At the end of every semester at Columbia Business School, there is a sudden rise in the number of students who resent me. What's more remarkable is that they say it straight to my face – in fact, they share it with me in writing. I get several emails that start like this: "Prof. Wadhwa, I resent you..."
Well, let me add more texture to the story. At the end of the semester, each student has to submit two blogs in our online platform. Sometimes, students like to send their blogs to me by email since they aren't sure if the blog got loaded online. Some of them then send me an email which typically reads, "Prof. Wadhwa, I resent you my blog#1 and also posted it online".
Whew! They don't actually resent me. By skipping the hyphen, they transform their innocuous act of re-sending a document into a gut-wrenching expression of resentment. I don't read my emails in a linear fashion (do you?). Instead, my eyes dance all over the email to look for key words and phrases that will give me a quick sense of what the note is about. So what jumps out at me in these emails is "I resent you". These words pack an emotional punch, and my heart then misses a beat or two before I soak in the larger context of the note. I mentally insert the hyphen that has been cruelly, though unconsciously, omitted, and peace is restored.
What's the moral of this story? Pay attention to small details...you never know where in your life seemingly inconsequential departures from precision could bring someone great pain and suffering. And recognize that what you mean to say to someone may be very different from what they hear. So seek to step into their shoes and phrase things in a way that will get your message across the way you intended to.
And never, ever, skip your hyphens. Else you'll get a note from me saying, "I resent you my blog on Why Everyone Resents Me."