Forgive Me, Dear Friends, For I Have Screwed Up

If I were to tell you that my 7-year-olds don’t yet know how to swim, how would you respond to this confession?

Perhaps if you are someone I know from the dimension known as real life, you would offer advice and assure me that I’m not a bad mom because I waited so long to sign them up for lessons.

But what if I posted this same admission in a parenting forum or even on Facebook (which is supposed to be populated with “friends”)? Would you give me the same kind of support or would you grab an opportunity to showcase the marvelous talents of your own children? Or, worse yet, publicly thrash me for putting my kids at a disadvantage because they won’t be able to keep up with their pals?

Okay, so maybe you can’t relate to the swimming lessons example. It’s possible that subjects like child behavior or nutrition or bedtime or grades hit closer to home. But my question is this:

What is it about the Internet that makes (some of) us behave in such a way that we’re constantly trying to build ourselves up by making others look bad?

I’ve seen a lot of judgments tossed around online. And believe me – I’m no angel. I sometimes feel a little judgy when I’m reading a lot of the crap I see on my own news feed or on the hilarious STFU, Parents blog.

But I just roll my eyes and move on. Or I try to imagine what would make a person post such drivel or respond so angrily to something that’s none of her business. Why pick a fight? What do you have to gain by doing that?

A few days ago I read a  “controversial” New York Times article. The author tells the readers that she discovered her $400 stroller had been stolen after leaving it unattended and unlocked on a street in her Brooklyn neighborhood. Within the first paragraph of the piece she writes, “Yes, I am fully aware of the fraught nature of complaining about the loss of a $400 stroller, one that epitomized privilege, and all that is loathsome about urban bourgeois parenting to begin with.”

So, right there at the outset she demonstrates self-reflection. Despite her despair at the loss of her property, she acknowledges that she should have made some effort to secure the stroller, and then charges herself with elitism for owning a $400 stroller in the first place.

But, boy oh boy! You should have seen some of the comments that followed the article! In fact, I’ll quote a couple of them here:

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, too bad, soooooooooooo sad! My poor, deprived kids had to do with a $20 Umbrella Stroller. Somehow all four of them have grown up to be productive, employed citizens.”

I get it, Commenter #1. You are trying to establish that your kids growed up real good even though they didn’t have the nice things. Kudos to you! Here’s your Parent of the Century Award! And another one:

“Every stroller that costs over $25.00 should be stolen. And the nerve of a woman complaining to the police about it; they have enough to do. Steal that stroller!”

Wait…did she actually advocate theft? She obviously feels that strollers priced over $25 are an enormous plight on society. Way to prove your point, Commenter #2, and also make yourself look like an Urban Robin Hood!

But what really stunned me is the comment from this man:

“Someone should explain to this writer – and to the editor that approved publication of this piece – that writers are supposed to have a point when they write. Filling up space with pointless meanderings about your recent personal inconveniences is both a waste of valuable space and the worst sort of self-indulgent narcissism.”

You, dear sir (otherwise known here as Commenter #3) have indeed missed that there was indeed a point to the article. The writer was examining the culture and opened up a discussion (as evidenced by the many comments which followed the piece) about privilege and responsibility. Guess you were too busy railing against narcissism while, ironically, behaving in a pretty narcissistic way, yourself.

My point (and I do have one) is that both the comments and the article itself stirred up some strong emotions for me, too, but I didn’t feel the need to excoriate the writer and proclaim my philosophies to a forum inhabited by people I don’t even know. Would it have been worse if this discussion had occurred on Facebook, where the commenters know the person who initiated the discussion? Yes, that would have been more humiliating for the complainer, so that does make it worse.

All I’m saying is that we, as on online community, need to figure out how to behave appropriately. Are our comments and criticisms helpful or are they just a means to draw attention to ourselves in any way possible?

Unfortunately, a lot of the time, I think it’s the second one.

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