Friend. Unfriend. Follow. Unfollow. Like. Unlike. Socialization…distilled neatly, but so much name calling.
We back ourselves into tight little corners, with the names we use against one another. People now say you are a “pandering liberal,” or a “social justice working idiot,” if you care for children, animals, or your fellow adult human.
A backlash is happening against kindness, and equality. “Politically correct” now means you are inauthentic, easily offended, or a “pussy (meow) who is afraid to speak the truth.” Apparently, the truth is not about kindness, to the authors and perpetuators of these labels; the truth is f#$king mean.
And now, we are in an era of storytelling, where vulnerability is married to fierceness, and Brené Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert are our champions. We are brave and brazen, and done trying to be something we are not. We want our wholeness back, and so we are telling our stories, and cheering each other on—unless we are calling each other “self-indulgent, narcissistic, and self-absorbed.” (The anti-PC movement favors the term “whiny little bitches.”)
Sometimes a story is too real, and it gets tricky. The soft underbelly can be off-putting, and judgment floats in, dressed as discomfort. We turn away, or walk to the shed, and bring back the shears. We hard prune the flowers, or the rot. We make it go away, and if we can’t, then we walk away, throwing names behind us like rose petals.
Most of us, despite our best efforts, continue to elevate stoicism. In the midst of the mess this perpetuates, we are surviving, but we are not free. We are tangled in pretense, though there are other ways.
Let go of the hard edge. Pack it away like a childhood blankie, and begin. Listen, not only to the words of the storyteller, but to the quickening of your own pulse, and the reactions that stir inside of you. Notice—because this is your jury stepping in, and putting on armor.
Learn, to be more objective, softer. Identify your biases, and your judgmental squeaks, and when they wrap their fingers around you, let them fall away like leaves. It sounds like this, inside your head, as soon as you notice you’ve clenched all the most discrete muscles, “Wait, why am I getting tight? Oh I see what’s happening…but this is not my story. I can relax.”
Then, relax. Become unafraid, and softer. Remove the cloak of expertise. Sit right there, in your own body, and quietly, without trying too hard, allow people to be who they are, and tell their own stories. Others are not ours to shape; let this truth tumble you toward freedom.
Cultivate tolerance, and with it, a stronger sense of self. When we stop trying to shape others, we also stop pruning and reshaping ourselves for others. We stop wearing ill-fitting lives that are too diluted, or amplified, or victimized.
We become grounded in our own excellence, and though we are still affected by others’ stories, we no longer need to fuse with them. “Live and let live” comes to life only once we are deeply rooted in our own minds, bodies, and shoes. We clarify that I am me, and you are you, and “we” is a nice lunch shared between us.
I want to bring this back around to the social media framework. At lunch, a man at the next table, if unsympathetic to the plight of refugees, would (most likely) not stand up and call me a “social justice working pussy,” or “un-American,” if he heard me talking about the plight of Syrian refugees. He would likely find a way to cope, or just tune me out, or stew in his intolerance until he could bitch about it with a friend. This is reality.
We need space—at lunch, and on social media. But our posts are literally in one another’s faces. Social media is a tool, for developing our personal and professional brands, connecting, and sharing.
If someone we love is posting in a way that does not resonate for us, or provokes our vulnerabilities in a way that we are not comfortable managing, or we just plain don’t like what is being said, there is beauty in unfriending, unliking, and otherwise doing what I believe is called “taking space.”
From puppies to politics, the interwebs are our oyster, but when we want someone else’s posts to gratify our needs, and our beliefs, we are acting selfish, and juvenile. When we react poorly, because someone has unfollowed our feed, or decided not to “like” us, we are acting egocentric and insecure. Does it sting to be unfollowed? Sure. Is it worth more than a sheepish chuckle? That is up to you.
As for me? If you are in my life, whether via social media or excellent lunch camaraderie, I don’t want you to “like” me indiscriminately. I certainly don’t want, or expect you to BE like me, and if we disagree, dislike, or unfollow one another, I’m probably still your friend.
Illustration “Growth Dumps Comfort” by Jimbob Pellitteri