Self-Help: Write Angry Letters to Bad People (But Don’t Send Them)

People rarely blame themselves for anything. My family is a great example. If there was an Olympic gold medal for excuse making, the Mendelsons would bring it home every time.

Who ate a box of donuts while high on Ambien? Mom did, but not if you ask her about it.

How did my cat, Molly, step on that piece of glass? My sister broke something and didn’t clean up after herself. But if you ask her about it, she doesn’t know what you’re talking about. She just knows the cat is bleeding and that I’m pissed.

Why are you driving around with cardboard license plates? You’d have to ask my uncle about that one. Ok, well, he at least admits to driving around with cardboard license plates, but only after that became a matter of public record.

So, you get the idea. “Wasn’t me.” “Not my fault.” “I didn’t do it.” That’s my family. If the Mendelsons had a family crest, it would say “It wasn’t me” on it in Latin.

And as crazy as my family may be, and they are crazy, the truth is we all do this sort of excuse making.

Why?

You have to remember that everyone, including you, believes they are the hero of their own story. (And heroes don’t make mistakes … Right? Right.)

So, why am I telling you this?

Right now, we’re seeing the promise of the industrial revolution come to life. Everything that can be automated will be automated. So that means, for better or worse, you and I are going to have a lot more free time on our hands. That’s great if you’re a creative, but terrifying if going to work and having a fancy job title is how you define your entire existence.

Personally, I look forward to the work week in most professions being cut down to twenty-hours or less. I also look forward to universal basic income for everyone (aka Social Security for all) and Medicare for all. All three of these things would have sounded radical even ten years ago, but today, most Americans support the last two and, unfortunately, don’t have much of a say on that first one. It’s happening, and there’s no going back.

So I’ve been thinking about what happens next. Let’s say everyone gets $3,300 dollars a month, no questions asked (Social Security for all), and all of your health expenses are covered. Your job only takes twenty hours (or less) a week to perform. What do you do with all that spare time?

Back in our hunter-gatherer days, we’d hang out with each other. Laugh. Play. And just have fun. I don’t know if we’ll get back to that.

But I do think that if you’re the creative type, you’ll now have an opportunity to work on the stuff you love and promote it with the balance of your time each week. That means we could all use a refresher on the basics of person to person communication before we can even talk about the marketing and advertising stuff.

So everything I’m going to share with you from this point forward is going to focus on person to person interaction for creatives. There are going to be obvious exceptions to the things I say, but remember I’m only giving you the following advice within the specific context of wanting to sell your thing to someone else, regardless of what that thing is.

And the first thing you need to know, in this specific context remember, is not to criticize people. Yes. Even when those people are being complete and total dipshits.

Don’t criticize anyone.

There are exceptions, of course. If someone is being a Nazi, you should absolutely punch that Nazi in the face. My grandfather didn’t serve in North Africa and Italy just so those assholes can have a shitty reunion tour, you know? The only good white supremacist is a dead white supremacist. Or at least one we can keep at a zoo. Right next to the chimps so we can remind people that we haven’t really come that far during our time here on Earth as a species.

You can also criticize politicians because they’re supposed to be your representatives. I say supposed to be because you and I well know that, Democrat or Republican, both of the major parties in the United States represent corporations and the rich, not you and I. This Conservative vs. Liberal bullshit that we see play out every day now is just a distraction. If you keep everyone distracted and divided, they can’t come together and solve the real problems we all face like climate change and income inequality.

If your elected representative is not representing you, then they’re not doing their job. And you can totally criticize them for not doing that.

As Dale Carnegie puts it on page five of “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

“Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and eventually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his self-importance and causes resentment.”

Now, I know. “Don’t criticize people” is easier said than done.

Let’s get this out of the way right at the start of this project: All of the advice I’m going to give you is easier said than done, and that’s the point in writing something like this.

You’ve heard all this advice before, but maybe you just needed someone to come along and confirm it. Or say what you’ve been thinking out loud so you can look at that person and say, “They’re right!” You wouldn’t believe how important third-party validation is to our decision-making process as humans.

(It’s basically everything. No one wants to be first. No one wants to stick their neck out. But the second someone else does and we see that it’s safe to follow along, we all jump on the bandwagon. That’s just our nature as humans.)

Nobody is perfect and that’s great because you know what perfection is? Boring. Don’t take my word for it, tune in to any Major League Baseball game involving the shift and analytics-driven team managers that are all the rage right now.

