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Shock value.

May 18, 2011

*** Please note: If you are looking for Insomnia Club posts, I apologize but I’m taking a hiatus from the Club while I deal with my shit – sooo thank you for stopping and check back on that later. For more on my shit… read on…

Ever notice how, with some people, the more serious shit is, the less they know how to deal with it?

You know, the ones where, after you tell them some serious shit, they kind of pretend nothing was said? Maybe they make their best Oh I’m so sorry face, maybe offer a quick hug, but they hasten to move the conversation on to something else.

Or maybe they don’t make the face. Maybe they don’t respond at all to that e-mail you eventually sent out because you’d been MIA for four weeks. Maybe they don’t say anything… except, two weeks later, “PS sorry to hear about your sis” on an e-mail asking for help with grant writing. Or even avoid that PS altogether and just ask for a lunch recommendation. Whatever.

You know what? Grief and tragedy are tough things, man. I get it. Sometimes you don’t know what to say, so you pretend that terrible thing didn’t happen. And that’s ok. Really it is. But, for the love, don’t instead ask me for help or advice.

You know what I can’t handle and don’t understand? When people decide to go beyond ignoring the shit, and instead choose to trivialize someone else’s pain.

We do this with all kinds of life experiences, but as any good gossip knows, it’s the really shit things that get the best no-way! gasps. We do it with relationship drama, with divorce, with heartbreak… and also with tragedy and even death. Sometimes, we relish the gory details, not so we feel the pain in them, but so we can use it to shock our friends.

And…. make a tragedy thing also a societal stigma thing? Say… an AIDS thing, or a drug thing or a suicide thing? Well. That’s just added shock value.

Why do we do this? Why do we trivialize other people’s lives so we have something shocking to waggle our tongues about?

I am sure it has something to do with adding to our own social capital, as well as with distancing ourselves from something real and painful. But we should spend some time reviewing the impact of that choice, to use other people’s life experiences as your own personal trove of social shock and awe. And, whether we realize it or not, behaving that way does have an impact on our own lives, in how we treat people, what we value, the relationships we end up fostering, and what they are built on.

I’m actually not talking about how people are treating me, here. I feel truly blessed by the people waiting for meI’m actually talking about my sister.

It’s interesting the e-mails I get, from some of her friends, but certainly not all, and how the language is often “I heard from so-and-so about…” When, you know, I haven’t heard from so-and-so. Don’t even know how they found out.

In addition, the information people who actually do contact me or my family have is sometimes complete bullshit. Because that’s another thing we like to do, right? If it’s not juicy enough, we can always embellish. And speculation can always take the place of fact when you need more details.

But all of that is, when I get right down to it, on someone else. Not me. Or my sister. To behave that way regarding other people’s lives is not my choice. And I can’t force someone else not to make it.

Sure, they add another awesome-sauce layer to this. It’s hard not to be bothered by it. But. For me, when I get right down to it, it’s not about the people who prefer to trivialize another person’s pain or tragedy or heartbreak. It’s not about the bullshit rumors and the inability of people to actually reach out or inquire about the person they have no problem discussing. I have been overly concerned about people like this in the past… and eventually you have to let go of that. There is nothing you can do, aside from not join them.

Right now, it’s about my concern over the people who are waiting for my sister, and those that chose instead to make her life their gossip. This is going to be a very long road, and when and if she comes out the other side, she’s going to need all the genuine support she can get… but those people that wait will have to for some time.

It’s about wondering, because gossip and social stigma and shock value can somehow become more important than love and compassion and caring, how many will be waiting, and how many will move on when better gossip happens to someone else?

17 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2011 10:17 am

    There will always be some newer, more outrageous gossip to move on to for those that focus on sensational “news” like that. It is sad and inconsiderate but what can you do…

    It is, as you said, the people that wait for your sister and that care about her that matter.

    And what is it with people that embellish stuff like that or anything really?? That is when I want to go up to people and ask them “what is wrong with you??”

    Let’s face it… most of us do not know how to deal with things when some serious shit happens but that does not mean that it can just be ignored. We can still act with normal human compassion and show that we care and be there if needed. In the end of the day… one day shit can happen to us and the roles are reversed.

