With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

When you arise the morning,
think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive –
to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.
– Marcus Aurelius

It is time for another one of my text-only rambling posts.  Not to complain about mean people, but to address the meanness within myself.  There was an incident this weekend where someone asked me an, in itself, not unreasonable question on one of my videos, but I happened to read it at the wrong time.  Now, bear in mind that I receive a lot of pen-related questions on any given day (think of something between 10-25 YouTube comments, anywhere from between 1-10 emails, and several questions on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter).  I am just a guy doing pen reviews; I do not have a social media team to aggregate, select, and reply to questions for me.  Many questions are highly specific and make sense (“Does this pen post?”), others are more vague (“Can you recommend a pen like the Parker Sonnet, but a bit cheaper?), but they all make sense.  I regularly get questions that have answers that can be answered by Google just as easily as by me (“How much does a Lamy 2000 cost?”), which I find a little frustrating, to be honest; I don’t see the benefit in asking me.  And then there are questions that are, with all due respect, fairly inane.  These are questions of the nature of “Does a broad nib write broader than a fine nib?”, “Can you recommend me 20 modern pens under $20 that have a solid gold ultra-flex nib, a piston-filler, and an 8-9 ml ink capacity?”, or “If you were to buy this pen, but in a purple finish, and with a steel nib instead of gold, and without a clip, would you still like it as much as the gold-nibbed, clipped, black one you reviewed here?”.

Now, when I got this viewer’s question, about whether a given notebook really had the number of pages it was advertised to have, I had just read a slew of inane questions.  That was not the asker’s fault, nor was it my fault.  It was just a coincidence.  I felt a little annoyed and replied something along the lines of, “Do you want me to count the number of pages?  I don’t have time for that.”  The asker replied to my comment and pointed out that there was no need to be condescending.

He was right.

There is no reason to be condescending at all, because the question was reasonable and to the point.  When I realized what I had done, I went back, apologized, and gave a sensible, relatively detailed answer, which the asker commented on as being helpful to him.  That made me happy and it made me feel nice.

I wanted to address this issue for two reasons.  First of all, I am sometimes a bit more concise, some might justfully say curt, than I would like when I am responding to pen-related comments or emails.  Bear in mind that reviewing pens is not my day job, and that I do not make a living by selling them.  That is a diplomatic way of saying that there are 24 hours in a day, even for SBREBrown.  Secondly, and that’s the kicker here, there should never be a reason for me to be impolite, condescending, or mean to people.  Obviously, that does not just apply to me.  After all, “Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me,” in the words of Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  However, it is not always easy to let go of bad feelings or even just simply annoyance after receiving the umptieth comment that asks me whether a Preppy will write just like a Montblanc 149, whether washable blue is always blue, or whether black pens are always bigger than white ones.

Here is the problem, though: I am a popular fountain pen reviewer.  I use the term popular with much reservation, and I can honestly say that I never set out to gain over 29,000 subscribers on YouTube.  Being so popular has given me many benefits, by far the most important one being that I have been allowed to interact with so, so many nice, colourful, interesting, fascinating people over the years.  The downside, though, is that one is in the spotlight a lot.  Crucially, if I say something negative, or in a negative way, that is a public affair.  And it would be very hypocritical to complain about trolls one day, but then be mean or condescending to others the next day.  I am honoured by having such a large following of people who like my work; to be discourteous to them would be unspeakably ugly – and I know I am a better person than that.

So, I have decided to try and be nicer.  I still only have 24 hours in my day, so I still cannot respond to each and every single comment.  The amount of inane comments will not change.  However, it is not receiving those kinds of comments that is the issue; the true issue is how to deal with them.  Therefore, I am working on brushing off those things more easily, so that they will not distract me and I can focus on trying to help people who really desire my help.

At the end of the day, we have to make a decision: will we deal with frustrations in anger, by lashing out, or will we try to utilize the “bad things” to help us work on ourselves and help others.  I remembered a quote from the Abbot Lode van Hecke of the monastery or Orval: “To be an adult, means being able to deal with frustrations without being a frustrated person.”  Those are wise words I intend to apply to my life more.

In the meanwhile, feel free to ask me anything you like; I promise I will try to be nice.  And of course, if I have been mean or curt to you, then I do apologize: that was never my intention!

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  • Songyi Yuan

    That’s very responsible for you to admit, Stephen. Thank you.

    People do hold your opinions to a special light, and many don’t understand your role as a reviewer is barely more than a hobby and that you dedicate your time for the benefit of others. I think how you realized your reaction and how you corrected it towards the commenter was very mature.

    Kudos to you, and I look forward to your next installment!

    • sbrebrown

      Thank you!

  • Ronald B

    Maybe it’s time to get Mr. Cockfield’s help to answer inane questions? 😉

    • sbrebrown

      Haha, that is an option, I suppose :-).

  • Anzan Hoshin Roshi

    Stephen, here is a typo: “to be condescending it all”. You can erase this comment.

    • sbrebrown

      Thank you, I’ve corrected it!

  • ashokdad

    This is an inspiring blog post. I plan to try to learn more about Abbot Lode von Hecke and to try to emulate your goal of trying to be consistently courteous. Thanks for taking the time to compose and share this thoughtful blog entry.

    • sbrebrown

      There’s a nice documentary on him on YouTube, but it’s in Dutch, unfortunately.

  • Joe Perry

    We written, and I agree with you.

    “Are black pens always bigger than white pens?”


  • Joanna Mei

    This post is such a necessary one, so thank you for writing it. I think sometimes people forget there’s a real human being behind the keyboard and not a robot. And sometimes you just go through the questions feeling like a robot, but forgetting you’re a human being who needs to take care of your emotional health.

    I think laughter is a great type of medicine. Otherwise, just being aware of yourself. And being aware that there are people out there who just say what’s on their mind without processing or filtering.

    Keep doing what you’re doing! Your ARE popular and for good reason. 🙂

    • sbrebrown

      Thank you, I appreciate the kind words.

  • Denise

    Nice introspection there. And I loved the inane questions bit; and now I need to know whether black pens are really always bigger than white ones! :O

    • Marty Dogwood

      I dunno. Re; “Are black pens bigger”. (…than white ones). Hmm… I’m still trying to figure out why gold nibs are made of gold and steel nibs are not. One trick you may wish to try on a white pen is wrap it in black (“electricians”) vinyl tape to change it’s diameter.

  • Charlie Liu

    Great blog you have here!!! Please keep the good work!!! It is thoughtful with good intent… Not that make me become addict to getting more fountain pen.. ha ha.

  • Marty Dogwood

    Steve. Well said. Unlike mechanical things such as pens that more or less can be quantified using recognized parameters, people, as you already know, much harder to figure out. Keeping with the comparison, very seldom has a pen come close or exceeded a level of vexation folks have induced in me.

    I hear you and carry on. Pretty safe bet the crazies will be, (carrying on) too. Very much enjoy your style and great reviews.

  • Ted

    I love the quote about dealing with frustration without becoming a frustrated person. Very Zen, too! Blessings.

  • Vaibhav Mehandiratta

    you are great

  • Uniotter

    Everyone makes mistakes, it’s how you handle the mistakes which illustrate the kind of person you are. (Or the degree to which you’ve evolved, as Eckhart Tolle would say. 🙂 ) Thanks for your thoughtful post…..it’s good to reflect on these things and why you’re more than just a fountain pen reviewer to many.