pencil-pen-pal-plog problems

Note: I'm writing this blog from personal experience.  I once mocked the curriculum specialist for using People Bingo.  I posted a snarky comment on Facebook and she came to me the next day and told me how much it hurt.  

The pen pal networks are down right now.  Apparently the conference didn't anticipate such a high use of paper. So, I'm at a cafe with paper and pencil, plogging my problems. I begin this entry, expecting to write about pencil integration and why it doesn't have to server economic interests.

A lady walks in and orders a large coffee.  "It's been a tough day," she begins.  "I had two people leave my workshop yesterday and when I checked the pen pal network, they had mocked the Ice Breaker I had developed."

"Oh, that's horrible," the waitress comments.  "I know a thing or two about grumpy customers, but none of them have ever left the table in mid-meal."

"Do they write 140 character messages that mock you?"

"Nope.  Not so much."

"One man even wrote a plog post about it. Plogs last forever. Couldn't he just have talked to me instead?" The lady begins crying.  She starts talking about missing her husband and her sons and how hard it is to be creative with something like ice breakers when she's not a fan of them in the first place.  For the first time, I see her not as a fixture of a conference, but as a human.

I walk up to her and say, "I'm so sorry.  I mocked the ice breakers for being artificial and contrived but then I chose the most artificial and contrived method of complaining.  It was cruel and insensitive."

The moment is awkward, but she's gracious.

"I'm sorry for crying," she says.

"Don't apologize.  Your tears are a gift.  I needed a change in perspective."

For all the discussions my class had about pencil citizenship last year, I feel like a hypocrite.  I failed to understand that even in the transgeographic pen pal world, the bottom line should be love.


  1. Beautiful reminder to us all. The bottom line should always be love in the communication we have with others. It's so easy to forget with the click of the return key or send button. Thank you.

  2. So true, we often confuse this most public of places for our own inner realm where an errant uncharitable thought can be redeemed with repentance and reflection.

  3. Actually, the "higher than expected usage" is a standard excuse used by conference centers and hotels for not meeting their contracts on providing service. The truth is that paper is expensive and if they don't buy enough, no one has the guts to sue them for it. Caveat emptor!

  4. Dear John, er, Tom,

    I think it's Doug Johnson (Blue Skunk Blog) who advises bloggers to always praise locally--or maybe it was you.

    Not sure that you said anything awful--no one with a soul likes to hurt others for no reason, but your point is well taken. If she's not a fan of them, either, why did she choose to use them? (I happen to like ice breakers, but I'm an extrovert.)

    Would she use them again? If not, maybe your words helped. If so, maybe she'll explain to her groups why she finds them valuable before another curmudgeon takes her work to task....

  5. I've never heard the idea of "always praise locally." Interesting concept. What exactly does this apply to?