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Don't take it personally just means it wasn't personal to you.

horse nose head
Photo © Julie R. Neidlinger

::This post originally ran on my old Medium blog post on July 16, 2015. It has been edited for this blog.::

Joe Fox: It wasn’t… personal.

Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?

Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.

Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.

(From the film “You’ve Got Mail)

"Don't take it personally."

I take things personally.

I’ve been told not to do it repeatedly, and I surmise that it is one of my biggest faults.

But it is also one of my greatest strengths. I approach people as people, not as tasks, not as servants, not as punching bags. At the front of my mind is not “what goal do I need to achieve here” but “how does this person feel and am I hurting them?”

Stripping the personal out of life and delineating that some moments are personal and some are not is where ethics fail and the religious become hypocrites and humanity is traded away. When things aren’t personal, we have an excuse for bad behavior, short tempers, and sharp tongues, all with an escape clause saved for later by saying “hey, it wasn’t personal.”

It wasn’t personal, it was business.

It wasn’t personal, it was just a game.

It wasn’t personal, it was just downsizing.

It wasn’t personal, it was just what our hearts wanted.

It wasn’t personal, but somebody had to do it.

It wasn’t personal, it was practical.

Everything is personal. The way you behave around other people, no matter the non-personal topic, is what makes it personal. Every interaction involving people is made up of two things: the issue at hand and the way it is handled. We hide behind the issue, and pretend that how we handle it makes no difference because the issue isn’t about them, personally.

The guy who gets fired understands the economics behind it, maybe, but it’s personal. The athlete who trained her entire life knew she had a chance of losing, but that was her entire life we’re talking about, so it’s personal.

The one who took it personally is expected to buck up, be tough, and add to the hardness in this world. Feelings become something we wipe our feet on, passion and debate trump humanity, and connecting and interpreting things through our personhood are seen as wrong; it’s as if we are to operate on a surface level and not delve too deeply.

Operating in a non-personal world requires a level of apathy. It means you categorize people according to how you can treat them.

Tweak the categories enough, we all lose our personhood. Then every day is Hamburger Hill and not much more.


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