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Why I Don’t Tell Other People’s Stories

March 3, 2015

I have a confession to make. I haven’t been completely honest with you, dear readers. I’ve been writing this blog for a couple of years. I’ve written over 500 entries. Some were well done, some were not as well done. Some were popular some were fairly lonely. The popular ones are generally the ones that have an interesting story. When I started the blog, it was with the desire to share stories from my life and my career. But, I ran into a problem. And it’s a problem that I see often in Social Media. 

We only own our own stories. 

If I want to tell an embarrasing story on myself, I don’t really have to worry about offending anyone. For example, I once overcharged a customer horribly. I wasn’t trying to. But, I hadn’t properly set expectation and the when it came time to deliver the bill the customer freaked out a little bit. (Your Bill Is HOW Much?) That’s a story on me. But, what about when the story involves someone else’s mistake? For example, I once had an employee who deleted an entire department’s login accounts and then left for two week’s training at Microsoft. (He Deserved To Be Fired.) It was a mistake. A mistake that he eventualy recovered from. 

Yesterday, I talked about how much of our lives are online. It wouldn’t be hard to look through my LinkedIn! profile, which is public and figure out what company I worked for when the story was being told. And, then it’s only slightly more difficult to figure out who worked for me. If you read “He Deserved To Be Fired,” you’ll hear me talk about James, the engineer who screwed up. 

Well, it must suck to work for me, don’t you think? I mean, you screw up and Rodney will put it in his blog and it will live on the internet forever. I couldn’t do it. That wasn’t really my story to tell. Much of the coaching I did with James was just between him and me. I couldn’t tie a mistake to James for the rest of his career. 

So, here’s the lie. The story is true. But, I never had an employee named James. I had a team of engineers, but unless you were part of my team at that time, you don’t know James’ true identity. And I think that’s okay. Because the point of the blog post was about coaching an employee who had made a mistake. The story loses nothing because I’ve changed the names. I don’t change every name, of course. Yesterday I talked about Margit, Chasm and Orson Scott Card. All of them were real people and those were their real names. But, I change the names more often than not. 

Why? 

Because they aren’t my stories to tell. I can tell my side of it, but James should get to decide if and when he shares the story of nearly getting fired. 

Many authors change the names of people in their stories. I’ve taken it one step further and included companies. I can hide the participants behind different names, but it’s harder with companies. Again, LinkedIn! is open to the world. You can easily figure out what companies I’ve worked for. However, I’m guessing that when I tell a story about a large non-profit organization in Utah, you are going to be interested in the story, but not necessarily bother to track down the actual name of the non-profit. Just as when I talk about working for a large telecommunication company, few if any people are going to bother cross referencing it to my LInkedIn! profile.

I don’t mentioned the companies for two reasons. First, by obscuring the names, I can tell stories without worrying about affecting the company’s image. Second, in the case of my current company, I lower my risk of getting fired. 

I’ve had people tell me that it’s a waste of time. That if people can find out the name with a few clicks, it’s just wasted work to try to hide it. Personally, I think we are all lazier than that. Make it too inconvenient to find the information and people will not make the effort. Again, I talk about many of the companies by name, Microsoft WordPerfect, RESMARK. But, when in doubt, I’ll err on the side of protecting others’ privacy.

The concept of not telling other people’s stories extends beyond just the people I work with and the companies. When I talk about facebook later this week, you’ll see that I take the same approach with my kids. I have thirteen kids and I am as proud as I can be of my kids. But, they are going to have to live with the things I write online forever. 

I think they should get to own their own stories.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

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