Etiquette in the age of the Internet

Thoughtless.

Inconsiderate.

Not. Cool.

Are you kidding me?!

Just a few thoughts that run through my mind when cruising my news feed. I’m not talking about politics (though I’m sure those words have been uttered then, too). I am referring to comments on non-controversial issues: life events.

Back when the internet was not the hub of social communication and activity, people used snail mail. They sent cards to people to announce big events. They relied on phone trees to share sad events with family. Nowadays, Facebook is the cornerstone of the new baby and engagement announcement, the condolence book for loss and illness. I see nothing wrong with it. But people need to reserve their comments and reactions for the appropriate time and place.

In the last year I’ve seen my friends’ family members break the big announcement to my friends’ extreme disappointment before they had made it public, I’ve been disgusted as people’s very private illnesses were publicized by “friends,” and I have seen other’s faces rubbed in their mistakes. These things really irk me, and I wonder if people have forgotten common courtesy. Indeed, it makes me wonder: have I, too, been guilty of these inconsiderate behaviors?

Imagine you are pregnant with your first child and have yet to tell those closest to you. Then you tell one of your in-laws. Before you know it, they have become so overwhelmed by joy that they share it with their 500 Facebook friends, including your immediate family who may not have yet known. Effectively, this person has just sent out an announcement card for your big news, without involving you in the least. Everyone is either sharing in their joy or silently miffed they had been left out of the prized group of people who were the first to know. And that is where the problem begins. Hurt feelings, anger, animosity. Not exactly the feelings you hoped to have in the time of your “happy” news.

Fortunately etiquette for sharing big news online can be really simple. Here are some ideas.

General Rule #1: If it ain’t your news, don’t spread it unless you’ve got their permission.

General Rule #2: If the person with news has yet to put the news on their FB page, don’t do it for them by posting your condolence or excitement on your page. Reserve your reactions until (or if) they break their news. Without this self-restraint, effectively you’ve just taken the control or joy out of their unique situation. You’ve just taken the luster out of the goodness, or the privacy out of the badness.

Bad behavior: Rumors of bad behavior do not necessarily tell the whole story. Going online and rubbing a person’s face in it or posting it on your page is a surefire way to make their life worse and possibly impede their healing or learning process. Until you get the background information, keep quiet. Or better yet, remember your word has little to no relevance or importance and perhaps no comment is necessary at all. (Various super-close family members are not included in this remark. Nevertheless, it is still not business to publicize to the world without consent).

Death: Expressing your condolences or sharing your mourning is an important act of processing such unfortunate ocurrences. Announcing it without the family’s permission is a careless act of insensitivity. Remember to think of their pain above yours at all times. No one wants to punctuate sorrow with anger in times like these.

Illness: Many people feel their battle with an illness is not something to be shared. Perhaps they don’t want to be treated differently. Perhaps they don’t want to the be poster-child for every “Support XX disease research” badge you paste on your page. While one may want support, they may not want entire communities to be aware of what they are fighting. Rule of thumb: if they haven’t gone public with it online, respect those boundaries. Illnesses are complicated life events; the sick person’s wishes must be honored.

Baby: News of a pregnancy or news of a birth are exciting tidings indeed. What is NOT exciting is to be so overwhelmed by your joy that you forget about the new parents’ happiness. Posting the news on your page, or posting a congratulatory comment on the parents’ pages, is a great thing to do. While it seems customary to post congratulations on the new parents’ pages before they’ve made the “official” announcement, making it public or sharing the first baby picture on your page could be an over-reach in my opinion. Potentially, you have just taken away their only opportunity to break this fresh news to the world online with the first baby picture (especially if it is their first baby). Best advice: ask yourself if you’d be unhappy if so-and-so did this with your first baby. If the answer is yes or maybe, perhaps it’s best to hold back on your posting impulses.

Engagement: See above. For both these scenarios, I would recommend you A) check the page of the person with the announcement to see if the big news is posted officially yet, and B) keep quiet or issue your congratulations respectively when it is made public. Remember when you got engaged? Now imagine someone else sharing that with the world. Not very thoughtful indeed. Keep a lid on the enthusiasm until it is the right time.

We need to remember that the internet is not a separate sphere from the “real” world. It is merely an extension of it. Hurting a person’s feelings is as real there as it would be in person. While it is easy to sometimes forget, our words and actions matter, whether they are in text on a computer screen or verbalized from our lips. But with a little forethought – or hesitation before we click the “post” or “share” button – we can avoid some of the worst transgressions and maintain happy relationships with those for whom we care most.

