I was watching a very entertaining TEDx talk today and while the guy giving the talk was doing his presentation I immediately thought of a friend of mine. The guy giving the talk, Jason Roberts from TX, was obviously very excited and passionate about his topic and I really wanted to send the link of the talk to my friend, but I considered it for a beat and decided against it. Why, do you ask?
Not because I don’t like my friend, or thought he wouldn’t like it, but because I haven’t spoken to him in a while and I didn’t know if he would think it was appropriate. Or that he would appreciate it. Or that he wouldn’t think I was weird for sending him a TED talk out of the blue telling him it reminded me of him when we haven’t spoken in months and we really weren’t that close to begin with. Am I weird for wanting to send it?
I often see or hear things that make me think of others and love sending emails or posting on Facebook walls to share these things with the people I’m thinking of. And I love doing random nice things for my friends. But I so often get no response, or a negative response that I’ve pretty much stopped doing it.
For example, a few years ago a male friend and myself were going to meet for a movie. I thought it would be nice to smuggle soda and snacks into the theater like I had done as a kid, and to bring this friend his favorite soda (which he had ordered once while we were out to lunch). When we met outside of the theater I told him about my secret stash and showed him what I had brought. He simply said no thank you, and that he liked to buy a different kind of soda at that theater. It was just what he always did. I cannot tell you how hurt I was. I brushed it off because I didn’t want him to think it was a big deal, but I felt stupid for bringing him something I thought he would enjoy when he obviously didn’t want me to bother. I had brought it as a small token of my appreciation because he always paid when we went out, even though we weren’t dating. He, of course, didn’t know any of this so I tried not to take it too personally.
Another time, several months ago, I had texted a friend that I used to spend a lot of time with a message telling him I missed his face. I realized that people don’t tell each other often enough the nice things they think or feel, so I wanted to let him know what I was thinking. I got absolutely no response back. Maybe he didn’t get the text. Maybe by the time he got it too much time had gone by to reply. Maybe he felt uncomfortable with my candor.
Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe we as a society have learned not to get too involved. Not to share too much. Not to appear too vulnerable. How often have you heard a story or seen a segment on the news about how disconnected we can be? A child being spanked or verbally abused in public and no one says anything. A homeless man passes out on the street, but nobody stops to investigate. Two teenage girls playing heavy metal music on the bus just a little too loud and while everyone looks at them with annoyed looks on their faces, no one says a word. Are we afraid?
The last example was something that happened today on my bus home from grocery shopping. Two young girls got on the bus and immediately turned on a music device. I at first thought it was their phone ring tone, or they were watching a video that was a little too loud. I wanted to say something, because I had a headache, but kept making excuses not to. Maybe it will be over soon. When the bus is moving it’s not too bad. My stop is coming up soon anyway. What if I say something and they yell at me or get violent? The type of person that would get on a bus and play loud music obviously isn’t thinking of others, so if I ask them to turn it down they probably won’t anyway, right? And if they did get violent, would anyone come to my aid, or just ignore it and be glad it’s not them?
When did this become accepted behavior? The “I’m not going to get involved” behavior? Was U.S. society always like this? Why do we think it’s rude for other people to ask us politely to turn down our music? Why do we think it’s ok to get on a bus and play loud music and not consider others? Why do I get unsettled when the charming guy at work tells me, very sincerely, that he’s delighted to see me? And why do I hold back when I want to tell someone a nice thing that I was thinking about him/her?
A friend recently told me how when he travels through Asia, the women there often tell him he’s handsome. They will make this statement as part of normal conversation: as in, “Hello. You are very handsome.” I had this experience once before while I was volunteer farming in England’s Lake District. During dinner on my first night there the woman of the house, who was Filipino, told me that I was very sexy and that she wished she was tall and thin like me. I thanked her politely, but was unsure of her intention. I realized that she was complimenting me, not making a proposition, and just saying what she thought.
I didn’t express my delight at the time, for whatever reason, but I actually wish we could do that more here. Occasionally a very enlightened being will tell me I have a beautiful smile, or pretty eyes, but it’s few and far between. And I don’t think it’s because these things aren’t true, I just think people feel weird saying such things in a platonic way. Maybe they’re afraid I will take it the wrong way (as if!) or that it will make me squirm.
So maybe I’ll keep doing nice things and saying what I think and just accept the awkwardness. I think I would rather do that and risk being uncomfortable than not doing it and living in fear of how someone will react. Forget that guy for not accepting my soda!