‘I think you speak from a place of tremendous privilege,’ I wrote in a Facebook exchange about another article I wrote on depression and anxiety. The specific dispute was largely semantic, as Internet conflicts often are. A poor choice of words that prevented any real exchange from happening.
It was my way of saying I didn’t have any interest in arguing the point. That actually, the phrasing was so offensive that I saw no purpose in continuing. I do that. The Internet being the Internet, you run into all sorts of people and most of them aren’t worth knowing. You can’t know everyone, so quick judgements and semantic reasoning reigns supreme; we write people off. We judge.
And I did judge this person on the basis of their elitist language. It was privileged. It was judgmental. It implied things about people and their choices I didn’t like and I said so. The thing that happened that I did not intend was how my judgement of that person’s choice of words translated to them as a judgement of their personal character. It puzzles me when people do that.
As a writer, I’m accustomed to having my words judged. I put things out there. I say stuff that isn’t always popular. I know language and I know how to create impact with my words. I can be inflammatory though I rarely mean to be. I am direct. Depending on the person, the culture they come from, and their general mindset, that directness can come across as aggressive.
I would worry about it, except I don’t know how else to be. I’ve tried for years to be less direct. To be more tactful, as my ex was always quick to demand. I don’t know how not to speak my mind and I revel in language’s ability to slice through rubbish and get to the heart of things quickly. I don’t waffle, I don’t hold back and I don’t waste time.
So this person felt devalued by my dismissive summary of their position. And it was dismissive; I was ending a conversation, not continuing one. They felt attacked as a person where I was dismissing their words. We all use words differently and we don’t always choose the right ones. People say stuff they don’t really mean, they phrase things poorly and they are misunderstood. My comment was about their writing, not their character. It was a call to reevaluate their language and rephrase, rethink or reorganise. The voice of the author was tremendously privileged and needed a rethink.
So what does that say about the speaker? In isolation, nothing. If it’s a repeated occurrence it says the speaker is privileged and struggles to step outside themselves. This specific exchange was isolated. Could reflect on the person, might not. I don’t know and honestly I didn’t care. As far as I was concerned the conversation was over and no new information, no revelation, was going to come from the exchange. I wrote it off.
I would be ashamed of writing the exchange off except I was absolutely correct: it descended into pointless disclosure about one’s past trials and tribulations to validate their feelings – which is ironic as the article it was responding to was about how doing that very thing is destructive and unhelpful – and nothing was learned. No friends gained or lost, no new information. Just sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss people on the Internet. Thing is, I’m rarely wrong about the exchanges. My cynicism is fuelled by being proven right again and again, to the extent that my basic response to the, ‘You don’t know me,’ comment is, ‘No. And I won’t so give it up.’ I see no purpose in getting to know someone who wanders into a chat window, makes unequivocal statements that are categorically untrue (because no unequivocal statement is true), and then becomes wounded when they’re told that the thing they said is either 1) unjustified, 2) categorically untrue or 3) both. How do you deal with someone like that? Nothing can come from that reaction but jibber or face saving I don’t have time for. The walking wounded of the Internet can find their own solutions without me.
All that said, I don’t expect any more consideration from others. Why should they learn about me? No point. They made up their mind, I can’t control them and I have no interest in changing their mind. They’ve decided I’ve dismissed them as someone not worth knowing – often because I have – and they’re upset about it. In the wake of that happening, why am I worth knowing to them? To be fair, that’s kind of handy when I walk out of a discussion: they don’t follow.
In the case the other day, they were part of a group I would rather be harmonious with so I did entertain a private extension of the discussion. Quite a lot more than I would do under normal circumstances but the group’s needs are greater than mine. It didn’t yield anything new, but it was an olive branch and the subject moved on to safer things. We’re all human, after all. A friend? Probably not. But not a nobody.