So it turns out that I haven’t written a post in so long that almost every setting on the site has been changed. I am reduced to the technological equivalent of my mother who relies on the ‘extreme panic button’ (the cross at the top right of the browser) when she’s ‘got too far into the internet and can’t get out again’. I kid you not.
It’s not that there hasn’t been anything to write about recently, more that situations and comments were too specific and individuals would have been identifiable. I suppose that’s one of the problems of writing as yourself, as well as one of the helpful things. As anyone who’s read a below-the-line comment in a national newspaper recently knows, anonymity can create a dangerous sense of boldness that can unleash people’s worst self. Using your own name and image reminds you that you exist in a connected world of people with feelings.
One of the difficulties of writing about real life is the privacy of other people. As a lecturer teaching on a children’s rights, I wonder about how the next generation will feel when they’re old enough to read the social media posts where their parents describe them to all and sundry as ‘little shits’ (I have de-friended that person, so don’t worry, if you’re reading this, this isn’t you!). In the Guardian recently there was an article about Tim Dowling’s weekly column about his family, and how his children have reacted to complete strangers knowing about their lives. For a single person, the consideration of reactions is much more immediate. Within a family unit maybe everything seems to be fair game, for a single person, every interaction necessarily involves someone outside their unit who might read, and be hurt by or disagree with what you said. My self-censorship is set to high on this front, and as a result I haven’t written about anything.
I have been wondering why this might be the case. I suppose because I am really aware that we are all making our way in this world, and sometimes hearing a different opinion can provoke a strong reaction and knock our confidence. Hearing that our actions or words may have unintended consequences for an individual can be painful. I’ve also been in situations where things I thought I’d said in private to friends show up on Facebook linked to my name. In addition to these considerations, I wonder if it comes back to something I’ve talked about before, how we (I) often only reflect on painful things after they’re over. Talking about things strictly in retrospect takes the sting out of any painful recognition – yes I might have said something that wasn’t totally helpful in that situation to her, but look, she made it through, it’s ok! Whereas when the situation continues, any implications of hurt can’t be brushed aside so quickly, there might be fear of having caused on-going pain or feelings of being accused of causing present upset.
People have continued to say really stupid or thoughtless things to me over the past months, amongst the best/worst examples: ‘So you can’t find anywhere you can afford to live by yourself, have you thought of doing some dating and finding someone?’; ‘Do you regret being single and not having children in your late 30s?’ and, my personal favourite ‘Do you think it’s your religion or your personality that’s kept you single?’. My response to the last comment was to say ‘Goodness me, aren’t you rude?’ and then sweep on my way, with poise and dignity that Mary Poppins would be proud of, making it well out of sight before tripping over the shadow of my own left foot and colliding heavily with a filing cabinet. Being aware of the hurt or rage unguarded comments can inspire, I’m keen not to cause anyone else discomfort.
So I continue to write, often just for myself, but when things are general enough, I’ll post them here. If I can work out the new settings without resort to the extreme panic button, that is.