One of my most vivid memories from elementary school is one of shame. It was the end of the day, I was kneeling down to collect my things from my cubby box, and my teacher came up to me and asked why I had passed notes in her class. I’m sure my memory makes it worse than it was considering that teacher is now one of my friends on Facebook, but I remember feeling a mixture of shame, embarrassment, and remorse while my teacher held onto my shoulder and flashed the evidence of an artfully folded note with “Kaysie” drawn on it in my handwriting.

Looking back on it, it seems harmless but I understand the reprimand. Instead of paying attention in class, I was writing a note that probably didn’t contain any valuable information. Just the run of the mill, pre-teen chatter about which boy was cute, who was being mean, and what kind of games we were hoping to play in recess. But the lesson remains: Distraction is disrespectful and usually doesn’t lead to anything good (though I don’t think that lesson really sinks in in today’s age of cell phones).

I experienced the same feeling earlier this week when a former colleague gave me a heads up that someone else had been using my old laptop and saw some messages I exchanged discussing someone on the team over a year ago. Instantly, I felt mortified, my cheeks turning red despite sitting an hour away from the situation. Yet again, I had been caught passing notes.

I recently read John Perry Barlow’s Principles of Adult Behavior thanks to a sheet taped up on my boss’s whiteboard in her office. No. 2 on that list plainly states:

“Don’t badmouth. Assign responsibility, never blame. Say nothing behind another’s back you’d be unwilling to say, in exactly the same tone and language, to his face.”

What insightful advice, right? Simple, yet something I don’t take into consideration most days. He wrote that list on the morning of his 30th birthday, so there’s a little hope that I have two years to get my act together as an adult.

So why do we do it? Why do we crave feeling a moment of false superiority because we disagree with someone or feel wronged by them? Is it human nature? I’m still figuring it out, awkwardly looking for ways to bond with friends without criticizing others, and learning to keep the gossip at bay.

It’s a not-so-gentle reminder that every time I tell myself: “Someone else’s opinion of me is none of my business.” I should keep in mind that my opinion of somebody isn’t anyone else’s business, and I’m probably going to be wrong about them a lot of the time.

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