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On trying to hurt the feelings of public figures

Posted by John Reed on

A public figure is someone who is famous: movie and TV stars, radio stars, college presidents, columnists, book authors, CEOs of big corporations, professional and college athletes, elected officials, etc.

Sorry, no time to answer

I am a public figure, albeit a lesser one. We public figures get letters (mostly emails nowadays). We get lots and lots of letters. We do not answer most. The persons who write them think that’s rude in many cases. No. It’s just that we are busy and the volume of the mail is so great that we cannot take the time to answer all the way we did before we were public figures. On behalf of myself and all other public figures, I apologize for our not having the time to give each of you a personal response. We do appreciate your taking the time to contact us—in most cases.

We public figures have 24-hour days the same as private persons, so we cannot have the same “answer every email or phone call” policy that private persons have. It’s mathematically impossible. Again, sorry for that

The communications we public figures receive from strangers fall into a number of categories:

• fan mail

• hate mail

• legitimate questions

• constructive criticism

We like all four categories—or at least I like all four.

Hate mail

Hate mail tells me what my weaknesses are. As I said in my book Succeeding, knowing both your strengths and weaknesses is crucial to choosing goals and methods for achieving them.

Succeeding bookA man’s got to know his limitations, a
s the great philosopher Clint Eastwood said,

But the hate mail category has two subcategories:

• honest recitations of the public figure’s weaknesses

• attempts to hurt the public figure’s feelings by hurling accusations of weaknesses pulled out of thin air for their sting value rather than any basis in fact

The first subcategory, we, or at least I, welcome. It is repetitive, but that is a useful measure of how weak our weaknesses are, and a probably necessary reminder that we have them. And since we do not get tired of repetitive fan mail, I guess we cannot get tired of repetitive hate mail.

Works with private persons, but not public

When a private person tries to hurt another private person’s feelings, he generally is successful at hurting that person’s feelings. There is a good illustration of it in that FedEx TV commercial where the “bull in the china shop” office worker calls a colleague “a Dan fool.” That actor playing “Dan” gives an excellent portrayal of a devastated private person. The private person who is hurting the other’s feelings assumes it will work against a public figure because it works against them when they are on the receiving end of it.

Someone once said the rich are different from the rest of us. Similarly, the famous are different from the unfamous. So when the unfamous assume the famous will be hurt by any criticism, they are erroneously attributing to the famous what they themselves feel and failing to recognize the differences between the lives of the famous and the private.

When a private person tries to do that to a public figure, it’s like throwing a cotton ball at a tank. Why? We know extremely well what our weaknesses are—and what they are not. We hear about them daily or weekly. Some of us also have wives who have identified and cataloged 1,437 of our 12 faults, and three sons who are diligent about reminding us of the 12.

I have been described as “abrasive”—about ten thousand times. My tentative conclusion is that I am abrasive. So if you send me an email saying I am abrasive, my thought is, “Tell me something I don’t already know.” Same with other public figures and their well-established weaknesses I’m sure.

‘That’s a new one’

On the other hand, if you accuse me of a weakness I never thought I had and, more importantly, that none of those tens of thousands of people ever accused me of, it stands out like a sore thumb.

These are the subject of mirth among my family and friends. If I get it, I sometimes forward it to family and friends for a laugh. My wife sometimes gets them because she processes the orders and forwards them to me or reads them out loud from her desk. At a subsequent dinner with old friends she might tell them “You’ll never guess what Jack got accused of yesterday.” Then she tells them and everyone has a laugh.

‘Mr. Relationships’

Sometimes the fan mail is unique. One, after reading my Succeeding book, said I should write a book on relationships. I have since taken to calling myself “Mr. Relationships” among family and friends—to their great amusement.

“Mr. Abrasive” probably cannot also be “Mr. Relationships.”

Factually speaking, I have been married over 41 years to my first and only wife and we have excellent relationships with all three of our sons. The latter may sound normal to a young person, but if you ask around you will probably find that many, if not most, families have one or two estranged children.

Why they do it

We public figures know why some people send these emails about heretofore unheard of weaknesses. They have been stung by something we said or did and want to lash back.

For example, my book on youth baseball coaching says almost all youth coaches run the same practice format: 45 minutes of hitting infield (“Get one. Get two,” and all that) and 45 minutes of each player taking a turn batting. My book says that is an extremely stupid waste of time and offers the correct, far more detailed and varied practices schedules that youth coaches should use. (higher level coaches already use the correct versions)

Youth Baseball Coaching bookSome incompetent coaches are stung by what I said about their practices by reading my book or website. Others are stung when one of their “friends” come across what I said, knows the guy in question does it the way I said was stupid, and sends it to the guy to needle him. (I put “friends” in quotes because a
real friend would not have sent such a thing to you because he would know it would hurt your feelings and he would not want to do that to you.)

