The story of this incident involving a Microsoft email group is more fully told in Chapter 13 of Mystic Microsoft. Here I offer some of the emails exchanged as well as the piece I sent to the group (written February 1996) after the inversion of the situation took place.
That email, in fact, was the genesis for Mystic Microsoft itself. A few years later, in 1998, I wanted to apply the same principle of putting out positive energy in the face of a negative situation. I thought of this piece and thought to rewrite it on the theme of “You can’t beat out the darkness with a stick,” one of Paramhansa Yogananda’s most colorful sayings.
However, the rewrite was more difficult than I expected, and the article refused to cooperate. After several attempts, I took the question into one of my morning meditations and prayed for clarity on the project. In a wonderful moment of clarity, how I needed to rewrite the piece appeared fully in my mind, and that’s what became the chapter in the book.
Then, in the next moment, as I marveled at how an incident I experienced at Microsoft could have such deep spiritual meaning, I suddenly realized that every major circumstance of my entire career also had such significance! Over the next ten days I wrote out the first draft of Mystic Microsoft….
During the latter years of my Microsoft career, I belonged to a large email discussion group focused on personal growth and spiritual matters. Often people would ask for advice or for recommendations for services with a particular quality in mind.
It happened one day that someone asked for a recommendation for a good divorce lawyer:
To: SOC Personal Growth Club (soleil)
Subject: Divorce Lawyer recommendation?
Can anyone recommend a divorce lawyer who knows about dealing with MS [Microsoft] stock options? The couple involved don't want to have to cash in the options for the non-MS partner.
Please reply to me only & I will compile (removing all identifying information).
People began responding to the sender as usual. But then one person, just one person, turned the energy of compassion and assistance into a negative tirade, speaking not to the sender in private but announcing his feelings to the whole group:
To: SOC Personal Growth Club
Subject: RE: Divorce Lawyer recommendation?
I don't think this belongs on Personal Growth alias. Please grow and avoid divorce at all costs!!!!! Divorce is unhealthy for society.
Please don't compile!
At Microsoft, many people live on email, and within minutes additional responses began to appear condemning or condoning this first respondent (SF). For example:
I totally disagree with you. Divorce is not a pleasant subject, but I think it's much better to get a divorce than stay in an unhealthy marriage. Divorce can be a growth, same as marriage.
Which, of course, opened the floodgates. Negativity spreads like wildfire, especially on an email system that approaches real-time conversation!
those people who divorce probably shouldn't have gotten married in the first place – divorce is totally unacceptable, self-centered, and anti-social in my eyes. It has destroyed countless children and many adults' outlook on life. Marriage is not something anyone should jump into without an intense and truthful look into themselves. Divorce is not a solution to anything it is the cause of more problems!
Please don't even bother trying to tell me I'm wrong – I'm already convinced. I have turned down marriage twice, and then proceeded to watch all my friends get divorced and cynical – and watch their children become insolent and detached.
The responses too degenerated significantly, with thoughts like this:
Subject: this group sucks!
Should be called Personal Growth/Decay
As the battle raged, I remember coming very close to getting involved myself by shouting a few opinions on the matter. Fortunately, I had started making a serious personal effort toward even-mindedness and controlling my reactions, for unchecked emotional reactions, as those I was witnessing, are a sure recipe for suffering.
Even without responding, the whole situation made me feel filthy, as though someone had smeared the sludge of negativity all over me. The direction of the energy in this situation was spiraling to hell rather quickly and I could feel that I was being carried along.
Then I remembered another important spiritual principle, that the way out of a negative vortex is not to ignore or suppress the energy, but to turn it around and redirect it upwards—to turn a negative into a positive. Toward this end, I spent a little time reading through all the positive and uplifting thoughts I’d saved from the email group over the years.
As I enjoyed this renewal of inspiration, the email battle still raged on. I knew many others were suffering—the group had four hundred members!—and wanted to help. Something was needed—some love, some calmness. So I pulled together a few thoughts and stories in a new email message. With some trepidation (will people turn their anger on me?) I sent this message:
From: Kraig Brockschmidt
Sent: Thursday, February 01, 1996 12:23 PM
Subject: Bringing us back to center…
Time and time again, words that appear on SOLEIL [the internal name of the email group] have had the power to drastically affect those who read them. Recently an outpouring of love regarding an accidentally broadcast message made the back cover of Micronews. Negative words can also have tremendous effect, and on this alias can sour a day for hundreds of people. This mail is my own personal attempt to turn anger into love.
In light of the recent exchange on this alias, I'd like to share a few pieces I've picked and saved up from the last three years, hopefully in order to bring us back to that stable center where we can love, respond, and learn from each other, in the spirit of SOLEIL: Sharing Our Life Experiences Is Loving.
My love to everyone.
From Marie-Dominique Ellis (Founder of Soleil) 7/1/93
Allow people to be who they are!