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A warm and fuzzy story

Need a pick me up? Read about these generous people who are making some people’s holidays a little brighter and warmer.

Click the Santa… 🙂

 

Civility has its limits

About six months ago, journalist Liz Clancy Lerner asked me, “Can someone ever be too nice?” My short answer was yes, followed by a number of examples that were obvious, like in cases of violence, rape, and other extreme scenarios.

But recently I thought again about how complex civility can really be. There isn’t a fine line that designates when it is appropriate to be unkind and when it is necessary to play nice.

I typically err on the side of being nice or friendly. I do this to “save face.” That’s how I was raised. What will people think? How will it look if…? That was always the question and primary concern in small town Iowa.

As I grew older I began to embrace the side of me that was more forthright and more assertive – which often times made some family members uncomfortable. But it has been an asset to me many times in recent years, and I’m happy now to own it as part of my persona.

Even still, I have trouble putting my new “assertive Jen” mode to meaningful use. It’s great when I’m joking around, and it comes out full force when I am pushed too far. But what about those middle-gray times when it’s not black and white? I still play nice and save face. And I’m left wondering, “Did I react the right way?”

I work near a spot in town where an art event was going on Friday night. Needing to use the restroom, I knew I could just pop into my work building and use the facilities there. As I walked into the lobby, I saw some familiar faces – cleaning people and the security guard “George.” He is an older man, probably in his late sixties. Unlike a few of his security guard predecessors, George has been professional with me when we’ve interacted. Surprised to see me after work hours, he asked what I was up to, told me I looked nice, and then gave me the key to the ladies room. After doing my business, I returned to George’s desk and made a little light chitchat. I didn’t really care to visit much with him, but thought it was the nice thing to do.

George told me how pretty I looked again. I thanked him – I never mind a good complement. Then he said to me, “You should come back here and sit on my lap.” I couldn’t believe my ears. Could this sweet old man really be making a pass at me? I asked him to repeat himself to ensure I had heard him correctly. “I said, ‘You look so good. Why don’t you come back here and sit on my lap?'” he replied, with a chuckle.

Having been one of many women in that building who had received inappropriate looks and advances from previous security guards, I was well-practiced at my response. “George, you should not talk to me that way. I am a married woman and that is inappropriate. Don’t you realize you can lose your job? Other guards have been fired for this sort of thing.”

George replied, “No, no I doubt that. See, a man can say anything he wants to a woman. As long as he isn’t touching or raping her or holding her arms against a wall he isn’t doing anything wrong.”

“ARE YOU F*@&!#$ KIDDING ME?!” I thought. Did this man seriously just say that?! Yes. And he meant it. He seemed shocked that I thought making those sort of advances was inappropriate in the workplace. I replied, “Well, it’s not okay with me. Don’t talk to me that way again.”

So far so good. Assertive. Civil. Firm. To the point.

Then I did something I don’t understand, and it happens all the time. I reverted to a friendly mode, keeping the mood light but serious, and as I walked away smiling I said, “It’s not cool George. Not cool.” I shook my finger at him. “I’d like to see you try to say that with my husband around. He might not be so nice!” George laughed and I left the lobby.

When I arrived back to my husband I was furious. Furious with George, but angry with myself as well. Why hadn’t my anger been so intense when I reacted to the guard? Why did I feel the need to make nice?

It's hard to find relevant images sometimes. I picked this one because I liked it! Source: http://mystylishbump.blogspot.com/2011/04/think-happy-thoughts.html

I do this all the time – try to smooth things over after a confrontation. Even when I know I am standing on firm ground and am in the right, I still try to gloss over the situation with humor or smiles.

Of course, I was proud of myself for asserting that it was wrong to say those things to me. In the past even that response would be difficult to summon. Let me give you a comparison: 7 years ago my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. One of his family members (not his kids or grand-kids thank goodness) said it was his own fault for getting cancer because he didn’t listen to his doctors. I was highly offended and angry. That is not the sort of thing to say when someone has cancer metastasized to their bones.

But what did I do? I said, “Well, I don’t know about that. I’m sure he listened to his doctors.” Then I talked amiably for a few minutes, gave her a hug saying how lovely it was to see her, and I left (angry on the inside, smiling on the outside). Why? First, I didn’t want to start a family feud. Second? Well, that is what I thought was proper behavior. In 2004. But it’s not “proper” to roll over when someone bad mouths a person you love. And it’s not okay to mislead someone into thinking something is not as serious as you really feel it is by smiling or joking around after the fact.

