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Storm: The world judges us by what we do, not what we intend

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Janet Storm

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dale Carnegie, the author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” once noted that no matter what sort of behavior people engage in, they rarely think of themselves as bad.

Carnegie recalled that even notorious gangster Al Capone regarded himself as a public benefactor providing people with entertainment — “and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”

The trouble is, evidence of unsavory actions can negate even the most sincere self pity. That’s why Al Capone hasn’t gone down in history as a misunderstood philanthropist.

And that’s why a new generation of social media posters aren’t getting a lot of sympathy when they deny the intent behind some of their nastier offerings.

I am not suggesting that people who make snarky remarks on Twitter or Facebook are in the same league as Al Capone. I am suggesting, however, that like Al they seem to lack self-awareness and the ability to understand the damage they have caused.

The current poster child for the “I’m just misunderstood” crown is former Playboy Playmate Dani Mathers. Mathers snapped a photo of a 70-year-old woman in the shower of her fitness club, wrote an unflattering comment about her, and posted the photo on Snapchat.

Perhaps Mathers was expecting accolades for her wit. Instead she got a tidal wave of horrified responses from people all over the globe. Her fitness club canceled her membership (no one wants to go to the gym thinking they will be photographed in the shower and publicly mocked), and she is facing criminal charges for invasion of privacy.

Mathers has apologized, but tellingly, she has tried to justify her behavior by saying the photo was supposed to be part of a private conversation with a friend and that “I know that body shaming is wrong and that’s not what I’m about.”

But whether the shot was shared with one person or millions, its body shaming message is pretty clear. And Mathers’ claim that the post wasn’t meant to convey that message rings as false as a jingle bell in a prison yard.

Doing rotten things then sniveling and saying you’re not really the sort of person who does rotten things doesn’t work. If you don’t want to be the Internet’s punching bag and possibly end up in court, you have to avoid doing rotten things in the first place.

Most of us have a pretty good idea of which lines should not be crossed. Those who don’t might be better served staying off social media altogether.

And all of us need to remember that we will most often be judged by our actions, not our intentions.

We may not ever consider ourselves bad people, but our justifications don’t sway the cold, clear-eyed world.

Contact Janet Storm at jstorm@reflector.com or 252-329-9587.

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