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Unsubscribing effective immediately

Illuminated logos litter the dim horizon.

Stop here! they implore. Buy here! Give us your money!

The signs grow taller, brighter, louder.

They force themselves into consumer vision to force themselves into consumer minds, the better to extract money from consumer wallets.

They bombard me and tell me it’s for my own good. We’re trying to make your life more convenient! sounds kinder than: We want so much share in your mind that you forget we have competitors!

If this were only a roadside signs problem, it wouldn’t be so bad … but the problem is everywhere.

Advertisements invade websites with banners, embedded ads and pop-ups.

They invade my physical mailbox. They invade my virtual one, too. I make note of those who bombard me most aggressively before unsubscribing from their mailing lists and taking my money elsewhere. I am more than a walking wallet.

They would invade my blog if I didn’t pay a fee to block advertisements. I want my blog to feel like a refuge, not a marketplace. You are more than a walking wallet.

It’s not just advertisers trying to push individuals toward their desired results by subtle force that looks like kindness.

We do it to each other.

I’ve felt uncomfortable with certain types of conversations for a while. I couldn’t pinpoint why until I overheard a particularly stark example.

Someone whom we’ll call Rusty expressed concern over something difficult that had just happened in an acquaintance’s life. We’ll call the acquaintance Joe.

Joe said thanks and immediately steered the conversation elsewhere.

Rusty returned to Joe’s difficulties. He wanted to know more.

Joe resisted with increasingly clear cues that he didn’t want to discuss it.

Rusty pushed even harder. His words said, “I’m so concerned for you!” while his actions revealed otherwise. He wanted the scoop, the whole scoop, and nothing but the scoop. He’d accept nothing less.

He’d exerted force with concern in his voice, but he’d exerted force all the same.

With that alarming example in mind, I noticed at least another dozen examples of conversational force being wielded that day alone. Words said one thing, actions quite another.

I finally understood my discomfort.

That “at least you can have more kids” when someone’s child dies? Force: This conversation is uncomfortable for me. Let’s get it back where I want it.

There are much gentler options:

  • I am so sorry.
  • I can’t even imagine.
  • I know it doesn’t help much, but I picked up your dry cleaning for you.

That “you should be grateful for all you have” when someone says she’s overwhelmed? Force: I know better than you the full demands on your own life; you’re only suffering because you’re not applying my ideals to your actuals. 

Better options:

  • That sounds rough.
  • I hope things ease up soon.
  • Is there anything I can help with?

That “just smile,” “just ignore them,” justjustjust when someone explains hardships he’s facing? Force: Man up. This isn’t that big a deal. Let’s move on to the stuff I think is important.

Better options:

  • I hear you.
  • Are you open to another perspective?
  • [silence]

Since I overheard that force-filled exchange, I hear barely concealed agendas everywhere. Kind-sounding words are used to force listeners to places they don’t want to go. Places a little more ideal to the speaker.

Man, is it depressing to behold.

Acknowledging someone’s suffering needn’t be time consuming. It needn’t be a contest of wills that leaves one party irritated by inconvenience and the other feeling even more lost and alone.

So what do I do about it? I can’t stop others from trying to control or manipulate, whether they do so with smiles or shouts.

I can and will commit to two things.

First, I will do my best not to use force when I interact with others. I will apologize if I realize I have done so.

And I will not accept the use of this force on me. No matter what form it takes, how kind the words sound on their face, nor how wide the smile accompanying them.

I will invest my money and time not in those who push me, but in those who collaborate respectfully, connecting with me as me … not an opportunity to fulfill their own objectives.

From everything else, I’m unsubscribing effective immediately.

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  1. cardamone5
    March 11, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    It is so nice to hear my thoughts spoken by another. Our society is obsessed with everyone being happy, all the time. What if they’re not? Let them not be. Don’t force them into supposed contentment just because their unhappiness makes you uncomfortable. This is especially true for major life events like having a child where instant love does not occur, and the parents are struggling with overwhelmed/resentment/guilt feelings. Let them speak honestly about their emotions because to keep it bottled up is to risk it escalating into depression or some other debilitating condition.

    • March 11, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      Yes, yes, yes! Did you read the post I linked? It summed everything up in a way that made me laugh … and want to pump my fists at the same time.

  2. March 11, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    “That ‘you should be grateful for all you have’ when someone says she’s overwhelmed? Force: I know better than you the full demands on your own life; you’re only suffering because you’re not applying my ideals to your actuals.” < This!

    • March 11, 2015 at 7:56 pm

      I’ve heard this so many times before that it’s refreshing to finally figure out why such nice sounding words came out sounding not nice at all!

  3. March 11, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Interesting revelation, Deb. I think most of us talk unconsciously – I know that I do. This is a good reminder to engage my brain first.

