”You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” The author of these words, Anne Lamott, was speaking about writing, but her comment also holds true of life. Everything that happens to you, everything someone did to you, everything someone said to you, all belong to you. These things are a part of you and your life story, and you can do with them as you wish. (Ownership doesn’t negate responsibility or consequences, however. If you write or talk about what people said or did to you, they have no obligation to like it. You might even lose them as friends, assuming you were friends in the first place.)
The corollary to the quote is that other people own everything you do or say to them.
We are savvy enough online not to write or post anything we don’t want coming back and slapping us in the face or kicking us lower down on our anatomy, long after we’ve forgotten what we posted, but offline, we are much more casual, saying whatever comes into our minds whenever there is someone around to hear our voice. Most people, don’t really pay attention, so what we say drifts past their ears or in and out of their mind moments after our words are spoken. Except, of course, when we say something we wish we hadn’t. Those words remain hanging in the air long enough for them to register. Many times people have quoted something I said back at me, and it stunned me, usually because I didn’t remember telling them, or at least not the way they understood my words to mean. Not that it’s a problem. I have no secrets. Offline, as well as online, I am what you see.
Still, it is a bit of a revelation to think that we extend way beyond ourselves. If people own what we do to them, then our actions are public property. If people own what we say to them, then our words are also public property. We are not the autonomous creatures we think we are, safe within our own little sphere of noninfluence. Just as we are continually affected (and infected) by others, they are affected (and infected) by us.
It’s a sobering thought, and one that should make us think twice about what we say to people and how we treat them.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.