Guilt-Shaming for Charity

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Let’s talk social media. Not the Russian infiltration or the zombie screen-starers it has made of all of us. I want to talk torture by my friends, wonderful people who ought to know better.

First, I have a confession to make: I didn’t get you anything for your birthday. You and I don’t have that kind of relationship.

I do celebrate the day you were born – you wouldn’t be my friend if I didn’t feel that way. But we don’t have the kind of friendship where we get each other birthday gifts.

So, why, I have to ask you, did you think I would send money to your favorite charity in lieu of the gift I was never going to get you?

If you’re like me, your social media feeds are filling up with virtue. This friend and that friend are saying that, for their birthday, they are raising money for their favorite charity. Well, bully for them.

I have my own charities. They’re meaningful to me because of the things I’m passionate about. Animals. Children. The environment. And when I am feeling charitable, I give to them. But I’m not expecting my passions to be yours. You do you.

And, while I’m at it?

No, I won’t post photos of book covers or album covers. I know these people mean well too, but honestly, life’s too short for me to play these reindeer games of tag-you’re-it online.

And that goes double for prayer chains, angel chains, cut-and-paste-this-content posts and the WORST – the self-pitying “I’ll bet you won’t read to the end because you’re not a real friend.” No. Just stop.

You may believe in prayer. Cool. I believe in energy and sending good, loving energy and that’s probably pretty close to prayer. And I will send positive energy out for loved ones or even friends’ loved ones who are in trouble. But don’t blackmail me into it. Don’t guilt me into prayers, because that kind of thing? It’s bad energy, and it’s the opposite of prayers.

And, as long as I’m being cranky, here’s my final plea. No more photos of abused animals. I think people who abuse animals should be sent straight to hell, stopping only long enough for some in-kind torture along the way. But I can’t bear the photos. They don’t help the animals, and any monster who tortured an animal in the first place? They’re beyond the ability to be shamed on social media.

My birthday is in March. But you can give me my gift now. Do something nice for yourself. If that means giving money to charity because you enjoy the endorphin rush of helping others? Go for it. Just don’t tell me about it.

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The Battle to Seize the Ear

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I work remotely. That means that my office is in one state and I live in another. So meetings happen by Skype or phone or email. All of which is fine until a large staff meeting. Because what happens is the dynamic of a largely female office – people talking over one another, people laughing, people forgetting that anyone listening in via teleconference is unable to pull apart the strands of individual conversations. It’s a wave of noise.

I love my coworkers, so after some good-natured grumbling into the speakerphone, I’m fine. And they try to be mindful of my invisible presence, at least until enthusiasm for the topic at hand takes them away again.

But it makes me wonder: is anyone really listening anymore?

Watch the morning shows. The hosts – and it’s usually the women – all talk at the same time, interrupting in their eagerness to have their say. Even when they interview one on one, the producer’s voice in their earbud means they can only half-listen to what the celebrity or politician is saying. It doesn’t matter what the answer is in the interview, it matters what the next question is going to be.

I find myself doing the same thing. Part of me registers what my companion is saying, part of me searches for the clever retort.

In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, he describes the illusion of a conversation:

“You know what happens when two people talk. One of them speaks and the other breaks in: “It’s absolutely the same with me, I…” and starts talking about himself until the first one manages to slip back in with his own “It’s absolutely the same with me, I…”

The phrase “It’s absolutely the same with me, I…” seems to be an approving echo, a way of continuing the other’s thought, but that is an illusion: in reality it is a brute revolt against a brutal violence, an effort to free our own ear from bondage and to occupy the enemy’s ear by force. Because all of man’s life among his kind is nothing other than a battle to seize the ear of others.”

I sometimes think psychologists’ offices are filled not only with the mentally ill, but with the terminally lonely, the ones wanting someone to just listen. To do nothing else but really listen.

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