A Remedy for Termites

March 1, 2016

The other day, I received an email from someone who receives the automatic email notifications each time I post on this blog. The email consisted of a single brief sentence:

How do I unsubscribe?

I’m sure it is written somewhere in the bloggers instruction manual that you should never, ever take it personally when people ask to be unsubscribed from your blog. After all, who knows why they are taking this drastic step?

I mean, they may have a very good reason for rejecting you.

Maybe this person was just too busy — she was subscribed to dozens of blogs, maybe hundreds, and the effort to comb through all the notifications was creating a steadily increasing stress level, maybe even causing her health to suffer.

“I don’t want her health to suffer,” I murmured, horrified at the idea.

Or, maybe this reader was going on a long trip, around the world perhaps, and wanted to unsubscribe just temporarily, like having your mail held while you go away.

Who was I kidding.

She was unsubscribing because she didn’t want to read my posts anymore. Something I’d said had offended her. Or possibly many things over time, and it had finally built to the point where she said, Enough!

Or, worse: she found the writing boring! And not just run-of-the-mill, TV-commercial boring, but so excruciatingly boring that simply ignoring them wouldn’t do, she felt forced to make the effort to have the notices stop coming altogether.

Somewhere in the bloggers instruction manual, it probably says, “Don’t drive yourself crazy wondering why. And for heaven’s sake, don’t write and ask.”

I wrote and asked.

Actually, I didn’t quite do that. I was a little more subtle. After unsubscribing her from the blog, I wrote to check whether she also wanted to be unsubscribed from my newsletter, which I send out sporadically to update people on my latest books:

Done! I just unsubscribed you from post notifications. Do you also want to be removed from my email newsletter list?

She wrote back to say, sure, that was okay, she’d already subscribed anyway under a new email address.

As it turned out, the reason she’d wanted to unsubscribe to the post notifications was that she’d just subscribed to my blog notices with her new email address, and figured there was no reason to keep getting multiple notices.

She added:

Thanks for the inspiration all these years.

This reader wasn’t rejecting my blog (or me) at all! All my assumptions were completely wrong.

Which, I think it’s safe to assume, is frequently the case — often to the detriment of clear communication. As Henry Winkler put it, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”

Many a house has fallen, I suspect, not out of faulty design or bad intention but simply because its timbers were sabotaged by the termitic assault of assumptions fervently held as the truth.

And by “house” I mean “relationship.”

When I was a kid, I read a good deal of Marshall McLuhan, and I still remember my delight when I came across this passage:

“Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.”

I’m so glad I ignored the manual — and asked for clarification. Not a bad thing to do in any circumstance.


  1. Adrian

    Wonderful piece! Here’s my favorite sentence (clause, actually):
    Which, I think it’s safe to assume, is frequently the case
    You did that on purpose, right?! At least, I assume you did :>)

    • John David Mann

      Yes! — this was definitely a case of clause and effect. (ba-dump, BAH…)

      • Adrian

        All I can do is shake my head–you naughty pie!


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