The biggest problem that I see with so many people having the opportunity to share their voice on the Internet is that they often get criticized for things that they never actually said. Tone has always been something that’s hard to convey via text – from junior high arguments being started by a sarcastic remark on MSN Messenger, to public figures getting decimated in the news for a tweet that was meant to be a joke. Before you attack a person for something they said (or something you think they said), I would recommend that you take a moment to consider what they meant by what was said. Sometimes, there’s a difference. The speakers’ intent isn’t always reflected in their choice of words – or sometimes the audience chooses to project drama and negativity onto what the speaker was trying to get across. And in a world where you need to get your point across in 140 characters or less, your intent often gets lost.
This is something that’s often been at the forefront of my mind. I’ve always been pretty good at reading between the lines and understanding the thought process behind what someone was saying. In high school, I got caught in the middle of arguments between friends a lot because I was able to grasp both sides when they didn’t understand each other. I got high marks in English and Drama classes because I could see past written words and delve into how the author wanted their work to be read and understood. And more recently, I’m able to sympathize with public figures who say things that might not be as “politically correct” as our society demands as of late. In fact, this whole post was inspired by recent tweets from a singer named Jennel Garcia.
Jennel wasn’t implying that social anxieties aren’t real – obviously that would be an ignorant and plain ol’ incorrect statement to make. However, Jennel has a fair point: People, especially young people, use labels like “anxiety”, “depression” and “mental illness” as a crutch. These conditions are very real, and can be crippling – no one is denying that. While I know this and have experience with it, I also know that not everyone who says they have a mental illness actually has one. “Anxiety” is not a synonym for “shyness”, “depression” is not the same as “having a bad week”, and “mental illness” is certainly not parallel to “feeling off for a little while”. People say things like, “Oh my god, I’m so awkward, I don’t know if I can deal with this party,” because they’d rather be at home on Tumblr than go to the party. Honey, you’re “awkward” because you’d rather experience life through fanfics and text posts than actual social experiences. I know it can be hard – I mean hell, I’m 23 years old and I still don’t like showing up to social events alone because I’m afraid of feeling – you guessed it – awkward. But you’re never going to get past it if you don’t do it. Just do it.
I felt really sorry for Jennel while I was scrolling through the replies to that tweet. People didn’t understand that she wasn’t being ignorant or rude, she was trying to call out the fakers and say, “Hey, it’s not cool that you’re taking this very real thing that effects a lot of people, and using it as a trendy accessory.” If the people who saw that tweet and reacted negatively had taken a minute to see the tweets that came after, or the types of things she was replying to regarding the topic, they would have realized that she wasn’t being malicious, and in fact is very passionate about having honest conversations about mental illness.
I just think it’s something we should keep in mind – people deserve a chance to explain themselves. People deserve more than 140 characters to voice their opinion, but since that’s the platform we use the most, maybe as an audience we need to take a breather and think about the intentions behind what people are saying – most of the time these statements aren’t being made by bad or ignorant people, so why are we so quick to assume they’re being bad and ignorant? I’m sure we all know what it’s like to have something we’ve said taken out of context, and get a lot of shit for it. We don’t like it, so maybe stop doing it to other people, okay? Okay. I’m glad we’ve come to an understanding, People of The Internet.
(Hoo boy, I wish it was that easy to come to an understanding with the People of The Internet…)