What You Need to Do Is…

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 The past two days, the best word to describe me has been “inflamed”.  From the 90 degree weather to my allergies in uproar to the 2,000 mosquito bites on my feet and ankles.  So if this post comes off as whiny or ranting or even completely disjointed, please remember this and give me the benefit of the doubt.

I wrote once before that thinking you know what the right thing is for everyone is a dangerous illusion.  I stand by that.  But I can accept that I may be taking it a little too far.  I’m not sure.

I read Jon Katz’s blog every few days.  He’s a writer and blogs to share his life with others.  He’s very clear that he does not give or seek advice and reacts pretty strongly when someone tells him what to do.  A little while ago, he wrote about the fact that he has an illness and the treatment for that illness.  He was sharing in the interest of…well, sharing it, I guess.  He’s a writer and that’s what he does.  He stated specifically that he was not interested in commiseration, sympathy, sharing illness stories or people advising him on his illness.  There was a long thread of comments to this posting on his Facebook.  I was not surprised that it consisted of commiseration, sympathy and especially advice.  I just imagined him shaking his head and moving on. 

Last night, I read a friend’s Facebook post.  My interpretation of the post was that it was a statement, a sharing of information.  Yet several of the comments were advice, things people felt she ought to do.  Okay.

I felt annoyed.  I mentioned it to my husband.  She wasn’t asking for help, I said.  Her post indicated she had the situation under control.  People just have to tell you what to do, I said. 

He argued that you have to take the context into consideration.  Why else would somebody post something if they weren’t looking for others’ thoughts on it?  I don’t agree with him.  That’s not how I see Facebook, I see it more as a sharing and discussion tool.  But what I wonder is do most people see it that way? 

So, as I am wont to do, I examined myself and found that I myself had offered Facebook advice at least twice in the last couple weeks.  Once was to my daughter and that doesn’t count because giving her advice is my God-given right as a mother, and besides, the post was soliciting advice.  The other time I did it, the person (who, ironically enough, was the same person that got unsolicited advice on her post) was clearly not asking for advice.  I just gave it.

In a desperate attempt to defend myself, I looked at the language I used:  “I just read that you can X, if you’re interested in that.”  She obviously wasn’t because I got no response, which was fine with me.  It wasn’t bossy language but it was still advice.  You’re not off the hook, Sam.

A friend of mine a long time ago said to me, “Oh, people always just want to vomit their opinion all over you.” 

Bob has discovered the idea that he doesn’t have to have an opinion about something.  He’s been turning this over and over in his mind.  I think he finds it liberating.  Opinions are not like assholes, he argues, you’re not born with one and if you do have one, you don’t have to use it.  That’s my Bob. Elegant, I think they call that.

I’m exploring a parallel idea, though.  I’ve been thinking a lot about judgment, about how people’s life decisions are none of my business. It doesn’t matter one iota if I think something’s a good idea or not. I’ve become aware of a lot of casual judging of others, of how they spend their money, how they treat their dogs and kids, their choice of career, car, haircut, weight, how often they mow their lawn……okay, the list is endless. 

I don’t like it.  I don’t think it’s truthful or kind or necessary [excellent criteria for deciding whether to say something].  So here I go judging people who judge people.  Oh, no.

Related to this advice thing is something else that bugs me.  There are two parts to this—let’s see if I can connect them in a way that makes sense—and Jon Katz shows up again. 

Jon Katz takes pictures of animals in the rural community in which he lives.  Several times, he’s gotten flak for the way in which the animals are represented.  The one I most clearly remember is a picture of three dogs waiting in a car.  People freaked over the fact that dogs were left in a car and Jon was given dire warnings that the dogs were going die of the heat and he was irresponsible for posting such a picture.  I think it was April; New York does not get that hot in April as far as I know.  They were really over-reacting, especially given that the dogs in the picture weren’t even panting.  Jon had no problem telling those people where to get off.  Then, the other day, he posted another picture of a dog being pulled in a wagon by his owner.  I thought it was a great picture; I appreciate that his photos are many times of just real people living real lives.  By the time I saw the photo, the post was a couple of days old and I idly scrolled down the comments.  A someone had written NO LEASH!?  Seriously:  in all caps, with two punctuation marks.  I laughed out loud and said, “Jon’s gonna love that.”

I’m an animal lover, anyone who know me knows that.  So I get a lot of posts on my wall about animals, which I like.  But I quickly became irritated with reminders about dogs and heat.  Why?

It’s a real issue and dogs really do die of heat stroke if they’re left in a car.  And people really do need this information.  A long time ago, my mom broke into a car in the summertime to rescue a puppy that had been left that would have died.  It was really hot.  It was obvious when the owner— a young mother with two little girls—actually didn’t know you can’t do that.  The animal control officer doused the pup with a hose, reviving it, and was very kind in explaining things to the owner.  She still gave her a ticket, though.

So.  I think what really sent me over the edge was being told my dog needs air conditioning.  Really?  Half the world’s population don’t have access to clean drinking water and my dog needs AC?  Are you kidding me?  Have we really lost that much perspective?  We’re so unwilling to experience discomfort ourselves that we extend that to our animals?  That is advice from a privileged position and I’m not interested in it.  It’s okay for dogs to be hot, people, really.  They’ve been surviving heat for many thousands of years.  As have we.

It becomes more and more clear to me that one person’s truth is not another person’s truth.  This seems to be difficult or impossible for a lot of people to believe.  Some people, especially in rural areas, train their dogs without leashes.  They leave them in cars when they run in the hardware store.  My dog will be just fine without air conditioning.   In fact, she’s conked out in her Captain’s chair, all three feet in the air.  She knows how to beat the heat.

But it’s important to be balanced, too.  Social media is for sharing your thoughts, and you don’t want to censor that too heavily.  We have to be willing to engage in discussion on many levels and I think probably a lot of people like giving and getting advice. 

I don’t have any answers, just questions.

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4 comments on “What You Need to Do Is…

  1. posey says:

    I think people do it out of concern, most of the time. I think deep down people like to be needed and to help out.

  2. shawna says:

    that bob is my guru sometimes. i often have no opinion about things and sometimes i feel like there must be something wrong with me because i’m not outraged enough, often enough. the world is an unfair place, and you should fight to right the wrongs that you can; but sometimes you have to realize that we don’t all come from the same place, and there are many ways to live. also, people drive me up the wall with their anthropomorphizing (i’m sure that’s spelled wrong, but i know you don’t mind because i read your grammar thingy) of animals. no, she’s not manipulating you, she’s a fricking dog with a brain the size of a lemon. no, the stray cat i feed is not sad because i don’t love him, he just wants me to feed him. that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of loving their humans back, but they are animals that want to live their little animal lives. they don’t need air conditioning.

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