Monday, 13 July 2015

Be The Change

I have noticed recently that it is the height of fashion to be offended.

It seems that if everybody is not catering to your every whim, you have every right to be angry about it. To write about it. To declare to everyone that you are offended. To erase the oh-so-offensive person from your life. 

I have seen people write Facebook statuses: 'anyone who expresses the opinion that [insert opinion here] will be deleted.' 

Seriously? Is that what you do in real life? I happen to know that I disagree, on a few fairly hefty subjects, with my grandparents. Would that be good reason to tell them that I don't think that we should spend time together any more? The fact that they are all round brilliant people, that they make me laugh and they send my self-esteem through the roof is not enough if they do not one hundred per cent agree with everything that I believe in? 

I understand that it may be slightly different if it's a girl you went to Primary School with and haven't actually seen for twenty years, but still. I imagine that even if she doesn't agree with every single one of your strong opinions it doesn't mean that she's a nasty person. That she deserves to notice that you deleted her from your life without any explanation. 

I did actually have a moment of doubt myself recently. A friend put a status declaring that he was angry about gay marriage being legalised in America. I read it to my mum and her boyfriend, shocked and horrified. Not so much that he had a different opinion from me, but that he had felt a need to post it at the height of the majority's excitement. I told my mum and her boyfriend that I wasn't sure what to do about it. They said, quite rightly, do nothing. 

I sat and thought about it. Of course. I think that if I had an opinion that well and truly went against the majority I probably wouldn't choose that moment to share it. But that doesn't mean that I have to do anything about his opinion. I read his reasons, I thought about them, I hugely disagreed with them. 

And then I accepted it. 

It's okay that we have different opinions. Because a lot of the time, the rest of the things that he posts make me smile. He's a nice person. We're not good friends, I don't see him ever, and will never see him again. (He was a random add after an evening sat next to each other in the library in 2010. We all have them.) But actually the thought of not following his life any more- not hearing about his adventures and knowing what he's doing now, made me feel quite sad. 

I've read a lot of posts that say that Facebook stops us communicating in  real life. There is always- without exception- somebody that writes on Father's Day- 'don't do your dad a Facebook status this year- tell him in real life.' 

Believe it or not- I'd say most people do both. 

In my house, at least, we don't all search for old photos, think carefully about what we want to say to the world about our dad, post it for everyone to see, and then sit with him at lunch and fail to acknowledge the special day. He does still, of course, get a card and a present and a lunch and a hug. Facebook is just an extra way to celebrate.

Equally, I don't believe that Facebook stops us communicating in real life to old friends, either. 

If I didn't have Facebook there's no way I would still be in  contact with that random lad that I met in the library five years ago. I probably wouldn't be in contact with people that I lived with for four months in France. I wouldn't know what my closest friends from university were doing- I know that, because some of them don't have Facebook and I haven't spoken to them for five years. 

I appreciate that maybe pre-internet we would have written letters, or used the home phone to call them. But since university I have lived in eleven different cities. I have had close friends in every one of those cities. If I had to phone and write letters to keep up with all of them I wouldn't be able to hold down a full time job. 

And actually I tend to care about everyone I meet. If it were up to me I would speak to everyone that I've ever met every day. I love that I can keep up with everyone's weddings and babies, their new jobs and travels- it is amazing that I know that my old neighbour's niece was born last week. 

I have, desperately sadly, also managed to offend people with my endlessly happy and positive blog posts. There are only a couple of incidents of this- as far as I know- but they were so unintended I cannot even begin to explain. 

I speak to people almost every day that are offended by what I do as a job. Last year, when I was working at The Lion King, somebody told me that they thought that my job was despicable, disgustingly unethical. The next day I was at a wedding and mentioned that this had happened. You can imagine the reaction of the make up artist when my answer to 'oh my goodness, what on earth do you do?!' was 'work in a Disney merchandise shop.' 

In my current job people are offended because I don't teach French to adults, which is really what they need and it's highly inconvenient that that's not what I do. I'd make a killing if I did decide to do that because that's what's needed round here. 

(I wouldn't, because I can't speak French. It would be like when Joey from Friends tries to teach dance.) 

Actually what I find offensive is that everybody thinks that their opinion is necessary. 

I believe that the internet has given us all a false sense of importance. My mum's opinion on what I do for a job means the whole world to me. If she was disgusted with me then ohmygoodness I just wouldn't be doing it. That woman that approached me at The Lion King to tell me she thought my job was disgusting really didn't need to tell me that. Why does she think I would care about her opinion? Does she think I would go and hand my notice in there and then because of her opinion? I'm sure her opinion is valued somewhere in her world. At her own job. With her own family. But not for me. Especially as she didn't even have a ticket. She had come in to the theatre precisely to tell me her opinion on selling merchandise. I genuinely don't care what she thinks, and I didn't go and hand in my  notice. 

