Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dealing with "Toppers"

Hello Polite Readers!

Politely Worded is back! I had a very busy Autumn and sort of let it fall by the wayside, but I've really missed this blog so I hope you'll help me revive it by sending your letters to I'll be resuming my regular every-Wednesday update schedule.

I'd like to kick things off by discussing a problem that I've been witnessing on Facebook and other social media a lot lately, which is "topper" behavior. You know the sort, whatever happens to you, they have a story of something better, worse or more crazy that happened to them. I'm not referring to sharing similar stories in a spirit of camaraderie, but of saying "Oh, that's nothing, the other day I..."

You'll see it a lot this time of year in regards to weather. Large chunks of the US just got hit with a nasty cold storm, which means that quite a few of us were colder than we expected to be before the Solstice hit. This means that quite a few of us in traditionally warm areas were complaining about the sudden cold, having to cover our plants, trying to find a good coat, and getting the furnace or fireplace up and running. Almost every single AZ person ended up with a response from someone farther north or east telling us to suck it up, because it was 18F or whatever where they were.

You'll also see it with health issues. If you have a cold or sprained your wrist, you get told not to complain, because someone else has a chronic illness.

But here's the thing: knowing someone else has it worse than you doesn't automatically make your own discomfort going away. Objectively, I know 18F is much colder than 50F, but that does nothing to stop me from being chilled because I'm adapted to a warm climate. Objectively, a cold isn't that big of a deal but it is annoying when you get one two days before a major dance performance when you should be practicing. Unhappiness is not a contest where only the winners (losers?) get sympathy.

Similarly, you may see this attitude in regards to causes. If you're involved in the "body love" movement, you'll see people saying that because people who are overweight face more stigma than people who are thin, we should ignore the problem of skinny shaming. But knowing that some other group gets bullied more than you do doesn't make it hurt less when someone says something mean. Likewise, if we all gave all of our money to curing cancer, for instance, it wouldn't do anything to help people living in poverty, or rescue abused pets or preserve a local historic building.

So what do you do when faced with this sort of attitude? It depends on the situation. If someone is just spouting off a stupid opinion in their own status update, you should probably not engage. If they respond to your own update with a "suck it up" sort of attitude, I recommend killing them with kindness. "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that it's so cold where you are. I could never live there, I like my warm winters too much." Or pointedly ignore them. Respond to the people who add to the conversation and ignore the people who just want to draw attention to themselves or be negative.

Sometimes, you can use it as a teaching moment. When dealing with social issues and "X is worse than Y" opinions, engage them in a thoughtful conversation. Ask them why they feel that way, explain why you disagree (or why you agree, but you find that you're able to combat both X and Y). With luck you'll be able to have an intelligent conversation and you'll both come out of it feeling better-educated and more empathic to those who feel differently.

If you find that someone is a constant negative influence in your on-line life and you don't need to communicate with them, you should really just unfriend them or otherwise remove them from your network. If they do need to be a part of your life, it may be time to send them a private message and ask why they have been making such pointed comments on your posts, and is something bothering them?

Next week we'll have a question of dance etiquette, my favorite!

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