The days in between the Winter Solstice and New Year’s Day are always some of my favorites. For me, they are a time of reflection. A moment in which the world softens and quiets, even if only for a handful of days.
These days are also a time when people ramp up their most annoying social media habits.
The vaguebooking. The bragging. The complaining. The sympathy-baiting. The relentless insufferability. It’s all there, every day, every time we scroll through our Facebook feeds. The holidays only seem to make these annoying habits worse.
Though my response to this behavior has often resided somewhere in between eye-rolling and passionate unfollowing, I’m trying something different this year. These quiet, softened days have inspired me to follow the mantra that I repeat to my children every time that they complain or snipe or belittle:
This year, I resolve to choose kindness when an annoying Facebook status crosses my path. And I urge you to do the same.
Choose kindness the next time you check your Facebook feed. Search for your last shred of empathy and exploit the hell out of it. Even if it’s for this week only. Alright, fine, a day. Or just next time you check Facebook.
Choose kindness even if it only ever manifests itself imperfectly and strangely and inconsistently (and that is, in fact, the only way that kindness ever manifests itself in our imperfect, strange, and inconsistent species).
Because sometimes–perhaps all the time–the most annoying people on Facebook are the people who could most use our kindness.
The person who shares every inane detail of their day
“Going to the gym!” “Working out!” “Leaving the gym!” “In the car getting ready to leave the gym!” “Home from the gym!” “Washing my workout clothes!” “Gym!” “Going to the gym tomorrow too!” “Gym! Gym! Gym!” “DID YOU HEAR THAT I WENT TO THE GYM TODAY?!” “let every stupid detail about my trip to the gym haunt your nightmares tonight.”
You gave your last shit about this person’s thrilling trip to the gym after the first status update. I know this. You know this.
And maybe they know this too.
Maybe they actually have nothing more interesting in their lives than this solitary trip to the gym or the grocery store or whatever other silly detail they are sharing. Maybe they are lonely. Maybe they feel empty and isolated even though they’re surrounded by people, doing things, all the things (all the GYM THINGS!), every day.
You don’t have to like or comment on these updates. (Not unless someone actually posts a “haunting your nightmares” update. You can like the hell out of that.) Just feel some compassion for the person behind them.
The person who overshares every last detail of their whole godforsaken lives
Someone you only kind-of-not-really knew in high school has been giving the painful, embarrassing play-by-play of their latest break up. For the past month. Every day.
Your weird cousin just shared something about his hemorrhoids.
Your neighbor posts a selfie every day and never forgets to add the TMI description of what they are doing. They tell you about their drama at work. They make vague (or not-so-vague) references to their raucous sex life. They announce that they’re about to get a pap smear. WITH SELFIES.
Resist the urge to shame them, in public or in your head. Overshares are often a desperate plea for someone, anyone, to listen. So open yourself up, and listen. Listen to whatever pain is there. Listen to that loneliness. Acknowledge the words that aren’t being said, the signal beneath all the noise.
And if you see that person in real life–you know, the life that still goes on outside of and beyond the screen–be ready to listen. Be ready to open your damn heart up until it breaks because this person might really, desperately, painfully need someone to listen.
The person with terrible grammar
I’m not talking about someone who confuses “lie” and “lay” or who uses the occasional dangling modifier. I’m also not talking about the person who agonizes over every grammatical mistake they’ve committed on social media, obsessively editing any past posts that might contain the slightest error.
I’m talking about people who make updates or comments like this:
“congradultion in you’re acomplishmants so proud 2 have uy as my nephew.!”
“SO blesd with my famly this Chrissmas all my kids r so GREaT i luv evry oen off them wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEEAR”
“PEOPLE SUK. HOWEVER HEI S NOT MY HUSBEND ANY MORE. WHEN THE HOLIDYAS,”
Put down that proverbial red pen and think about what’s going on behind the scenes.
Maybe they didn’t finish school.
Maybe they went to a sucky school.
Maybe their teachers gave up on them.
Maybe they have a learning or visual disability.
Maybe they are, in fact, drunk. All the time.
Let any one of those scenarios sink in. Let them ignite your compassion. Let them set that kindness on fucking fire.
The humble (or not so humble) bragger
So they have the “most thoughtful girlfriend in the world.” Or “the most beautiful baby.” Or “the most incredible view from their beach house.” Or “aww shucks, a major life accomplishment that they didn’t even know they deserved, but let them spell out their latest accolade in the most nauseatingly self-promotional details possible.”
Are they a bit narcissistic? Sure. Are they seeking attention? Of course. People love to decry social media for increasing our narcissism and look-at-me tendencies. But I’ve always thought that finding a narcissistic human being is like finding hay in a haystack.
We want to be acknowledged. We yearn to be recognized. We want someone in front of us to say, “Yes, I see you. I see you. I see you as a person. I see your humanity. I see all your flaws, and I’m still going to accept you.
I’m still going to like you.”