He then fires off an angry email to me accusing me of something—pulled out of thin air—that he thinks will hurt my feelings as much as his have been hurt by what I said.

Logical and symmetrical, but as I explained above, a waste of time. If you learned about what I said from a “friend,” you really ought to send your nastygram to him for deliberately amusing himself by doing something he knew would hurt you. Leave me out of it. I’m just doing my job.

I’m giving notice!

Also, people often have a hidden agenda. The real reason they are insulting you is because on page 94, line you accurately characterized something they did last year as dishonest. But they don’t say that in the email. They just say you are a worthless piece of crap in general. I once had a tenant tell me he was moving out of one of my apartment buildings because I was the world’s worst landlord.

In court on another occasion, one of my employees at apartment buildings testified under oath I was the best he ever worked for. The past president of the local apartment association who had also been the head of the biggest property management firm in the metro area testified that I was in a number of ways they best he had ever seen. I think my lawyers said I was the best landlord client they ever had. But anyway…

On the day when the tenant moved out, he gave me his new address for me to mail him his security deposit refund. It was about five states away.

Boy! He REALLY didn’t like me that he had to get that far away! Or more likely, he lost his job and was moving back home with his parents and his “worst landlord statement” was really because I enforced the no-guests policy at the pool that time he tried to bring in a group of his buddies.

I once asked a college classmate why he did not publish his PhD thesis as a book store book. He smiled knowingly and said you can’t publish a book if you want a career as an Army officer.

Why not?

Because it’s impossible to write 100,000 words without pissing off someone in the Army who outranks you.

Actually, it is impossible to write 100,000 words (normal book length) without pissing off all sorts of people. So the typical guy who is accusing me of some serious character defect is really just angry at me for some “unrelated to his criticism of me” sentence or paragraph I put in one of my books that made him look bad.

Just as landlords have been around the block a few times, so have public figures. They are a bit hard to fool on their areas of expertise, like reading criticism about them.

Politics and religion, too

This also happens because of political or religious slights. I recently put out an article about the dangers of the deficit spending in Washington. That inspired hate mail from liberals, Democrats, and Obama-can-do-no wrong folks. Politically, all the article said was that both parties have made this mess and neither is going to fix it so we’d better protect ourselves. But if you say a word like “Obama” in any context that suggests Obama is not a saint, you get hate mail from his blind supporters.

It doesn’t get read

Big-time famous, or those who fancy themselves that, have people, including people to screen emails. So they are never even going to hear of your nastygram. Lesser public figures like me do our own email, but just as we instantly see the false accusations from decades of experience, we also identify those emails in the subject line. Virtually all “hurt my feelings” writers use the same few honest or “cleverly disguised” subject lines to get past such screening—like the commonly-used, easy-to-remember computer passwords. If we open such an email, we get about one or two sentences into it and dump it. Remember, we have been down this path tens of thousands of times.

Why not avoid offending people?

You may wonder why public figures do not take care to avoid offending people. Like I could have soft-peddled my recommended baseball practice schedule.

I answer by quoting from a Fram Oil Filter TV commercial that ran a couple of decades ago:

How do you think a man like me got to BE a man like me?

Your mom told you to be yourself. That’s easier said than done. I aded a chapter on it to the third edition of my Succeeding book. Most private persons live their lives like the dun-colored animals of the forest (e.g., squirrels) who survive by blending into the background.

Blend into the background like the dun-colored animals of the forest

Private persons think the way to be popular is to filter everything they say or do to avoid anyone taking offense. Actually, that may be true on a percentage basis but not on raw numbers. If you avoid ever saying anything that will give offense to anyone, you will avoid being unpopular with anyone, but you will also avoid being known by more than your inner circle of friends and relatives.

To be a public figure, you have to be yourself. Famous people are not people who are loved by all. Rather, they are people who are loved by a lot of people, and that can only happen if you let a lot of people get to know you. The real you. The unique you. Private people spend their whole lives saying “I’m like you” to everyone to be accepted. Boring. Famous people say to the world,

This is who I really am. Take me or leave me.

I have another web article that explains that approach to life in more detail:

Does that sort of being-true-to-yourself honesty—“doing it my way”—piss many people off?


But it also lets a whole lot of other people form an attachment to you.

A friend is someone who knows all about you and still likes you.

If you refuse to let anyone know all about you—by constantly filtering the real you out—you can never have any true friends, only superficial ones. (I am well aware that not all fans are true friends, although many would be if they knew you more completely.) It’s hard to get excited—one way or the other—about a human who only tries to blend into the background. Offending no one is only an option for those who want their epitaph to read,

He blended into the background and offended no one.

