The version of me you created in your mind is not my responsibility.
Um, hello. Yes.
I was halfway to my Cricut and T shirt press with this quote and then realized maybe I should reel it in. Which doesn’t mean it won’t end up on a t shirt, coming to a pretend store soon.
I cannot pinpoint why I’ve been so annoyed with the state of relations these days. I just know I’m becoming exhausted, concerned, disillusioned (insert your own adjective) on what I seem to constantly hear and see. The part where it is no longer okay to disagree with someone without unleashing a parade of horrible words to reinforce the fact that you disagree. The part where my kids, who are witnesses to this, will throw out an -ism, an -ist, a -phobic for anything we say or believe that doesn’t match what they say or believe.
What I am seeing is that, as a society, we have latched on to being the ‘most’ or being ‘more than.’ Who has the most drama, who has more stories of the trenches, who is the most right, who is more wrong. Extra points if you are also the loudest or most in tune with your caps lock button.
A few years ago, this was a kid thing. Or at least a my kid thing. We watched, in Zoe’s middle school years, as her circle of friends slowly began to constantly try to outdo each other. Any condition, life event, diagnosis or repressed memory verbalized by one of the group equaled a round of ‘oh, yeah, me too…that happened to me…it was worse for me, so I get it’ from the others. It increased and morphed into not only outdoing each other, but also isolated themselves from anyone who wasn’t in line with sympathy and agreement.
Rich and I were shocked to learn that we were abusive, unsupportive, living in poverty and creating an environment unfit for children and certainly unavailable for visitors. None of which was true – except that was the version being shared by Zoe in an attempt to be more, to gain more, to have suffered more.
Once we chalked it up teen-relations 101, we felt better (we had been fairly certain we’d never abused anybody, but seeing it in your child’s texts makes you question yourself). That relief was later erased by the realization that, likely, our kids’ friends’ parents were also reading their texts from our children and, therefore, may be questioning our character – much like we were questioning theirs from the return texts. We sort of confirmed this by the lack of parental responses to our attempts to reach out – to this day, we literally don’t know even one of Zoe’s friends’ parents. And we barely know her friends. Nothing more than names and an occasional glance as she purposely shields them from the reality of what is really going on in our very kid-friendly, goofy, loving home. Lest she becomes less. Lest the looks of ‘poor you’ or the whispers of ‘we’re here if you need us’ or the confirmations of ‘you’re absolutely right’ go away.
When I look at social media, it is very obvious that nothing is about socializing anymore. It is about being able to use as many exclamation points as possible and posting pasted rants and supporting every possible cause (did you know today was National Period Day? Shouldn’t that really be 3-5 days that cover different levels of celebration?) and making sure the cyber verse knows that you are the most dedicated, the most convicted, the most misunderstood and, the critical one, the most right.
At 48, I pretty much ignore it. I have a very toned scroll thumb. I understand the actual non-importance of cyber likes, laughs or prayer hands. But for teenagers, social media is their life as it’s been in their life since birth. It’s their source for all things (way, way, way too many things) – even in our house, where the internet and social media are strictly limited. They’ve still spent years watching the loud get louder. They’ve spent years learning that the more you spew, the righter you are. They’ve spent years developing the belief that if you don’t agree with someone, there is another someone ready to tell you why this disagreement is likely due to someone else’s moral lapses. They’ve spent years reading about how you can be anything that the internet tells you that you can be.
And now they are watching grown adults go off the dang deep end in an effort to prove all of this to be true. And because of that, they do form mental versions of people, including themselves, that aren’t even close to true. And grown adults confirm this is okay by hiding behind their keyboards making accusations and assumptions, jumping from one conclusion to another, never bothering to verify the truthiness, and hurling insults that are not only meant to crush, but are also generally not even even relevant. That’s what our kids are seeing – on the internet, on television, in the newspaper. Just kidding, I’m not sure my kids have ever actually seen a newspaper. Ugh.
We have a community yard sale Facebook page here in the ‘Ville – a simple sight for people to post a picture, a price and a pick up location. Yet at least once a day there is a melee of hate so harsh that I can’t decide if I should leave the site forever or grab a box of popcorn and settle in for the next round. Which, I realize, is part of the problem – I kind of want to settle in.
Last week, it was a woman selling elderberry syrup. Two pictures, one of the syrups and one of her standing near the syrups. Three comments in someone suggested she take a more flattering photo. Which, yeah, seriously, come again? And so it began, line after line of people defending the woman (who evidently did have a disability) and destroying the suggester. By the end of the post, the person who made the comment had been accused of being a racist, a liberal (well a libtard), discriminating, phobic, on drugs and a high school drop out. Was the comment okay? No. Were there some some rather terrible attempts at character assassinations in order to point it out? Yes. Because simply pulling the person virtually aside and saying ‘that’s not cool, you should delete that’ wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying. If you don’t take the hero shot publicly, is it really a hero shot?
Today, same site, someone put a Halloween Costume up for sale, listed as a Plus Sized, Native American costume. And off we went…comment after comment about using the words plus sized and Native American. More accusations – from discrimination to fat shaming and all the way to being a radical leftist until finally, finally someone pointed out that they were, in fact, Native America and it did not bother them at all. Oh, okay….so everyone was just throwing out verbal bombs with no real life experience?
Side note – I now have no idea how to market my Pilgrim Hat door hanger.
I know (or just really, really, really hope) the pendulum will swing back someday. That we will find ourselves enabled to have opinions without consequences. That we can sit on different sides of the aisle without building an electric fence between us. That not understanding someone else’s life or struggle won’t automatically eliminate us from participation in it. That disagreeing with someone won’t mean having to disagree the loudest in order to prove just how right you are.
My hope is it starts swinging back soon – soon enough for my kids to see that social media doesn’t really have to be a train wreck. To see that people can actually lift each other up. To see that pretending to be ‘more’ or the ‘most’ isn’t really necessary to be a part of a group. To see that talking themselves into a made up reality is pointless and only causes long term confusion. To see that differences are fine and different opinions can really just be a conversation starter, rather than a relationship ender.
I know the old saying – opinions are like assholes.
But that doesn’t mean we have to act like one.
Oh, maybe that’s my t-shirt.