Allow people to express what they think!
Allow yourself to not take things personally!
If someone does not play the game
According to the rules
Let's give them the rules
Instead of raising our fists
From CJ, 11/22/93, Dealing with Anger
"Two rich sheiks who didn't know each other were tooling around in their cars on the desert. One had a Mercedes and the other a Rolls. There wasn't another car within miles. Nevertheless, they smacked into each other. After sitting dazed for a few seconds, they both got out of their cars and ran toward each other and embraced. "Allah, be praised," they said, "for allowing this to happen so that we could meet!"
Contrary to what we've been taught, venting anger is not good for you, because it creates more anger, which ultimately damages our bodies. I thought about this today, driving over 520. The roads were not too bad, but drivers were doing stupid things, like braking on bridges and slowing down to gape at fender benders. Being in touch with my body, I felt my neck muscles tighten up, and said, "Whoa, boy. Simmer down, you'll get there." So I used the extra time to notice the beauty of the snowscape, and soon the anger evaporated."
From WP 12/14/94:
"I remember watching an episode of the children's show "Sesame Street". During this one section, Oscar the grouch was trying to make everyone's holidays miserable. First he tried spreading ashes on the new fresh snow in front of his trash can. But people thanked him for making the walkway less slippery. Then he tried giving a present of a comb to the bald man Gordon. But again he was thanked as the gift could be used to comb his mustache. No matter how Oscar the grouch tried to spread his grumpiness around, it turned out making people happy.
Today let's realize that many misfortunes or negative actions are indeed blessings in disguise, that denial of a reality frequently draws it to us even when we try otherwise, and that, like the "Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" books, frequently enlightening spiritual truths can be found in "ordinary" or simple environments."
And a few other quotes…
If you don't like the signals you're receiving, check the signals you're sending…
Nothing greater can happen to a human being than when he or she is forgiven. For forgiveness means reconciliation in spite of estrangement; it means reunion in spite of hostility; it means acceptance of those who are unacceptable; and it means reception of those who are rejected.
Forgiveness is unconditional, or it is not forgiveness at all. Forgiveness has the character of "in spite of," but the righteous ones give it the character of "because". Sinners (in the scriptures) however, cannot do this. They cannot transform the divine "in spite of" into a human "because" of which they must be forgiven. If forgiveness were conditional, conditioned by humans, no one could be accepted, and no one could accept themselves.
Paul Tillich, Best Sermons, "To Whom Much Is Forgiven" 1995.
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or
a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
While I had feared a negative backlash, what I experienced was the complete opposite. Whereas my email inbox had been filling up with messages of anger, now they became flooded with these, some to me personally, others sent to the entire group:
JW: Thank you for doing this!
JP: thanks for taking the time…
KD: Thanks, Kraig! Your message was very helpful. : )
WW: Thanks! This was great.
GC: THANK YOU, Thank You, thank you!
MAM: Thank you Kraig. I chose to dismiss the mail that recently came out, but it did kind of leave me feeling a bit negative. This made me smile, and did exactly as you intended! 🙂
JK: Thank you….!
SB: Thank you. You saved me from sending a very angry flame to this person. Flames were issuing from my fingers as I typed!! It was all typed and ready to go then I thought I'd better cool off, and that's when your mail came in. The flames have been extinguished 🙂
HA: thank you for reminding me why I am on this alias!!
JC: Thanks, these were helpful and brightened my day 🙂
AB: As this is my second day on the alias I would like to really thank you for the positive input! Your compilation is a perfect reminder for everyone of what is really at the core of everything. Anyway, have a great day.
MP: Wow. Thank you. I'm very new to this alias. Someone suggested I join this after I attended Context's, Pursuit, The Wall, and The Advancement courses. I have exactly been sure what to think. To see you write such incredibly technical books [referring to Inside OLE]and be able to express and articulate emotional content as well as you can express technical content really means a lot to me. It's something I work on every day. It's nice to see examples of such honest and open love expressed by someone I really respect who's "out there" on the front lines with our customers. Thank you so much for the time you took to share below. Know that it touched at least one person. Thanks!
DS: Thank you Kraig !!
I rarely have time to read the mailings and most of the time I enjoy what I do read. I was bummed when I seen someone disliked what comes on-line from those trying to share a little something with the rest of us. I think that most of us find value in what is being said here.
If what is sent on this alias makes even one persons day brighter or more joyous than the contribution was worthwhile and meaningful.
Agreeing with Kraig, I did not like to see the negativity of that earlier piece of mail, but his response seemed to put things back into perspective.
NS: You're an angel!!!!!
SL: Thanks so much for this, Kraig. This is what I thought this alias was about, not about judging someone else's personal journey. This doesn't feel like a very safe place to be sharing *anything* personal anymore, growth, or otherwise.