In the end I am realizing there are times when being nice is completely inappropriate.

George needed to know that sort of behavior was unprofessional. My relative should have been told her statements were offensive. It was my responsibility to be assertive and call them out on their behavior with confidence and gravity rather than alleviate their guilt and discomfort with humor and lighthearted banter. However I may have been socialized as a child, it is my duty to address my fear of conflict, deference to others, and lack of confidence when asserting my perspectives. And maybe next time, I will be able to leave my offender with a bitter taste of honesty rather than the sweet flavor of pseudo-civility.

Rejection is a drag

I’ve been looking for a job in my field (art) for a little over two years now. Job-hunting during a recession isn’t really how I had envisioned my post-MFA years, but then I was a little idealistic (okay, a lot). My attitude six years ago somewhat reminds me of those Xtranormal animations that make fun of academic careers in the liberal arts (I finally understand all the weary looks!):

I like to think this hefty dose of reality (courtesy of the job market, the economy, and the nature of higher education) has improved me personally and artistically. It has certainly broadened my perspective.

This economy makes it especially hard for those in the fine arts to find work in their field. But on March 5th I saw a job ad that was so completely, absolutely perfect for me I couldn’t contain my excitement. I spent five days on my application, laboring over every sentence on every document the university requested. Everything had to be flawless. It was by far the best application I have ever assembled.

In early May the call came: I was invited to interview by phone with the search committee! This alone was a triumph. An interview! Finally an opportunity to show people what I can do! Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I prepped for the interview extensively. Over-prepared is more like it. But this obsessive research and rehearsal came in handy, because the next week I received the ultra-coveted invitation: an on-campus interview!

The interview went wonderfully. After nearly twelve hours of meetings and meals and tours, I was released back to my hotel feeling excited and cautiously optimistic. The feedback I received was incredibly positive, leading me to believe that indeed I had done well. Yes, I had made a few faux pas, but nothing serious. Of course, I would spend the next month analyzing those “mistakes” anyway, wondering how I could have done better. But in the end I knew I had done my best to convince the search committee that not only could I do the job, but I would do it with unparalleled passion and excitement.

I had already worked on visualizing the whole thing coming to fruition. I envisioned getting the phone interview, how it would go, getting the on-campus interview and how it would play out. Just to cover my bases I visualized both phone and email scenarios. Now, after the job interview had passed, I had to imagine receiving the job offer. That was where my hopes started to elevate even more. I could really see myself moving there, living there. I knew what salary I needed to justify the relocation. I imagined suitable homes and visualized packing and moving to my new town. And I dreamed of leaving my current job; packing up my desk, saying goodbye to everyone, handing in my building pass, walking out those doors of a place that would no longer feel so familiar. And though it is a job for which I am very grateful (any job is better than no job right now), it is also a place at which my skills are wasted – if not discouraged at times. A place where I stifle who I am so I can pay the bills. I really liked the idea of flipping that scenario on its head. At my prospective job, I could be everything I am and still pay the bills. Talk about win-win.

So, I waited. And waited. One week. Two weeks.

That’s when I became nervous. Had I told too many people about the interview? Did I jinx it? Did I fail to send something the committee needed but didn’t outright request? Was I too wishy-washy about some things, too certain about others? Was I too candid with my prospective boss? My excitement waned as the days passed. It began to seem unlikely I would get the job. Silence has a way of eating at my confidence. But I kept hoping. “You never know,” I told myself.

After three weeks I decided to check on the school’s progress. I emailed the department head and asked after the progress of the search. Four days later came her reply. She had just received an offer acceptance from a different candidate. I didn’t get the job. She wrote some very kind words about knowing I had a bright future ahead of me (which is very nice, as she didn’t need to say anything at all), but I was crushed nonetheless. Truly disappointed. Rejected. And back to square one on the job search. That discouraging, frustrating job search.

Some people say I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up, but it was hard to do when everything seemed so perfect – serendipitous in fact. (And when so many people agreed that this job seemed the perfect match for my personality and skills. Consensus really killed objectivity on this one.)

Many folks say there was a reason I did not get the job (as in – God was looking out for you, or something better is in the future). The jury is out on that one. Meanwhile I am waiting for that wondrous thing called “hindsight” to kick in, but I have yet to get to a place where hindsight applies.

Others say, “This is how it works.” And they are right. It can take years (if ever) to get a position in the fine arts. But me? My thinking is a little different – and still very idealistic.

