A Lesson Learned.
If you know me, you know how hard it is for me to keep my damn mouth shut. It’s against my very nature to stay silent, particularly when I’m provoked. And yet, for much of the past year, that’s exactly what I’ve had to do when shit when south for some reason I’m still not entirely sure of, and I basically found myself in the first act of an episode of Snapped.
I will not comment any further on that issue, other than to say I think my restraint has somewhat redeemed an unredeemable situation in which that silence was too often construed as guilt, but even acknowledging the situation would have somehow given it credibility.
That exposition is necessary to explain why I found myself on the phone with a long time acquaintance when everything finally started to settle down, having to give my side of a story I didn’t write. Doing so, I realized while I was walking him through all the context he had missed in the ensuing social media drama.
I didn’t actually see any of the shade slung my way on social, nor the apparently outrageous and libelous attacks directed at both me and my wife (then fiancé). I had already blocked those conversations by blocking the perpetrators, something I’m told was partially responsible for inciting their ire to begin with.
That I did only because they somehow posted on every network so often that their updates were the only ones showing in my social streams – and I figured blocking them was far easier than explaining to them on Messenger why I’d unfriended them.
This, I did on my wife’s advice; I would never have otherwise realized people actually noticed (or cared) when someone unfriended or unfollowed them. Apparently, today, that’s tantamount to murder by social media proxy.
But my friend informed me of some of the nastier things that had been said about me, and wondered why someone would say that sort of stuff about me if it wasn’t at least partially true.
While you can’t justify crazy, I could tell him that he’s known me long enough to know that I’m actually a decent guy in private when I’m not busy being a total douche canoe in public. After we agreed that in all the years he’s known me, I’ve never been a shit talker, mud slinger, drama queen or attention whore. Most importantly, I don’t attack people in public or fuck them over in private. Period.
Hey, that’s about the only moral code I have, but the one thing I have never done is use my public platform to attack a person for personal or professional faults. The sole exception to this is Dan Schwabel, a “personal branding guru” whose business means that these attacks aren’t actually meant to be personal at all.
When you’re positioning yourself as a brand, you’re fair game. Otherwise, you have to make a clear distinction between who you are and what you do. There’s work, and there’s life, and while the two often overlap, they can’t completely converge, or you lose your entire sense of self – not to mention your perspective on everything that happens outside your inherently insular and problematically provincial existence.
When you work to live and live to work, your sense of self worth is dictated entirely by how much your actual work is worth. That’s an increasingly prevalent perspective, apparently. It’s also a terribly shitty one, if you ask me.
If you can’t leave your work at the office (even when you work at home) and compartmentalize at least a little bit, you’re bound to fail at both, no matter how hard you try. It’s an inevitability that something’s going to give somewhere, but when you don’t have any depth, the laws of gravity dictate that you’re going to fall flat on your ass instead of at least landing on your feet.
My belief in this separation is important, because when I asserted that I never made personal attacks, he accused me of lying to him. He had the evidence at the ready. After he read a few lines, I explained, simply, that I wasn’t talking about any people in those posts at all. I was attacking a product. There is a difference, and what was lost on me is that distinction, largely, has become lost.
We aren’t what we eat. We are what we do for a living.
This was news to me, but apparently once that lost distinction was found, it all made perfect sense. He apologized for ever accusing me of anything uncouth or shady, and I reassured him that he had simply focused on the wrong stuff. I’m not perfect, but I’m not as big a dick as most people think I am, for the record. Well, at least not most of the time.
Our conversation, consisting mostly of an accusation followed by an explanation, lasted well over an hour, and once we had reaffirmed that we were still boys, he paused and asked a question I wasn’t expecting.
“Given the situation,” he said, “what exactly did you learn over the last year or so?”
I gave the only answer I could. It’s not insightful, nor eloquent. In fact, it’s just kind of sad, the state of things we find ourselves stuck in.
Because what I learned that is that you are no longer defined by who you are as a person, but rather, how you appear to be on social media.
But if you think that’s real life, you should really get one.
Chances are you work too hard. That is, unless you work in HR, in which case you need something to keep you entertained between your afternoon pastry break and second lunch. And that’s just what Facebook is for.
Assuming, of course, your company doesn’t have it blocked, in which case, you’re actually getting work done online instead of only working at making it look like you’re working hard. Come to think of it, that must be hard work.
So what did I learn? I learned that people make the mistake of believing that social media is real life, and that what happens there reflects even a proximity of objective reality when, in fact, it’s all “fake news.” I remember hanging up really hoping no one else would have to learn such a painful lesson.
It was the next day that my fellow citizens elected Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of these United States. And people wonder why I seem so angry all the time. I know, right? FML.
Oh wait. That’s apparently your job.