KK: I guess I'm lucky….. I've been so busy today that I have been deleting all email not work-related so I have missed whatever it was to create such a stir…………… Maybe I should go back and read my wastebasket mail!!!!!!!
RO: I especially like the RWE quote, this is what I aspire to. Not that I'm a perfectionist (and I regard this as a really significant fault-like quality), but I'm not there yet. I appreciate what you've done here, for the alias.
DB: I was a bit shocked – not to mention quite honored – to see my thoughts included in your "best of soleil" message. Thanks for the smile you bought to my face. P.S. feel free to quote me in the next rev of your book ….
AW: thank you! 🙂
These were but the immediate responses. More continued to arrive over the afternoon and throughout the evening. When I came into work the next morning, I was literally overwhelmed to tears as I realized the true extent, and the true power, of a few positive thoughts to drive away darkness. A few minutes later, I wrote and sent this message to the whole group:
The Power of Thoughts and Words
It is often quite easy to believe that as a single person, you are quite powerless. It is also easy to believe that mere words are powerless. Yesterday’s events on this alias demonstrate otherwise.
When fires began to flare yesterday, I sent a message with a few items I’d collected from soleil over the years to try turning negative energy into positive energy. About two dozen people responded back to me afterwards, including one person who had “flames issuing from my fingertips as I typed,” acknowledging their own energy inversion.
This morning I realized the true extent of this inversion.
I looked at the office locations of all the respondents, and was amazed at the diversity: they were spread across buildings 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 16, 18, 24, 25, 26, RedWest A, RedWest B, RedWest D, Northrup, and Bellevue Place. In addition, one response came from Australia. Four campus locations and two continents. I suspect the list of those that felt the inversion but did not respond spans an even greater area.
“So what?” you might ask.
Yesterday’s events began with a single piece of email which resulted in a great deal of negative feelings. No matter what you want to admit, such feelings do not stay inside us! We carry those feelings into our work which ultimately means that we carry those feelings into other human relationships. We might be talking to a customer (another human being), having a meeting with co-workers (human beings), writing a report or specification (to be read by human beings), writing code (to be used by human beings), or we might be writing email (to be especially read by human beings).
When we carry negative feelings and bitterness into our day’s activities, we invariably amplify that negativity. You might become frustrated with a customer and in turn made that customer angry. That person might then carry the negative feelings into their work and relationships. Perhaps you become bitter in a meeting and get upset at someone else, and in turn they got upset at others in a later meeting. You might introduce bugs into your code because you were distracted, later causing increased stress as the product slips and ship-mode drags on for months. Your writing might reflect your anger or pessimism, interfering with your ability to communicate. And we all know how easy it is to let the negative feelings erupt in email, which has immediate power in affecting possibly hundreds of other people.
As all our work ultimately involves human contact, it doesn’t take very long for one negative thought to propagate through the entire company and into other companies. By harboring negativity we propagate negativity.
Yet it does not stop there. We carry it home. You might get into an argument with your spouse, which could be the catalyst for a divorce (ironically, this was what the original negative words yesterday was trying to prevent). You might get upset at your children, missing critical opportunities to encourage their education and growth. Perhaps you are grumpy when people call you on the phone, or you push off the child that comes to your door selling cookies in order that they have meaningful activities instead of joining street gangs. You’re negativity could be the last push that is needed to send that child back to the gangs, which ultimately turns into the even greater negativity of violence and killing.
You might also carry your negative feelings to bed. Having not rested well, you awake tired and grumpy, thus carrying the negativity into another day and to possibly hundreds of more people. They continue to pass it on.
Ultimately you can trace everything that is wrong in the world down to nothing more than how each one of us lives from moment to moment.
Because negativity spreads across the world like a virus.
But so does love.
Consider how the world is a different place when that very first, seemingly insignificant negative feeling is replaced with a positive, loving one.
You might have helped a customer and made them happy (will they not spread the happiness?) Your meetings might turn into a time of joyous laughter. Your writing might communicate your ideas while making people smile. Your code might be bug-free, helping your entire team. Love shines through your email.
When you carry this love home with you, you might find the strength to heal old wounds and strengthen your relationships. You might give a few minutes to your children that makes an enormous difference in their development. You are cheerful on the phone. That three dollar package of cookies you bought from those kids at the door might be the one piece of encouragement that carries them into new and expanding opportunities. You’ll sleep better, and you’ll carry the love and joy through into the next day.
This is the power of a few words, the power of a thought, the power that is inherent in all of us. One decision between anger and love AFFECTS THE WHOLE WORLD.
Always believe that your actions make every difference, no matter how small or insignificant. In fact, when you look at yourself as connected to everything in the universe, you are the ONLY one who CAN make a difference!
How you choose to live is literally the difference between Heaven and Hell, between Good and Evil. Every day you are literally living this archetypal battle.
I believe that all of this boils down to one question to constantly ask yourself: Am I creating joy and love?
I choose joy, and I make the universe a joyful place.