, but those awful sexists jokes, the religious pray for such and such or someone will die, and on and on. I delete them as quickly as I get them and sometimes, I send a reply telling my sister to quit flooding me with her internet propaganda. She gets mad and tells my older sisters that I am being mean to her and I look like the bully. The last one she sent was how to keep your man happy. Please! Mr. Zelda better worry about how to keep me happy, I'm in graduate school, and nothing makes me happy at this time and at this place, not nothing and if I'm not happy, well he better just be thanking his lucky stars that I am not that unhappy or, or, or I just might not cook supper. Yes, that's it, no food. Keep your man satisfied. Indeed!

  6. Thanks for your feedback, all!

    Ianqui, that's a good idea, especially about the blind cc. I should try that.

    a, yeah, I worry, too, that she just worries people unnecessarily.

    Heocwaeth, some of the jokes I get make me crazy, but I can usually control myself to just delete them. One of R's friends sends me religious emails that just make me want to do violence. Happily, she's across the country, so I can't.

    Laura, I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one!

    Zelda1, I think you're right; from what people are saying, we all have an R in our family. I find that both comforting and disturbing.

  7. Funny, I always do exactly what you did when I get those scare mails. (I call the eeeee!mails). No one has ever been insulted or taken it personally. I see it as a public service, to stop rumor in its tracks. It's always appreciated.

  8. Thanks for the encouragement, tbtam. I talked to R the other day, and she wasn't upset at all. So maybe you're right!