I know, I'm lame for stealing someone else's blog entry, but V.A. is a very thoughtful writer and this entry from earlier this year pretty much sums up a lot of conversations I've had with people lately about relationships and friendship-building, real social engagement vs. internet relationships, and how what you see/read/hear on the internet or on TV is not the way the world really works.
How the Me-Generation Ruined Modern Conversation
May 2nd, 2007
When I wrote my article on depression, a lot of people went into pointlessly long lectures about the difference between clinical depression and sadness. They needn’t have done this; I know the difference between clinical depression and sadness. I wasn’t trying to claim they were the same thing. I was merely arguing that most people are quick to assume depression when some honest self examination might just reveal plain, old sadness. They say to themselves, “I have a good job, plenty of money, a nice home, the latest gadgets, and good looking kids. What reason do I have to be depressed?”
Upon communicating these facts with their Doctors, while also admitting to vague thoughts of suicide, the end result is a man in a white coat who replies, “Good point. Here’s your pills.”
No one ever considers that happiness doesn’t always come in the form of a boat or a tropical vacation. TV tells us that a new car with a heated cup holder will make us happy….or a cell phone that plays MP3’s….or a cute new sun dress. So we buy and buy and buy and when that doesn’t work, TV is quick to remind us that people in other countries are starving, so we should grateful for what we’ve got.
Do you want to know the reason I think people are so sad?
Loneliness. Simple loneliness. I think most people are so motherfucking lonely, they can’t see straight. Again, I will use post secret as an example. Don’t you think it’s just a little sad and pathetic that so many people have to write down their secrets on a postcard and send them in anonymously because there is not a single person in their lives they feel comfortable confiding in? Technorati boasts that there are 71 million blogs right now. Most of which contain people who reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings to complete strangers likely because no one in real life pays attention to them. No one sees anything wrong with this?
In this day an age, it’s hard to admit you’re lonely. After all, we’re surrounded by an endlessly vast amount of people on a daily basis. We have co-workers, extended families, and shopping buddies. Sometimes we have children, foolishly hoping that a small baby will fulfill our need for companionship. When none of that works, we buy a dog. If, at the end of the day, nothing fills the void, we say to ourselves, “I have it all, so why I am a still unhappy? I have no right to be unhappy. I must be clinically depressed.”
The issue isn’t the amount of people in our lives, though.
The issue is that society, as a whole, has lost the ability to meaningfully connect with other people.
In other words, the Me-Generation has ruined modern conversation to the point where we cannot form anything but the most superficial of relationships with the people we’d like to be closest too.
How did this happen? Well, I’m glad you asked!
The Self Esteem Police Produced Self Obsessed Adults
The very day we became obsessed with the self esteem of our children is the first day shit started going downhill. We told our children they were unique and special and perfect. We insisted that the world would one day find them beautiful and smart and glib. We told them their individuality was their greatest asset and refused to criticize them even when it was sorely needed.
The end result? A generation of children who are endlessly fascinated with themselves who can’t, for the life of them, understand why the rest of the world isn’t as enamored by their utterly uniquely genius minds as they are.
Teaching our children to be confident is one thing, but we took it too far. Our children are infatuated with themselves, sometimes to the point of delusion. With so much of their love and energy devoted inward, how can we expect them to feel love for another?
Self esteem brainwashing dooms people into becoming narcissistic assholes who genuinely believe the whole world revolves around them.
Too Much Conversing on the Internet Has Diminished Our Ability to Recognize Social Cues
I spent one afternoon walking around the mall with a friend of mine. She was babbling about something ridiculous and no matter how many times I tried to change the subject, she kept referring back to our original discussion. Finally, I gave up and for two solid hours, my only reply to her was, “Mmhm.”
SHE DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE.
She happily chattered on for 2 straight hours, absolutely oblivious to the fact that I had quit listening to her. I was amazed.
Frankly, I blame the Internet. Online, it’s hard to determine whether or not you’re boring the person you’re talking to. You don’t see them looking around the room, or staring off into space, or sighing distractedly. A few well placed ‘lols’ or ‘hehes’ can fool you into believing they are actually engaged in the conversation. So it’s really no surprise to me that so many people totally lack the ability to recognize when they’re boring someone when they attempt a real life dialogue.