I’m convinced – based on many blessings in my life – that I can defy the odds.

I believe I can do what other people say cannot be done. (I have done it in the past. I can do it again.) And with that attitude comes a healthy dose of perfection paired with impatience. Not the best combination of traits for someone who feels like that one chance to prove herself lies somewhat in the hands of perfect strangers. Naturally, I needed some space from all this job business.

Lucky for me I had a vacation coming just a week or two after the big “no thanks.” Two weeks with family 1000 miles from my real life. Road trip indeed. Just what I needed.

Returning to work was difficult. Instead of handing in my badge, I was swiping it for another undetermined length of servitude. (Again, not ungrateful for the job I swear! Just hoping for a better one some day….) But a job’s a job, and I was lucky to have it.

Friends showed admirable amounts of concern and encouragement. It was heartening to know just how many people believe in my abilities to manage, organize, network and help others. It was important that I listened to them, not letting my disappointment drown out their encouragement. And of course, they wanted me to cheer up – because that is who I am: cheerful Jen.

So I put on my brave face. I noted the benefits of the whole thing: interview experience, new connections, the benefit of receiving that coveted interview rather than the cookie-cutter rejection letter. I pointed out the blessing in having a job to return to, a job I can do pretty well that also is flexible enough to let me be an artist (woohoo!). Health insurance, vacation time! Air conditioning! A decent pay that covers my day-to-day expenses (do I really ever need to pay off those student loans? Well, at this rate, it won’t happen before I’m seventy, but anyway…). A great apartment, a lovely landlord. An abundance of friends. My art work. My husband. My family (far away but loving!). My health. The lovely cool northeastern weather system. Proximity to NYC, Boston, the coast, Phili…. Yes, I have so much to be grateful for.

And I am.

But having the “right” attitude can be tiring when you feel disappointment. So how do you balance the conflicting emotions?

I’ll take a stab at it with my “Be Nice. solution at the end of the anecdote” moment. This is what I learned from the process.

When you get some unfortunate news (this could apply to other scenarios, not just mine):

Allow yourself to be bummed out. Cry, yell, journal angrily, play endless amounts of video games, live in your pj’s for days straight, become a vegan, dye your hair pink, develop a new interest in taxidermy, whatever. Do what you gotta do, but get the sad stuff OUT. Don’t bury it. Don’t burn bridges. Just feel your way through it.

Reserve the right to tell others you don’t want to talk about it. It’s your life and your bad mood is none of their business if you don’t want it to be (assuming you’re not being a jerk to them, in which case you’ll have more problems – so try not to be a meanie).

Give yourself a break from the job search for a few days, but then get back on it. People deserve the benefit of your contribution in the workplace, trust me.

Be receptive to others’ encouragement. Those words may not feel very great in the shadow of insecurity and disappointment, but they will be useful in the future. So tuck them in your memory bank for a better day, and whip them out when a pick-me-up is in order.

Once you get that crappy-sad feeling out of your system, find a goal to throw yourself into. Distraction is key. It will remind you of what makes you such a great “worker” in the first place. And eventually the distraction will become something else entirely, and you’ll find yourself once again tapped into your genuine energy.

I’ll leave you with something my mother said to me, which I think can apply to so many people who long for the day when their heartfelt vocation has become their work. She said, “That day is coming Jennifer. And when someone finally has the good sense to hire you, they’ll wonder how they ever got along without you!” I like that idea, don’t you?

The Wayne Foundation

Today, I had the immense privilege of listening to the life story of a very strong woman. Jamie Walton was a victim of child prostitution and currently heads a new non-profit called The Wayne Foundation. She told her story to Kevin Smith (filmmaker and podcaster) on the podcast “SMinterview with @ThatKevinSmith” (Episodes 2 and 3 – free to download on ITunes and worth every minute of your time). What is amazing about Ms. Walton is her ability to forgive, to consider her abusers’ point of view (how many people could or would want to do that?!), and her remarkable transformation into the highly capable, successful woman that she is today. And it is not just her personality that is impressive, it is the mission of her non-profit The Wayne Foundation.