    • March 11, 2015 at 8:03 pm

      I think you’re right about that. I don’t think it’s anyone’s intention to be callous when murmuring these statements, but they do reveal uncomfortable things–from lack of interest to perceived power differentials to a million other things. What I would love to see would be more conversation happening in the space before “you should.” More questions, more curiosity, more genuine instead of scripted engagement. The scripts save us time for sure (and are auromatic, making them haed to challenge), but they also deprive us of meaningful connection. So … I will be paying attentionans trying to do better!

      (Also, one of my wedding reception activities involved writing three good things apiece about bride and groom. I was baffled by how many people called me a great listener, but there might just be something to that!)

  4. March 11, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    If only there were an “unsubscribe” button for IRL people like this.

    • March 11, 2015 at 8:04 pm

      Amen! I think everyone goes there from time to time, but I know folks who live there.

      • March 21, 2015 at 3:02 pm

        Yes…..unfortunately…..

  5. March 11, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Well stated, Deb! Have noticed this intensely, recently….makes me nuts. I’m with you!

    • March 11, 2015 at 8:07 pm

      The behavior’s bugged me since I noticed it shortly after my mom died. Oh, was I mortified to think how many times I’d said like things before! I am so glad to finally have a starting point for articulating why it bugs me.

  6. March 11, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Yes! (To all of this.) There’s little more disheartening than the “At least you can still… / It could be worse…” type of response when you share a struggle with someone.

    • March 11, 2015 at 8:09 pm

      Yes! My ex used to stop conversations that he felt were too scripted: “If I can do it with a computer instead of a person, I’ll do it with the computer instead.” Now I hear the scripts as I suspect he always has, and, gah! It’s like nails on chalkboard!

  7. March 11, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    When the email notification for this post arrived in my inbox the subject line scared me bad. I thought it was you unsubscribing from me. So thanks for the fright!

  8. March 11, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    love this! I try to see the positive in most things but sometimes I just want to be pissed off at the world. I read the post you linked to and followed that blog! it was awesome!

    • March 11, 2015 at 8:18 pm

      I try as well, but sometimes it takes time. What I’ve learned is that trying to force myself to feel thanks or peace is counterproductive. (Turns out this force doesn’t feel good whether generated ecternally or internally!) So now I try letting myself be wherever I’m at. Eventually I make my way back to where I’m happiest, without any of the stress buildup that comes from trying to speed up timelines. I think that’s part of why “just” platitudes drive me so bonkers. I know where I’m going. I know how to get there. So glad for that. 🙂

  9. Anxious Mom
    March 11, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    Great post!

  10. March 11, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    Good luck.
    It is insidious and sneaks up I find.
    I volunteer on a crisis line and just listening is sometimes so very hard. And almost always very valuable.

  11. March 12, 2015 at 5:37 am

    I have to admit that I have a difficult time not forcing my ideas on people. It’s taken so much practice to shut my mouth. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes I’m unsuccessful. I don’t like hurting people so I continue to try to be sensitive and keep to my “say it once” rule. If I want someone to try to do something differently, I say it once and leave it to that person to decide. I definitely try to avoid things like in the article you linked. If someone expresses going through a difficult time, I try to keep it to “I’m so sorry” or some similar thing rather than point out all s/he should be grateful for.

  12. March 12, 2015 at 5:53 am

    THANK YOU for posting this. I’ve been dealing with rage over the way I was raised, and I’ve come the closest I ever have to full-on punching someone was recently, when my mom told me that I needed to “learn to smile” and “put the anger aside” when dealing with my dad. I’ve been trying to figure out why it hit me so hard … until I read this. “Force: Man up. This isn’t that big a deal. Let’s move on to the stuff I think is important.” Yeah. That.

  13. March 12, 2015 at 10:34 am

    “You should be grateful” and “Let it go” are two that grate on me constantly. The idea that anyone else feel so ‘entitled’ as to tell me my feelings (and having them when I do) about something are wrong just makes me shake my head. Not really sorry if my feelings and the timing thereof are inconvenient to anyone else.

    I always feel honoured if someone thinks enough of me to share their troubles, their thoughts and feelings with me. I don’t discount them with either platitudes or manipulations and I can’t really understand those who do. Yes, listening can be hard but I think we need to remember to appreciate how much harder the talking/sharing can be for people. I like to believe (and have been told) that I’m a good listener; I think at least some of it is because I’ll listen even if the words aren’t yet ready to be spoken, and I’m not afraid to admit when I don’t know what to say in response.

  14. March 12, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    yes. yes. yes.

  15. March 14, 2015 at 5:12 am

    I’ve been working on this myself. I haven’t got it quite down yet, but I’ve made strides.

  16. March 16, 2015 at 6:18 am

    Yes and thank you. I know I try, I don’t get it right all the time. Maybe none of us do. My friends and family have my permission to yank my chain, slap my silly, dump me off a building when I fail to listen and hear. Still I all to often fail at this fundamental act of empathy and that is what we are talking about, empathy.

    Thank you for this one, this reminder of our need to be kind. Loved the link also.

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