This explains why people can actually maintain completely one sided conversations that last for 3 hours strictly about their fucking cats.
In reality, it takes two people to have a meaningful, enjoyable conversation. How can we expect to connect to people on a deeper level if we consistently fail to engage our conversational partners?
Right now, there are people reading this and thinking, “A true friend will want to talk about anything I want to talk about! They would not be bored by anything I say!”
You can thank the Self Esteem Police for that ideology.
We Quit Listening and Instead Began Waiting for Our Turn to Speak
Have you ever been talking to someone when it finally hit you that the other person wasn’t processing a single thing you were saying, but merely waiting for your lips to stop moving so they can say all the things bouncing around in their head?
Welcome to a kindergarten mentality applied to adult conversations! You go! Now I’ll go! It’s your turn! Now my turn! Look at us! We’re sharing!
A vital part of communication is to listen to and process what the other person is saying. You’re response should play off the statement of your counterpart. Otherwise you might as well be talking to yourself.
The only kindergarten doctrine that should apply to adult conversations is the Golden Rule. Namely, if you want other people to listen to you, you should be willing to listen to them. Quit talking AT people and start talking TO people.
We Ask Questions We Don’t Want the Answer To
The worst example:
“How are you doing today?”
The person who is asked this question might as well give up and say ‘fine’ right off the bat; because chances are that’s the only answer the asker is willing to hear. Don’t believe me? Try answering ‘terrible.’ Watch in amazement as the asker airily replies ‘Good to hear’ as they sashay away.
Some people believe simply asking is being polite. You can thank the Self Esteem Police for those people. I’m sorry, but putting forth the least amount of effort doesn’t win you any courtesy points in my book. Taking 5 seconds out of your day to slow down and actually show interest in the answer is polite. Asking a question merely because you want recognition for your condescending form of pseudo-caring is actually pretty rude.
In a similar vein are the people who ask you a question only because they want to you to ask them a question. For example:
Person A: “What did you do this weekend?”
Person B: “Well, I went to a movie and—
Person A: *interrupting* “Guess what I did this weekend!”
In closing, if you don’t care, don’t ask. Keep your shallow displays of insubstantial friendliness to yourself.
We Use Our Peers to Validate Our Decisions and Often Sacrifice Honesty to be Nice
I learned a long time ago that many of my friends never actually wanted my advice when they asked for it. Instead, they wanted to me to validate whatever stupid conclusion they already came to. I was merely a puppet meant to smile and nod at all the appropriate places.
When I refused and insisted on actually communicating to them what I really thought, the entire conversation shifted to them trying to convince me that they were making the correct decision!
Friend: “V, tell me the truth, do you think my boyfriend will ever leave his wife for me?”
V: “No, I don’t.”
Friend: “But I can tell he loves me by the look in his eyes! And he wrote me a poem!”
V: “That may be so, but he’s still going home to another woman at night.”
Friend: “Read this poem! Seriously, how can you read this poem and not think he loves me?”
V: “The poem is nice, but it’s a poor substitute for real love and dedication.”
Friend: “Are you saying I should stop seeing him?”
V: “Yes, that’s what I’m saying.”
Friend: “But he loves me! Don’t you understand that he loves me? I mean, just yesterday….”
It’s an exercise in futility, really. My choices are to pretend to be convinced and tell her that her relationship has a chance, or to maintain my opinion and risk wearing the Mean Tag.
My question is: what’s the point? What do we have to gain by forming relationships that revolve around validating ourselves through other people? Why maintain a friendship if you don’t respect the person’s honest opinion? When did honesty become synonymous with cruelty anyway? How can we ever learn to connect with other people when we can’t see them as individuals, but instead see them as reflections of ourselves?
Much like most problems in life, the solution to our loneliness is simple:
If you want people to care about you, you should care about them.
If you lack the ability to do that, then grab your prescription for prozac and shut the fuck up already.
But either way, quit blaming your brain. Blame yourself for becoming part of the Me-Generation.