This story goes back to a non-profit job I had several years ago. Early on in my time there I’d been given the responsibility of maintaining a contact list for our department. As we had unusually high staff turnover, including transfers in and out of the department, it took up a fair amount of time. When we relocated to a different building, it made sense to expand the contact list to include all of our organization’s staff in that building, not just our department. Then someone got the idea that the contact list should include all our staff, not just those in the building.
In the meantime I’d formed a virtual friendship via e-mail and phone with the technicians in the IT department, who were mostly at one of the other locations. I’d only met two of them: the technician assigned to our site and the guy who managed all our cell phones. But the IT guys were a great team and very helpful even though we hadn’t yet met. One of the things they helped me with was the contact list, even to the point of creating an automatic notification system that would let me know when a new e-mail address or cell phone number had been assigned to someone on the staff.
Several years ago I visited Charleston SC on a vacation. While there I toured the Aiken-Rhett House, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and is now a museum. I love museums and I love old houses, but the Aiken-Rhett House is unique among all the old house museums I’ve ever been to: it retains an outbuilding that once contained slave quarters (discreetly described as “servants’ quarters” in the NRHP nomination form).
I arrived at the house shortly after it opened to visitors for the day, so had it pretty much to myself. I followed the audio tour through the main house, then walked out the back door. Two nearly identical buildings flanked the courtyard—to the left, the stables; to the right, the slaves’ quarters. I went up the stairs to the second floor, above the kitchen. The small rooms, which reminded me of a bargain motel, were where the slaves had once lived. They were mostly bare—I remember a wooden bed frame without a mattress and a simple wooden table—because slaves’ furnishings were not saved as heirlooms and very few have survived the years.
An interesting confluence presented itself to me recently. I was reading about how difficult it can be to overcome a bad first impression, which we all know to be true. And then something happened in an online forum to remind me how difficult it is to overcome a bad “zeroth” impression. That is, what can you do if someone (perhaps well-intentioned) says something about you that others take to be negative or untrue? Try as you might, some of the metaphorical mud splatters on you.
I am not going to discuss the online mess I witnessed because, first, I only caught the end of the conversation and don’t know all the details; second, the person involved has already put up with enough; and third, it’s none of my business—nor yours, either. Instead I want to tell you about how something similar almost happened to me.