    As for the lunch recommendation… reply: McDonalds… 😉

    Big hugs!

    • May 19, 2011 9:20 am

      Ha ha! McDonalds! If only you had been there when I received that text…

      Yeah… I don’t know. And some people don’t figure it out until shit happens to them. Really, you just have to accept and re-focus on what’s important. As annoying as that shit is, it’s not.

  2. May 18, 2011 1:02 pm

    We survivors, that’s what you and I are, have to always keep in mind when dealing with people like this that they haven’t gone through the emotional pain and growth that comes with dealing with a severe family event like what you went through with your sister. They are going to ask the wrong questions or simply avoid the topic because they don’t have the emotional tools in their kit to deal with that level of crushing emotional weight.

    I got a lot of people that would just walk past me rather than talk to me about my brothers accident and subsequent paralysis. It hurts when you see life long friends crossing the street to avoid you or ask a totally inappropriate question. I used to get, “But he’s going to play football again soon, right?” No Dumb-ass he’s fucking paralyzed, no walky, no runny, no nothing!

    So realistically the only thing you can do is have patience, go easy on them and go easy on you too. One day at a time, Nikki, one day at a time.

    • May 19, 2011 9:23 am

      Hey Bob… thanks again and yes, we’re survivors. We know what it’s like when “well that only happens to other people” happens to us.

      It’s amazing how people distance themselves from tragedy and pain, and the shit they come up with (those question about your bro must have been more difficult than anyone can imagine, and certainly more difficult than they seem)… but of course we do well to remember that “they don’t have the emotional tools in their kit to deal with that level of crushing emotional weight”.

      One day at a time. Yes.

  3. Movedup permalink
    May 18, 2011 3:47 pm

    No lie – some people just don’t know how to deal. I am working with a client that has suddenly lost her husband – just bang – no notice. I am her shoulder and others as well. What I hear the most of is the compliant of people saying to them “I know how you feel” – “How can you say you KNOW how I feel?” I can’t, I don’t and I am not going to pretend I do. All I can do is validate your feelings and ask if there is anything I can do – even if its just an ear, a shoulder, a kleenex… most of the time – its just listening and validating – a safe place to vent. Gossip is BS! Hang in there Nikki – most are well intended and don’t know what to say or do – the others can fuck themselves. Prayers are with your sister that she finds her way and comes out the other side stronger and healthier. Prayers are with you that you find yours which I am sure you will.. But if you need an ear, a shoulder or a kleenex (I will fedex if necessary) I am here.

    Eternally grateful for all you do – inspire!

    • May 19, 2011 9:25 am

      Awww… thank you again lady. As always, the support means everything.

      And yeah – I can never know how another person feels about something. I just can’t. All we can do, as you put so well, is be there for support and to validate how they feel. To provide a safe space – which is so important in of itself. I was recently with friends and feeling ok, and a mutual “friend” walked in – one who is notorious for gossiping about EVERYONE – no holds barred. I immediately had to leave.

  4. May 19, 2011 1:34 am

    You’re right Nikki, it seems that some people want to rearrange another person’s problems to allow themselves to take center stage. I liken them to vultures.

    Then you have people who won’t shut up about the shitty things that have happened to them because they want to play the victim and suck in all the pity and sympathy they can muster. And fortunately you’ve never ever done that in dealing with the tragedy involving your sister. You realize it’s about her, not about you.

    I also believe some people just don’t know how to react. Some people turn a blind eye or quickly change the subject because as you said, the bigger the problem the harder it is for people to deal with. Sometimes the pain is just too much.

    I hope that you continue to find comfort and support in your true friends- the people who have been there for you through not only the worst, but also the best. And for all the others, you needn’t concern yourself with them. Your sister is much more important.

    Thinking of you, Pumpkin. Hugs.

    • May 19, 2011 9:28 am

      Hey Feisty! Yep. You pretty much summed up How People React to Shit. I am ok with people who don’t know how to deal, but I can do without the Vultures and the Pity Party. Of course, times like these make those distinctions so crystal clear… maybe that’s the silver lining.