But it doesn't mean that I didn't go and cry on my break, and then proceed to think about it for the next fifteen months. 

So all she succeeded in doing was ruining my day. 

Same as these outrageous trolls on the internet. I can't even believe that they exist. Have you ever seen the feature on Jimmy Kimmel Live where he has celebrities read out the nasty tweets that they have received? The feature itself is brilliant in that it is a reminder that what is typed into the keyboard is received by an actual human being, and it shows how ridiculous and unfounded these mean messages are, but the fact that it can exist is just the most outrageous thing I've ever heard. 

Does the middle aged woman from Texas really think that Gwyneth Paltrow cares about her opinion on her nose? Does the teenager from New York think that Lena Dunham cares what he thinks of her body? 

Because neither of them actually care about those individuals' opinions. But I imagine they were fairly hurt that somebody had taken the time to write and send them. 

Somebody wrote a nasty message on one of my blog posts once. Which I know comes with the territory, and is something that I had been ready for. This person was a friend of a friend, clearly unhinged, has a bit of a reputation, not somebody that I will ever meet. 

But it doesn't mean that I wasn't gutted. 

It seems to me that because everybody thinks that they are entitled to an opinion on everything, even things they know nothing about, even things that nobody cares for their thoughts on, nastiness is being accepted just now. 

It's something to expect if you're out there, doing something, trying to make a difference, trying your best. 

I absolutely disagree.  I think if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. 

There's the age old saying that you shouldn't judge a person until you've walked a mile in their shoes. At the moment it's been rewritten and is being shared left, right and centre on the internet using far more dramatic language along the lines of: you have no idea of the battles I'm facing, I use a smile to cover it but it's the people who smile the most that are hiding the biggest problems. Something like that. 

I fear that even that now, is being shared as a way of saying 'I'm far worse off than you, just consider that when you're with me, won't you?' 

I think that what we need to remember is that we are all facing battles that others don't know about. Every single one of us. So instead of harping on about the battles that we are facing, perhaps we ought to be thinking that with every single person that we meet. 

Maybe we didn't get the best waitress service today because she had horrendous news on her way into work. Maybe that driver didn't say thank you when you let him out because he's just driven away from his marriage. Maybe you haven't heard from that friend for a while because they're under so much stress at work. 

This is me telling the world that I am trying my best. I am trying to be the best friend, sister, daughter, colleague, granddaughter, employee, auntie and girlfriend that I can be. I'm trying to keep everyone happy. 

Chances are I am thinking of you every day. Every time I sneeze I think of the girl from secondary school who used to say 'bless-you-me' and then laugh her head off. I've been meaning to message her for ages to see how she is but never actually get round to it. Every time we have a child in work with the same name as your child, I think of you. And I think that I must message you to see how he's getting on, but then I get caught up in life and never quite get round to it. Almost every day I remember that it's the birthday of somebody I know- I have a weird memory for birthdays- but once again the year has gone by and I forgot to ask for their latest address, so it's just another online greeting for them. 

I've spoken to a lot of people about this lately. The pressure of being everything to everyone when you have so many people in your life- and everyone finds it hard.  My dad told me that it's part of being an adult. He has friends that he's desperate to see, but the time just goes. My best friends listed the people that they wish that they could find the time to see, call, message. 

But I wanted you to know. I wanted you to know that we all feel the pressure to be wonderful to everyone, to never snap, never forget to send a card, to be the thoughtful one, the helpful one, the kind one. To always see everything from everyone's point of view. And that we are all doing our best. 

So stop worrying so much.

Accept that other people are doing their best too- try not to get frustrated if you don't hear from them the second that your baby is born: they've got their own stuff to deal with. Don't complain the second something doesn't go your way- the person behind it is spinning a lot of plates, and it was yours that fell this time. That's not your fault but neither is it really theirs. Don't be offended if somebody doesn't have the same opinion as you- it's okay to disagree and move on. Even from the big things. Don't voice your opinion unless it's somehow going to make a positive impact. We don't need any more negativity just now. I recently saw a friend's status (distant friend- wouldn't be in touch were it not for the internet) that said 'be the change.' I thought it was brilliant. That doesn't mean end wars, or give up your job and go and volunteer, it means be nice. Think about how you're going to affect people with your actions. Be empathetic. Try and understand. And for goodness sake don't delete people from your life because you didn't understand them. What a huge loss for both of you. 

And remember that your best is enough. 

You're doing brilliantly.  

At least I think so. 

Even I don't quite get round to telling you often enough. 

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