Sure, the players may play the game perfectly, but they’ve also managed to strip the fun out of it. Nobody cares that baseball is slow. Hell, the average NFL game is slower than a baseball game when you factor in the commercial breaks and stoppages in play. People care that baseball is boring, not slow. There’s a difference. And when you run a shift every play because that’s what the data tells you to do, or use eight relief pitchers in one game because what we needed was more micromanagement of pitchers and their arms, not less, nobody gets on base or scores a run.

Baseball is instead riddled with strikeouts and inaction, meaning that what should be a fun diversion for millions of us is now technically brilliant but completely unwatchable.

Perfect is boring. Don’t forget that. I’m going to say it often.

Your scars build empathy and make you interesting. I want to see your scars. Leave the heavily sanitized “personal brand” for the soulless software that scans your resume and finds every reason to reject you because corporations don’t want to get sued or hire someone that doesn’t have the “right cultural fit.”

Given that the people you encounter over the course of any given day may vary between truly wonderful people and dangerous idiots, you might be wondering what you’re supposed to do instead of criticizing them.

There’s this trick I’m going to suggest you do.

I got the idea from something Mark Twain’s wife is said to have done. Her name was Olivia Langdon Clemens and she was a badass in her own right. What she did was, whenever Twain would get pissed and write an angry letter, she used to take Twain’s angry letters out of the mail and threw them away before they could do any real damage to his career.

Twain had no idea Olivia was doing this. He instead sat around satisfied that someone was about to be on the receiving end of a verbal ass-kicking. The likes of which we rarely see in the twenty-first century.

Now, I’m not going to say you should have your partner throw out your mail behind your back. That could get them into some legal trouble, the same kind involved with driving around using cardboard license plates. ButI I am going to suggest you go ahead and write all the angry letters you want.

Self-Help Exercise #1: Be as Angry as You Want to Be

And just so you think you’re not alone here in writing these angry letters, I’m going to do it too. Here is a real, angry letter I was asked to write during a health and wellness class at Alfred State College in the Fall of 2003.

I still have this letter because, at the time, I had a humor website online called The Brandon Show, and got a lot of traffic for the stupid, profane, and sometimes funny stuff I’d put up there. So I did exactly what you think I did, I posted the letter immediately after writing it. The exact opposite of what the professor asked us to do. He was not thrilled at first, but later told me at the end of the course that he laughed his ass off anyway.

“Dear Asshole,

I’ve met some real pieces of shit in my life but let me tell you something. On the all-time list of fuck-ups, rejects, and losers, you rank first.

When I think of things that cause heartburn, indigestion, and anal leakage, I think of you. And I say that with the confidence of someone who, despite having a legitimate wheat allergy, once eat an entire box of Life cereal anyway and paid the price for having done so.

You are a poor excuse for a human. If there is a God, and I doubt it, I hope they shut down the factory you came out of and that factory is sitting somewhere in heaven, alone and abandoned like a dozen sandcastles at the beach.

This letter is to let you know just how much I hate you. I hope you go fuck yourself. Not because it’s fun, but because this way you will have a low sperm count and will not be able to reproduce in the future. Doing so will save future generations from the pain and agony of knowing your existence or encountering any of your offspring. And this way, when the aliens come and they ask for a representative to be sent forward, there is a zero percent likelihood that one of those representatives will be related to you.

I know when most people die, it’s boring and shitty. There’s a lot of waiting and nobody is having a good time, not even the person dying. So I hope you die in a ridiculous way. This way the newspaper will cover it and I can put the article on my wall next to posters of Hanson, Smashmouth, and Sugar Ray. Groups well known to have caused an almost equal amount of suffering as you have.

Fuck you,

-B.J. ”

Once you write your angry letter, put it in an envelope. Then, I want you to send them to to a trusted friend. Even to my brother Brad if you have no one else to send the letter to.

I know what you’re thinking. No, Brad is not going to open them. Everyone calm down, that’s not the point of this exercise. The letters will go to my house where my mentally disabled brother, who insists on shredding every piece of paper he encounters into hundreds of little pieces, can enjoy shredding your letter. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. You get to reduce your stress and anxiety a bit, and Brad will have a blast tearing up your letter. (Plus … he can’t read, you know? So it’s not like he’s going to understand what’s in your letter anyway.)

The point of this exercise, in actually writing the letter, is that doing so allows your brain to complete the psychological process of writing the letter and sending it. The result of doing so, biochemically, is no different than if you had mailed it to your enemy.

It’s the act of writing the letter and sending it that matters, not where it’s going.

Not only will doing this exercise make you feel better, but it’ll be easier not to criticize or complain about the subject of your ire because you got all of the bad thoughts out of your head in the first place.

This way, when you encounter someone you would have criticized tomorrow, or whenever, you’ll approach them with a refreshed state of mind.

More soon on criticism. For now, try the exercise out.