John the Baptist & Social Tactfulness

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Have you ever noticed that whenever you are in a crisis, or you are the guardian of some kind of juicy gossip, women want to be your best friend? They fly to your rescue, shower you with love and affection and questions. Sometimes, this is really nice of them. Like, when you go through a breakup, sometimes you need women in your life to comfort and console you, and validate that whoever you were dating is a good for nothing jerk and he is certainly missing out on something good. Other times, I think it is just kind of pathetic, because while the women are probably pretending to be your best friends and your comforters, what they are actually interested in is snagging pieces of information about you so that they can go share, judge, and gossip with other women (because, then they become the ‘guardian of information’, the center of attention, the “you have to ask me if you want to know” that they can then hold the power position of whom to share with, and when, and how much information to divulge). And, as soon as they scavenge the information out of you that they wanted, they kick you to the curb.

I always love observing women’s behavior, because they are so utterly predictable. Like, I can usually tell when a woman is mad at me, because she suddenly stops liking and commenting on all my InstaGram pictures and Facebook posts (but, secretly I know she is still stalking me, and judging my half eyebrow and crooked smile, and then sharing her observations with all the other women in the gossip circle). Or, when she starts withholding information from me and giving me really ambiguous answers. My sisters do this all the time; if one of them is mad at me, and I ask a question about where my brother is, they usually reply, “I don’t know”, even though they very well know where he is, and they are just keeping information from me to appear “superior” and to force me to “bow down to her authority if I want to know”. Or, suddenly I stop getting the ‘group text’ messages, and when I return to the group, I find out that I missed some supposedly hilarious YouTube video that they shared and stayed up all night laughing about it (and, it’s always really awkward when one of the group messages accidentally gets sent to your phone that was clearly about you).

Women are the worst.

(And, I can’t quite take myself out of this ‘women’ category as well, because, while I am ashamed to admit it, I definitely have been guilty of spreading gossip for my own pure entertainment and egotistical means).

But, I can’t quite blame us, because somewhere down the line, we are taught that these are things that women talk about, and that these are the ways that women are supposed to act. Women talk about clothes, and nail polish colors. Women ask about each other’s weekends, and hold tea parties and cookie exchanges and bridal showers. Women don’t challenge each other, they don’t let you know if you have a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe, and they certainly do not say anything about your boyfriend talking to another women (but, of course, they say these things to the other women). For example, my mom said that when we first moved into our house, one of our neighbors came over to her house, with her bangs pinned up, introduced herself, and then asked my mom how she should do her hair. My mom’s response?, “Um, I don’t really care”.

But, this is how women are taught to act, and how we do our hair becomes a way we “bond” with each other. I think it probably dates back to the Victorian era, when women were not allowed to do anything but sit in the drawing rooms and remain idle (one of my favorite scenes in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is when the Bennet women are sitting in the parlor, looking out the window, waiting for Darcy to come over, and as soon as he does, they pick up their needlework and pretend to be ‘busy’). I tried remaining idle for about ten minutes one time, and I am pretty sure my brain started hallucinating. I can’t imagine what Victorian women went through, being bored and locked away their entire lives; I think they started making up gossip just to keep their brains busy. They weren’t allowed to go to school, or to be involved in political affairs, so they staked their territory and declared themselves the experts in other women’s social affairs (aka gossip). So, they created rules. We have customs, because, socially, it is not acceptable to hurt other people’s feelings. Instead, we are supposed to skirt around, participate in this small talk, and then share our true opinions about the situation with someone other than the person herself.

I say EF THAT.

Once upon a time in my life, I used to be able to engage in this small talk about other people, and celebrities, and the latest fashions, and what was trending on social media. Call me cold-hearted and cynical, but I just don’t see the point; there are kids in third world countries starving, and instead, we are wasting our time talking about…..Luke Bryan’s pants at the CMA’s? I don’t see how engaging in small talk is enriching my life in any way, other than making fake and superficial relationships with other women, who are probably going behind my back and gossiping about me.

Oscar Wilde, one of my most favorite authors, once said, “True friends stab you in the front”. This is my new motto in life; if I am going to say it behind your back, then I might as well just say it to your face. And, if I can’t say it to your face, then I probably shouldn’t say it at all.

Social conventions tell us that we must not point out other people’s flaws; if we see our friends spiraling into destructive behaviors, we shouldn’t say anything, because it’s not really our business; we shouldn’t assert our beliefs on other people. In church last week, we talked about the story of John the Baptist. While he often gets criticized, the story of John the Baptist teaches us that, if we want to live a more moral life, then we have to be open to other people’s criticisms, because sometimes those closest to us see things about us that we do not.

So, what happens when I think my friend has an eating disorder? Or, an addiction to alcohol? Or, I think my friend is spiraling into a depressive state? Social conventions tell me to turn the other cheek (but, then of course, go talk to everyone else in the copy room about it). I can’t say anything, it’s not my place to tell her what to do, hopefully her husband or family members catch it.

Socially, I shouldn’t say anything. But, morally, am I not obligated to say something? Is it not our responsibility to look out for the rest of the human species?

Nurses, for example, are trained members of society. Morally, if they were off duty and meandering around the streets, and recognized someone having a heart attack, they would probably intervene to save that person’s life. Or, if a forest ranger saw an abandoned deer on their way home from work, they are probably going to call animal control to try to help it. Or, if a firefighter sees his neighbor’s house on fire while he is not working, he is probably going to go over there to help put it out. I think we train members of society in jobs, not just as an economic output for them, but also to be watchers and protectors of society, kind of like incognito elves; they are lurking among us, we just don’t know when, until tragedy commences. If all of these other situations are not frowned upon, why is it unacceptable to point out potentially self-destructive behaviors if those are recognized as well?

I find myself in this crux all the time. Being a psychology major, a teacher, and just a human myself, I know a good deal about human behavior. I could tell you how the DSM classifies depression and anorexia and addictions, what the warning signs are, and potential treatment options. When I notice my friend skips meals, never eats in front of people, appears to be obsessed with working out and counting calories, I suspect there is a potential for an eating disorder. When I notice my friend is drinking every night of the week, smells constantly like alcohol, and tries to justify her “social” habits, I worry that an addiction is beginning. And, when I notice my friend slumping around, constantly complaining, and feeling inadequate, I wonder if these are signs of depression.

I have two choices: adhere to social conventions, keep my mouth closed, and hope that these potentially self-destructive behaviors are not what I think they are, or, buck social conventions, and say something.

Of course, both of these options come with consequences: if I don’t say something, then I can stay “part of the group”, I don’t risk anyone getting mad at me, and I can still be part of the gossip circle. But, then what happens if my friend really does have an eating disorder, or an alcohol addition, or beginning signs of depression, and something tragic happens to her?

And, saying something, ultimately making the decision to deviate away from social customs also comes with a consequence. If I decide to buck social customs and speak up to my friend, to tell her I am concerned, I also have to be aware that she probably isn’t going to like what I have to say, and that I am going to be blamed, scorned at, lectured, she is going to target me, say some really offensive things, and more than likely again, I will be ousted from the group, and thrown out of the gossip circle (which, of course, I now become the topic of consideration).

Of course, the more important decision to make here is, do I swear my allegiance to social customs, because it is more important for me to adhere to social conventions and be accepted by the social circle, OR, do I swear my allegiance to myself, my morals, and risk social exclusion, because dedication to myself trumps any need to ‘belong’?

…I always found myself identifying with Edna Pontellier from Kate Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’ anyways…

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