Or as the murder victim’s family says to the media, “He never had any enemies.” You can tell a man by his enemies, or the lack thereof. No guts, no glory. A man who had no enemies probably had no integrity or personality either.

Being famous means having a lot of people who like you and a lot who dislike you. It comes with the territory—if only from jealousy. If you want to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.

Change your ways or else

Many of the hurt-your-feelings hate emails essentially order me to change what I do or how I do it. What is their negotiating leverage? Threatening not to buy my books any more—or see my movies or watch my TV show or subscribe to my periodical etc. in the case of other public figures.

I think they are a little fuzzy on the arithmetic of public figures. By definition, we deal in large numbers. We get computer printouts with great detail about sales, click rates, conversion rates, ratings, box office, etc., etc. Furthermore, the large numbers are the essence of what we do. If I complied with the wishes of all those individuals who ordered me to change or else lose their business, I would now live in a much smaller house. Sometimes, they order me to eliminate my top-selling product or risk losing them as customers!!!

Vaya con Dios.

Dear private persons, we are interested in your feedback to correct individual errors or individual poor service, but otherwise, our business decisions are based on the whole market not individual threats. You do not need to take time to tell us you do not like our book or movie or TV series or whatever. We know lots of people don’t like what we do. We do not worry about such people. Our market is the people who do like it. We sell to “them what brung us.” No hard feelings, Enjoy those other authors, actors, etc. that you do like.

No accounting for taste

In some cases, a writer is simply telling us what we do is not to their taste. Uh, we already knew it was not to everyone’s taste. You can’t please all the people all the time. We need absolutely no individual data on that well-known, universal phenomenon.

Why I wrote this

Why did I write this article? In the past I have written a number similar articles that had the salutary effect of causing people to stop writing me about something. For example, I used to get a lot of questions about how to hold title to real estate. So I write an article about it at my website. And I stopped getting those emails. Good.

I also advocate a military draft. For a while, readers raged at me for advocating, “INDENTURED SERVITUDE!!!!” Then I added a discussion about indentured servitude that revealed that the current, all-volunteer, U.S. military is precisely indentured servitude and indeed the only form of indentured servitude allowed any more in most Western countries.

That ended the emails about indentured servitude. I also anticipated that they would switch to accusing me of advocating slavery so I added an anticipatory list of the differences between slavery and a draft (chosen by lottery, salary, discharged in two years with veterans benefits). That also worked.

Another thing that might be fun is that I expect some other public figures will read this article and pass it around to their famous friends for laughs and knowing nods. One reader of my Succeeding book was a star pro ice hockey player. He said the chapter on fame in that book was right on.

Here is an email I got from the father of a West Point graduate. It is a response to a long article I wrote titled “Should you go to, or stay at, West Point?” It is a classic example of an attempt to hurt the feelings of  a public figure. It is also a classic collection of intellectually-dishonest debate tactics like changing the subject, stereotyping, name calling. My article on honest and dishonest debate tactics is at

Just read about half of your ranting and raving! Maybe a third, I couldn’t make it through the myriad of self promotion and obvious distain for the path you obviously chose. ( oh I forgot you shouldn’t have been able to make that decision at age 17 lol)

I didn’t go to West Point, I was in the Marine Corps at 17. yes I am a VietNam vet as well.

What happened? Someone at West Point snatch your binky one night?

You went on to go to Havvvvad, and now your self promoting on the web, what could be better? See Jack West Point did you some good afterall! Hehe , if nothing else it sharpened your insight… into BS! LOL

Self promote and rant to the masses that will receive your rhetoric, I couldn’t stand officers when I came across them when I was in the service, now I read your sorry ass account woe is me and detailed personal history of what people should and should not do and I see why!! Lol

I may not be an educated man, but I can recognize sour grapes!

I’m glad your kids went on to superior schools like Columbia! Im glad they were members of an Elite football ball powerhouse such as Columbia! Hehe ( have they won a game since the depression?)

My son is a graduate of West Point, thanks Jack for enlightening me on the poor decision he made in choosing to attend. All this time I was proud of him, graduated Georgetown, four combat tours and isn’t dead!

Now I have to rethink my whole way of feeling!! Geez, I guess I shouldn’t be proud of him….after all jack says what he’s done and accomplished isn’t worth shit! Well thanks jack!  I’m sure after I digest all this blather that you have spewed forth in obvious hatred. I will gather myself together and get the courage to let my only son know that he isn’t worth crap…why?  “cause  jack says so!  Hehe

You’re an idiot…even an uneducated man like me can see through your shallow ass!

Good luck battling those demons jack  hehe

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