This was originally posted/written for my Facebook account. Despite the lack-of-Tesla-ness in it, it was partly prompted by several Tesla-prompted comments made by people who had--for years-- ignored everything else about me. So. Here it is on my Tesla blog because I bet some of you have had similar experiences.
It's been a while since I stepped up onto my Facebook soapbox but two trends have caught my attention and I'd like to draw yours to them as well. Perhaps with greater transparency we-- the collective "we", not the royal one-- can endeavor to improve communication within our own circles for the betterment of all. If I thought anyone reading this were "guilty" of these things they'd not have opportunity to read this for long (as my tolerance is very low) but rather I'm trying to encourage you to help me purge these as best we can. For the record, I don't approach this as a master of the language arts and I'm probably guilty of both these things either due to time, attention, bad recollection or laziness. I do claim, however, that it is the exception and not the rule.
This is long... so click on through to get to the meat.
The old saying "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" has become hopelessly old-fashioned in the age of social media. Clearly, we're not encumbered by any misgivings about pounding out a quick snarky remark or passive-aggressive critique whenever we feel someone has opened themselves up for it or we have anger/frustration we need to aim at someone/thing. I certainly have attempted funny quips and called a "spade" a spade when I felt it was necessary. We all have, I think. Granted, many of those comments and exchanges are misconstrued because of the lack of inflection in our fonts or our failure to "LOL" or "ha" or smiley face after we've ripped on a friend. No, that's all old news at this point. I only bring it up to distinguish it from the trend I'm even more annoyed by.
The Cheap Shots are the ones that exist in a VACUUM of comments. Chances are that if you're interacting with your friends and family on a regular basis the exchanges are predominantly POSITIVE-- why bother otherwise?? Those people who are in the center of your social interactions know you well enough to "read between the lines" of your posts and one-liners to know you mean no harm or foul. If you're truly on good terms the few speed bumps are greatly outnumbered by "Likes" and other positive comments. You're engaged. The friendship is active and alive. Kidding around might be misunderstood now and then but it isn't mistaken for bitterness, envy, or mean-spiritedness. Lord knows I kid around a lot and get in political/social discussions, but only in isolation could it be thought of as mean-- I'm pretty naturally "interactive" and my friends get greater doses of positive than anything else.
It's the "Others" you have to look out for. A Friend Request was accepted or sent some time in the deep past-- so long you've probably forgotten who started it-- and they've quietly lurked. You might have tried to start conversations and maybe commented on their pictures or clicked a Like here or there... but these people have been in full stealth mode. For years they've been out there... without a peep. Without any acknowledgement that you exist. They've ignored your cute kid pictures, your wedding anniversaries, trips-- whatever, without so much as one click on a "Like" or a single congratulations. Then suddenly, WHAM!! A negative or critical comment appears! Out of the blue they have some disparaging remark to share or judgement to pass over you. Misdirected anger? Jealousy? Envy? Political disagreement? Bad day at the office? Does it matter?? You don't get to just be a bastard and not a friend!
I've slowly come to the realization that these "phantom friends" should be purged. There isn't a scorecard or tally marks being kept, but you know the people on your lists/groups who are like this. Before you ditch them, try to salvage whatever the initial "attraction" was and see if they'll engage in at least a rebuttal and try to move on... but if not, or if the behavior continues, get rid of them. How would you treat someone from your past if they appeared on your doorstep and the first thing they said was something spiteful? Slam the door-- if not a stronger reaction! You wouldn't accept behavior like that in person so don't accept it on social media. Negative comments in a vacuum of positive ones aren't the hallmarks of an actual "friend".
Oh where, oh where, has the small talk gone?
This is NOT a Facebook thing, per se. Rather this is for all of you with children (especially teenagers) or those of you who tend to get too self-absorbed in your phones. I am under no illusion that I am the most fascinating person on the planet nor do I claim or believe myself to be the best-informed, best-traveled, or most interesting. I think I do pretty well in all those categories, in addition to being pretty knowledgeable and experienced in everything from having kids, adoption, and DIY on home and cars... In other words, I can talk a wide variety of topics and be reasonably fluent-- not only that, by my wife completely "rocks" any room she's in and she's usually at my side and way more interesting than I am. Anyway, I'm also curious... and that's where things break down.
Let me explain by giving you an example from a recent engagement party we were at. It was a large party and, due to the nature of the "opposing team's" family, an overwhelming number of the people there were lawyers or otherwise involved in that kind of work. In fact, there was a large amount of Kevin Bacon-esque connections formed so that this teeming mass of wealthy young people all kind of knew each other one way or the other. As is typical in these kind of scenarios, food was abundant and conversation groups dynamic as everyone mixed about. Alice and I stuck mostly together (but not always) and when a more formal meal was to be served we found ourselves anchoring a table of successful Manhatten lawyers-- the "old married couple with kids" being our main distinction.
Being curious, we both prompted these ambitious people to tell us about themselves once the introductions were done. After all, big city law firms are such a part of television and movie fantasy worlds that we were curious how realistic were their lives being portrayed. Their lifestyles really could not be farther from ours and we wanted to know all about their work and where they lived, etc. The meal progressed through a couple courses and at each lull in conversation we'd nudge the silence away with follow up questions or engage with another young lawyer sitting there. I can't remember how long we were at the table but it must have been a good 30-45 minutes before more music and dancing lured everyone back to their feet. At the end of all this, I realized that not once-- not ever-- had we been questioned about anything we did other than our names. Not a single "what do you do?" or "how old are your children?" What?
Again, I don't claim to be a great conversationalist or person of great intellect. But I do think anyone investing in a conversation is entitled to receiving conversation back. We walked away from that table with all sorts of new-found facts and wisdom from the young troops in New York City law... but they walked away with nothing. They short-changed themselves the opportunity (and yes, that's what it was) to learn about Pittsburgh or home ownership or having kids or places we'd been or...etc. etc. We made out with riches of information and they let us steal it for NOTHING! There was no curiousity, no questions, no challenges or any of the give-and-take of adult conversation. I love a good lively political or social debate and these kids were primed for it multiple times but instead of parry and thrust they were content with one-sided jousting!
Teach your children how to earn information from others. Teach them to be curious. Teach them to ask questions. Teach them that every person they meet has a story, a dream, a database of knowledge, a collection of skills, a bank of hard-gained wisdom... and it is there, LITERALLY, for the asking. Don't accept that they can just quietly sit by and surrender THEIR being for free without getting something in return. Don't let them just be interrogated, teach them to engage and interact. You may never get another chance to learn from someone else.
I'm tired of the quiet tables. I'm tired of silent car rides. Unreturned emails. Misplaced chat windows. I don't have any great desire to impart more of myself on this world, but I do want to explore other people and in having them probe me, perhaps find that we can enrich EACH OTHER. Otherwise, this is just going to be a lot of work for me, no enjoyment for you, and in the end the only one who ever learns something new... will be me.