I read an Italian short story about a million years ago about a town (country? geographical location) where people wore different flowers on their lapel to signify various things. In that story, the meanings had largely to do with relationships and sexual interactions. One flower, for instance, meant that the wearer was looking for friendship; one meant love; one meant sex. It seemed to me that, if one could trust people to be open and honest, it’d be a good system indeed. Having said that, if one could trust people to be open and honest, a large proportion of the world’s problems would disappear… So maybe I ought not to hold my breath.
I’ve been dearly wishing lately for something similar-but-different. It’s remarkably easy in these days of internetting to be in constant interaction with people we’re not actually in contact with. People whose only window into our world consists of what we post or message; which, for private people or people who do their hurting in private, may not come anywhere close to reflecting their physical, mental or emotional state. People who don’t get a chance to look at our expressions, make their own opinion about the sort of day we’re having, and modulate their behaviour accordingly. People about whom we don’t get a chance to make the same evaluation, either.
Best case scenario, we end up taking each other at face value without our faces actually coming into it. This would work if our actions and reactions were entirely independent of our feelings. Problem is, they’re not. Even if they could be, I’m not entirely sure that they should. If we take away the emotional component of human interactions, then are we still having human interactions? Would they be Vulcan interactions? I’m not sure.
What I’m sure of, is that for most of us there are days when we particularly do not need to get kicked in the teeth; days when behaviours we could normally tolerate or brush off end up hitting us badly because of how we already feel, how things have been for us, and sundry other life issues. None of that is visible from the ‘net unless we announce it.
I know some folks who are good at that: anything that happens to them gets broadcast far and wide. I am personally not one of those people. I’m unlikely to advertise major life events on social media, particularly if they’re bad. I’m also very unlikely to broadcast my mood. And as for the chances of me saying that I don’t need to get any grief today, because today is a bad day, because way too much shit has come my way and I’ve juggled it as long as I goddamn could but it just kept coming and I started dropping it and now I’m drowning…. That’s just not gonna happen.
Maybe it’s my own fault – ok, it’s definitely my own fault for creating the social media community I find myself in, but I also doubt that, if I tried it, it’d be well received. And anyway that would require me to be brave enough to be that vulnerable in public, which I’m not, and that’s that.
The problem is that the alternative is increasingly looking worse. The last six months of so have been bloody in my “community.” Between politics and life events and even more politics, a lot of people are spending a lot of their time at the end of their tethers. Problem is, this isn’t a known, advertised fact. Their external lives carry on regardless – which is fine, which is normal, because the universe doesn’t stop just because you’re hurting. But people around them carry on regardless too, and that’s where the problems lay.
I’ve been in situation where I’ve had two people message me because they were deeply upset or triggered about some political event, only to see them minutes later end up in a bloody public argument with each other. Neither of them aware of the fact that they caught each other on a bad day. Neither of them aware of the fact that the other one was hurting, or how badly. Neither of them aware of the fact that what they were doing was exacerbating that hurt, because there’s nothing like in-house warring on a day when you’re already struggling to hold your shit together. Neither of them able to say the right thing to make it all better, or at least to park it or make it all go away in a way that wouldn’t wreck their relationship, because they just didn’t have it in them at that particular moment. Both of them judging the other based on the amount of hurt they inflicted in the moment, even though that hurt might have been at least partly unintentional. Hurt people hurting hurt people. Worse than that: good but hurting people hurting good but hurting people.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” said Maclaren or Plato or Meme Generator. Problem is that we forget, particularly when we’re fighting a hard battle too. I wish there was someway of broadcasting that today is not a good day on social media, in the same way that our faces and postures do it in real life. A grey cloud for sadness, a teardrop for sorrow, a balloon with a broken string for existential dread, anything. I’d settle. I realise it’s the most ridiculous idea in the world, but the alternative doesn’t seem clever either.