This non-profit is special: not only does it plan to give assistance to young girls who are trying to escape sex trafficking, it plans to give them every tool they need to completely rehabilitate themselves and become productive members of society. Ms. Walton is trying to do for other girls what needed to be done for her, but what didn’t happen. With the loving support of her amazing husband, Jamie Walton tread that path independently. She emerged as an amazing woman who not only survived and overcame her trauma, but was able to transform that experience with a passion I have rarely seen, and she has formed this foundation from scratch to help victimized girls (and hopefully some day the boys too she says). Ms. Walton is not the face you see on TV that reeks of talking points, fake optimism, and a hidden agenda. She doesn’t sidestep the unpretty parts. She takes them head on. She tells her donors that it will take awhile to achieve her goal; that the goals of The Wayne Foundation are large; that if donors are looking for a successful result they may have to wait ten years because that is how long it takes to make this happen. Oh, and she’s not getting paid. Maybe someday with enough support. What’s more, Ms. Walton is eternally optimistic.  When asked how she managed to avoid hating the world for the trauma she experienced, Ms. Walton said (paraphrasing here–), “I embrace the world because even though I recognize there is a lot of evil and nastiness in the world, there are some individuals that are not like that, and if you tell the world to go f#@& themselves, you tell the good people to go f#@& themselves as well. So, that’s not really fair…. I can’t tell those people [that]….  If we all [do that], think about how much worse it’s going to get…. Let’s look at the good part, let’s focus on the positive… it brings people together.”

That type of attitude and perseverance should be celebrated, commended, and mirrored by every member of society. And I think it should be rewarded however we can. I hope you will take a moment and visit The Wayne Foundation website (site still under construction) and listen to the podcasts linked in the first paragraph. You will learn more about their goals, plans, and financial agenda in the second podcast.

Please spread the word. You can also “like” it on Facebook. You can follow Jamie Walton on Twitter: @JamieWalton

And thank you all for reading!

The civil rights issue of the 21st century

I don’t usually weigh in on political stuff that is hugely controversial, but sometimes I don’t see any way around it.

New York legalized gay marriage in June. I was back in Iowa, which also legalized gay marriage a few years ago. As a former resident of one state, and a current resident of the other I must say I am doubly proud. You may not agree with this decision by the states legislatures, but I say, “It’s about time.”

See, here’s the thing: I just don’t think it’s right to tell someone who is a good person that they can’t have the same rights as me. Civil unions (the preferred option for some anti-gay marriage people) remind me of the whole “separate but equal” thing. It makes me very uncomfortable (Jim Crow, anyone?). As a matter of fact, it makes me angry.

People must have forgotten that old phrase, “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

I don’t know about you, but I like the legal right to see my husband in the hospital when he is sick, to make choices about his care when needed, and to have the same federal and state tax privileges as other married people. Lucky for me I guess that I’m heterosexual.

People argue marriage is religious. Well, that is true some of the time. But I didn’t get married in church and the state still calls me “married.” They still issued me a “marriage license.” There was no check box that verified it was a religious ceremony. Religion was not even a question. So obviously the word “marriage” doesn’t just apply to church-goers where the state is concerned. A church can refuse to marry gay people, just as the Catholic church would refuse to marry me to my non-Catholic husband (if I had wanted the religious blessing, that is). It’s their right as a religious body. And those rights were given extra-protection when the New York legislature passed the law. So what’s the fuss?

The way I see it, New York and Iowa were doing the right thing in the eye of the law: equal civil rights for all. And since the word “marriage” is tied so inextricably with our law system maybe we could rely on that nifty American notion “separation of church and state” and let these wonderful gay people have their wedding days sanctioned by state (and someday federal) law. Shoot, it would boost the economy. It would make many, many people much happier – including myself. And simply put, it is the right thing to do.

And now, one of my favorite videos in favor of the fight to legalize gay marriage–

Oh, and P.S. Thank you to the four New York Republican legislators who did the right thing in the face of their party’s objections: Senator Jim Alesi, Senator Roy McDonald, Senator Stephen Saland, and Senator Mark Grisanti. Personal opinion: you are on the right side of history, gentlemen.

Oooh vacation

I’ve been gone for awhile. My apologies. I didn’t mean to slack, I swear!

I knew June would fly by, but had no idea how quickly! What was I doing, you may ask? I’ll cover a bit of that in an upcoming post, but the major distraction was a much needed two-week trip to Iowa to see my family and friends – most of whom I hadn’t seen in twenty months. For me, that is just too long!  Needless to say, I sadly have seen my vacation come to an end, but have returned much happier and rejuvenated!

A little Midwestern scenery for you, from my road trip out west!

Before I get to one of my planned posts, I’m going to spend a little time sharing a few things that happened in June that I thought were just lovely.

But first! My favorite song about Iowa (funny funny and soooo true!) that I had the pleasure of experiencing on our 18 hour drive west and east again!

And now… on with it!