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Personally

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Lately, I’ve been reading many of my peers’ writing and the comments that follow. Consequently, I’ve come to realize something about myself: My writing is very personal yet simultaneously impersonal. I write about my thoughts and values, but I rarely mention the names, events or policies that may have prompted them.  

My style of writing has its perks: I’m able to present a message without distracting anyone with the details. I am able to speak with transparency, individuality and trust without letting the conversation pigeonhole into any specific incident, political party or event. As a result, I rarely face negativity in my pieces, and most people send me notes of encouragement and support (for which I am thankful!).

The moment I choose to apply any sort of detail regarding why I came to a certain conclusion, I, too, will be alongside many fellow writers who risk negativity at the cost of speaking their own mind.

I wrote about the need to believe in myself. The moment I share what belief it is — if it includes any person, idea or event that you know (or even know of) personally — you will take my statement personally. The focus of my piece will be less about the need to believe in ourselves, than the “belief” itself.

I know that, in some sense, I’m playing it safe. Detail is key when it comes to promoting concrete changes. Many of my peer writers are willing to speak up for a specific cause in our world — my writing can at most give you something to consider, while their writing could lead to specific changes being realized.

I’m going to keep writing the way I do, for now, because this is what I’m comfortable with. I also think there is value in starting discussion on values without having to focus on a specific person or event.

But I do sincerely appreciate my peers for doing what they do, so I encourage our community to do the following. I’m trying to practice them myself, and honestly, it’s very difficult. I do think it’ll benefit all of us in the long run. Let’s try this together:

Consider why a writer is sharing something in the first place. Try to look beyond the details and ask yourself: Why are they sharing their personal story with you? Perhaps because they value you as a personal relationship. Our peer writers share their stories because they value Stanford as a community. They want to be heard. They want to share something that means a lot to them (positively or negatively). They are sharing because you are their peer, Stanford is their community and they want support, feedback, help, collaboration or someone to just tell them, “It’s okay.” They value you!

Detach the personal from the impersonal. If you don’t like a certain person’s action, you (personally) don’t like their (impersonal) action. Tell them you don’t like something that they did instead of disliking or disrespecting them as a person in his/her/their entirety. Start sentences with “I” instead of “You,” and limit your adjectives to specific actions/beliefs they present instead of exerting judgments of them as a whole. Saying, “I think what you said is unfair,” instead of, “You are unfair,” might sound like the same statement, but words make a difference.

Negativity is different from constructive criticism. It’s not just a matter of saying the right words — it’s about the right intention. If you write, “Why would you think this way?” in the comment section, this will probably be considered belittling. On the other hand, you could reach out to the person and ask them, “Why would you think this way?” out of genuine curiosity (their email is at the end of the article!). This will probably be taken as an initiative to understand new perspectives. People know — you know — what the genuine intent behind your words are.

Even if you don’t intend to affect someone personally but you expect them to react personally, ask yourself whether the comment is absolutely necessary. Question yourself: Is your comment worth the risk of personally affecting the other person? If they do take it personally, remind yourself that it is their feeling, and it is not up for you to decide if they are hurt. If you think it’ll hurt them, even if you don’t intend to, be willing to own up to the consequences of hurting them.

Do I practice everything I’m upholding in principle? No. This is all literally easier said (or written) than done.

It takes time to know how each person personally reacts. As with most things, the more I learn about someone the less I feel like I know about them — and this makes everything more complicated, especially as the personal relationship grows deeper. I think we would all have an easier learning process if we frequently honestly expressed how we feel or what we want instead of making statements about the other person or expecting the other person to read between the lines. And I think if there’s any sort of confusion or discomfort, we should comfortably ask people questions. When we are questioned, we should try not to take questions as a personal attack, but simply communicate our choice to disregard a question if we personally don’t feel comfortable answering them. Context clues are helpful, but nothing drives a message home like spoon-feeding the bottom line.

Sometimes it takes time to realize what I did wrong, but when I do learn, I apologize. I know apologies are merely words, but words matter. And I’d rather not make mistakes that I have to apologize for, but as a human, I do. And at this point in my life when I’m so young, I keep making lots of mistakes, because I’m frequently going through new experiences. I’m a little messed up, to say the least.

I’m making these suggestions personally, because a community where we can share honest thoughts is important to me, personally. I personally seek to support all of those who speak up at the risk of controversy. And of course, I’ll leave it to you to personally choose how to react to my suggestions.

Thank you, everyone, for sharing. I support you for all the good work you do. Keep it going!

As per usual, sharing some of my peers’ writing that I found interesting (regardless of whether I agree with their viewpoints):

 

Contact Inyoung Choi at ichoi ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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