      I do continue to find comfort in support in my friends here – and in my online peeps who don’t even know who I am! 😀

      • May 20, 2011 1:02 am

        You have a lot of great people who care for you deeply. We’re all behind you to help see you through it. Keep reaching for that silver lining- that’s what keeps you strong. 🙂

  5. May 19, 2011 8:39 am

    Kiefer and I recently took a break with hanging out with a group of friends because of all the gossiping that was going on. We were so tired of hearing it.

    I hope the gossips fade away soon, so you and your sister will be surrounded be people who truly care and are concerned.

    Sending some good thoughts your way!

    • May 19, 2011 9:30 am

      I totally hear you. You can only complain about the gossip so long before you need to get the fuck out.

      And one thing about gossip – it’s always looking for something new and it always moves on. So, there’s that.

      Thanks, lovey!

  6. May 20, 2011 11:34 am

    okaaaaaaaaay. i TOTALLY have a friend like this.

    I could literally tell him my dad died, and it’s like, “oh man, i really feel for ya. so, can you babysit on Tuesday?”

    REALLY? i’ve considered cutting him off many times. it’s the balance between, does he really not care, or does he just not know how to show it.

    i dunno.

    • May 22, 2011 9:55 am

      It’s definitely the balance between not-caring or not-showing. It addition, there’s also the not-knowing. As in, they’ve never had Really Bad Shit happen to them, so they don’t actually *know* how to help. However, at some level of friendship, it no longer matters which one it is. At least in my world, you need to know how to show it, too – or at least attempt, even if you’re not sure what I’m going through.

      Of course, if he’s just a friend, but not super close, than cutting him off seems like overkill if he just doesn’t know how to show it. Still means it’s annoying as all fuck when shit is shit and he doesn’t get it.

  7. May 22, 2011 7:42 pm

    I don’t know what you’re going through, but my heart is going out to you because I really understand the mind-numbing frustration of watching people dance around other people’s heartbreak. I think, when it comes right down to it, it’s really all just because most people cannot deal with heavy, emotional shit. They’d rather run. Or trivialize it and then go watch Desperate Housewives.

    It makes their lives easier.

    • May 23, 2011 1:23 pm

      That is the same conclusion I came too: Makes their lives easier. In addition, sometimes they use it to (somehow, strangely enough) make themselves look more awesome because they haz knowledge. Aka gossip.

      Whatever. Bottom line – can’t change those people, so accept their annoying, mind-numbing existence and move on as best we can.

  8. May 22, 2011 9:39 pm

    Oh man, yeah. Also, sorry I’ve been MIA, and deepest sympathy for the horrible pain you are coping with.

    The thing I don’t understand, with people *like that* is why, if they can’t figure out what to say, they can’t think of something to actually, you know, do.

    Maybe it’s my midwestern showing, but when something bad happens to someone, you bring them food. You bring over a bottle and say “hey, if you want to talk or not talk, I am here, until you don’t want me here.”

    You figure the fuck out what you would need during a difficult time, and you by god do it. Money, food, company, or someone to just keep people away for awhile. You offer to help sincerely, and then just do it.

    Because there isn’t a thing to say that really means anything unless you’re willing to back it up with action. It is cruelty to watch a family, or a person hurting and merely gossip about them, instead of actually lending a hand. I don’t like to think that people like that end up karmically fucked, because I don’t want anyone to struggle under the weight of grief and trauma alone.

    For me, grief is a weight. It’s heavy. Doing regular things is slow and hard and heavy. Maybe if people could think of it more that way, they could think about doing some damn thing to help. I wish I was able to do some damn thing to help, and I hope somebody is doing that for you.

    • May 23, 2011 1:27 pm

      Yep. You know, words are helpful, but actions mean a whole fucking heapload.

      When I arrived home (finally) after a month away, I got in at almost midnight. I was exhausted. I had told my friends I would need them, but I didn’t know what that would look like, what I would be going through… I expected some flowers. Maybe a card and a note to call when I was ready.

      They had stocked my entire fridge and cabinets. And with local food I would buy myself, not whatever they picked up at the store. They bought wine. Straightened the house. Folded my laundry. Took out the garbage and the compost.

      I bawled in my kitchen for half an hour – for the first time in three weeks.

      Doing, my friend. It makes all the difference in the world. And yes, someone is doing that for me.

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