So just see them. Like their update. Say congrats. Or ignore them. Block them. Take a break from them if you need to. Just remember that any jealousy you feel is about you, not them.
Did you know that Barack Obama is literally the worst president who ever took the oath of office?
Are you ready to read a paragraph-length piece explaining everything that is wrong with Fox News?
I bet you’re super-ready to read a daily rant about whichever political party or ideology or bill or law is ruining the country, the world, and, most of all, THE CHILDREN.
Choosing kindness in these situations is trickier than acknowledging the hope and beauty and goodness in all people. Nonetheless, kindness is still possible. Sometimes it means sending your aunt to snopes.com when she rants about how the Democrats forced Tim Horton’s to take away her precious Timbits. Sometimes it means posting your own viewpoint without adding “plus, you’re an idiot.”
Sometimes kindness just means staying quiet and remembering that few people have ever said, “But then I changed my mind because of that one thing that that one person posted on Facebook.”
The constant inviter
“Geoff needs just one more life in Candy Crush!”
“Andrea wants to invite you to her next Pampered Chef/Pretty Nails/Extravagantly Priced Make-up/The Tupperware of the 21st Century Party!”
“Your Candy Crush invitation is waiting!”
“Like my page [so that I can spam you every day with pointless and irrelevant self-promotional material]!”
“DAMMIT, I SAID THAT GEOFF NEEDS MORE CANDY CRUSH LIVES!”
I get it. The constant pestering is obnoxious. But behind the updates, you never know if someone is hustling to make some extra cash to buy a birthday present for their kid or pay their sick spouse’s medical bill or supplement their income just because they damn well want to.
Maybe they are launching a new business. Maybe they’re a wiz when it comes to tutoring or carpentry or artisinal cheese-making, but they still haven’t mastered non-annoying marketing.
Maybe they are obsessed with Candy Crush. This is only human.
Or maybe their kid loves Candy Crush and presses ALL THE BUTTONS, even the ones that connect their mom or dad to Facebook and demand that all of their friends give them the extra lives they so desperately need.
And no. You don’t get to judge them for letting their kid play with their phone or tablet.
There’s always some sort of drama going on in the sympathy-baiter’s life. Chaos, mayhem, illness, death, tragedy, loss. Sometimes it’s exaggerated, sometimes not. But it always gets a status update.
Someone seeking sympathy this frequently probably doesn’t receive it all that much in their non-social media lives. They might have a hostile social circle. Or they might not have a flesh-and-blood social circle at all. Facebook might be all they have.
I don’t think that Facebook necessarily created this type of loneliness and awkwardness. There were lonely, agoraphobic, and awkward people before the advent of social media. They just didn’t have a space for their voices. There was no one to listen.
Let them have a space. There’s room enough for all our voices.
“I guess that SOME PEOPLE don’t appreciate a good thing when they have it.”
“I can’t say anything right now, but I need all of your prayers. The biggest ones you’ve got. Immediately.”
“Something huge is going to happen. Stay tuned.”
Of course they’re seeking attention. Of course they want you to say something to them. Of course, of course, of course.
Maybe they are desperate to be seen. Maybe they don’t know how to be seen, to feel seen, to experience the singular happiness that is one person really, truly seeing another.
Or maybe they just need to feel supported. Maybe there is something huge and awful happening in their lives, and maybe they can’t talk about it, and maybe they don’t have a prayer circle or a coffee klatch or a safe space to talk.
Just remember: if you don’t need to seek people’s attention of sympathy, then your life must be pretty damn good. Be thankful for your friends and family and their listening ears and acknowledging hearts. Not everyone has that.
The baby picture spammer
Did you really need to see seven consecutive pictures of your college roommate’s baby’s toothless grin? No.
Is gazing upon a baby picture the most exciting part of your day? No.
Does one newborn ever really look all that much different from another newborn? No.
But when a person introduces an entirely new human being into existence, they deserve some freaking leeway. Let them post. Let them partake in some joy. They are probably sleep-deprived and desperate for some adult contact. Scoop up some kindness and give them a like or an, “Aww, what a cutie!”
And if you need to, direct your kindness toward yourself too. Miscarriage, infertility, stillbirth, the loss of a child, and a million other types of pain: they can all make the baby pictures too much, just to much, for a while. Sometimes a long while.
Sometimes blocking a person’s feed can be an act of self-care and kindness.
The person with the picture-perfect life
Their house is always spotless.
Their children are always happy.
They never post anything negative.
They never share a less-than-perfect photograph.
And like all of us, they curate their social media personae to their liking. Theirs might simply be more polished than the rest of ours.
Before you hate them, take a moment to wonder about what it is they are polishing away: what pain they are hiding, what realities they are sugar-coating, what vulnerabilities they are masking.
Love them. Show them kindness without resentment. Love them despite their false perfection.
Love the person behind the Facebook mask.
And P.S. I know that you probably never, ever do anything annoying on Facebook. Just remember that you’re not perfect either.