Thursday, April 28, 2005

Black and white

Ever notice how friends will jump on the bandwagon and back you up when you tell them someone you know is being nasty to you? They don't need to know the details because they know you. But do they really know you? The real you? Probably not.

In this world of faster communications, email, instant messages, chat rooms, and the Internet, one of the biggest problems is perception. Two people can read the same message and see totally different meanings. One person writes in a calm and collected way. The other person reads it and sees anger and recrimination. Without little smiley faces and stage directions (like HUGS, LOL, JUST KIDDING, etc.) people read into what you write what they're feeling. If they're having a bad day, nothing you say is coming to come out friendly or even nice.

For instance:
An English professor wrote the words, "woman without her man is nothing" on the blackboard and directed the students to punctuate it correctly.
The men wrote: "Woman, without her man, is nothing."
The women wrote: "Woman! Without her, man is nothing."

Communication problems and differences are not just gender related. They crop up between man and man and woman and woman all the time. It's always about perception.

I had a run-in with a friend this week. She took exception to me writing about our conversations, emails and discussions on my journal because I had not asked her permission first. I have always written what matters to me, what affects me, and what I think. After all, it's my journal. The situation escalated until she attacked me publicly on my journal in comments and I responded calmly and logically to her rants. Things escalated further when she ranted at me for making the situation public. I didn't mention any names and no one would have known it involved her had she not put it out there, but she blamed me for holding her up to public ridicule and said anyone could go thru my friends list and figure out it was her. I explained that most people don't prowl through my friends list trying to figure out who I'm talking about. She responded with, "I don't do that." I had to smile. I was speaking generally and she considered it an attack on her.

The thing is, she does do that. She has followed me to other communities on many occasions and casually mentions the information in an email as if I had told her. One thing about being completely open is that you don't have to worry about remembering what you told different people. I tell everyone the same thing. And I have learned from bitter experience not to tell her everything. After all, that's why I still keep a paper journal, so I can keep some thoughts to myself.

I eventually screened the comments so that no one could see her melt down but she failed to recognize that. Very few hours later she made a tearful post in her journal saying that because of a certain situation she was going to take time off from writing in her journal and that she didn't want to talk about it. Two days later I told her she was being childish and doing exactly what she had criticized so many other people for doing -- creating drama and talking about not writing in her journal and/or deleting journals, both of which she did. So she wrote another post to clarify things and a mutual friend let her have it between the eyes about her ignoring them and treating her badly. She jumped right back at the other person, carrying on an argument in public, losing her cool and generally making an ass of herself. When the other person suggested screening the comments, she said she didn't know how (uh huh) and that she preferred to live her life in the public eye without editing (right). Several people jumped on the bandwagon with a variety of nasty comments and how they understood how she felt and what she was going through and that she didn't need to explain herself to anyone who knew her. They were right.

She doesn't have to explain herself to anyone who knows her, but they don't know her. They know the person she has created online and not the real her. But I know her intimately. I've spent lots of time with her up close and personal. Still, you have to admire people who are willing to run to a friend's rescue, even though they are not really friends but merely acquaintances.

Friend is a word that is used as indiscriminately and love and few people really know what it means. It is doubtful any of them would be willing to throw themselves between her and danger and give their lives for her, and that is the definition of a friend. I'd push someone out of the way or help someone in danger, but there are few people I'd give my life for. I enjoy living it a whole lot.

Anyway, the main point of this post is to draw attention to how we treat people and what we really do and do not know about them. It is so easy to defend someone you think is a friend and whom you believe to be mistreated, but next time you jump to someone's defense, take a little time and ask yourself if you really know the whole truth. If you don't, step back, ask some questions, or, better yet, stay out of it. You may be defending the wrong person. After all, what do you really know about them from personal experience and observation? Do you know only what you read in their journals or what they've told you? Do you really know them at all?

Think about it.

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