Remember that scene in “Circle of Friends,” when Minnie Driver says to Chris O’Donnell: “I know I may look like a rhinoceros, but I’ve got quite a thin skin really, so just be a bit careful with me…”? I remember that one because it rings true for me, and always has.
So it shouldn’t surprise me, really, that 15 hours later, I’m still smarting from some unkind remarks that were made toward me, remarks that stemmed from miscommunication, a little indiscretion, and some poor judgment of character.
Here’s the backstory. After two days of reading articles about unimaginable gridlock in the South and checking Facebook posts repeatedly to see that my friends and their families had gotten home safely, I was angry. Winter happens every year, and while an ice storm in the deep South is rare, for the five years I lived in Tennessee, I saw mass inefficiency every time there was a hint of ice or snow there.
Would it help if more people had four wheel drive tires or were better skilled at driving on ice? Of course. But that’s not the root of the problem. The problem, as has been stated in many articles, is that there is not preparedness to address a situation like a winter storm, which should not be considered unforeseeable. Whether it’s plows, salt, mass transit, poor planning, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. I don’t have the answer, but I believe one can be reached with some consideration and good minds coming together.
Anyway, late Wednesday night, I posted an irate status on Facebook that included a bid that Southern states “get their shit together… and do better.” States. Also cities, counties, etc. Not people. Not the individuals, the beleaguered citizens who sat for hours on gridlocked roads, who camped out in Home Depot, who waited on pins for their loved ones to come home. Those people did the best they could.
I woke up to some pretty nasty comments, mostly about the fact that as a Northerner I should keep my mouth shut. I even earned myself a “bless your heart.”
Again, I used to live in the South. I’d feel the exact same way if I still did. Actually, I’d be even more angry (though I still would have cried laughing at this). At this point, I’m just indignant on behalf of people I care about, not on my own behalf. Honestly, this was the meanest strangers have been to me since I was a newspaper reporter (strangers can be really mean to newspaper reporters), and I live in New York. Being mean is sort of socially acceptable here.
This is a problem with social media, and pervasive online communications. In this situation, there was a three-step breakdown:
1) It is too easy to just put your random thoughts out there, like I did. We’re increasingly indiscrete.
2) Reading tone is difficult on a computer screen. If one does not know the source of the words, one can easily misinterpret the intention of the person delivering them, the way my ire at the very unfortunate situation in which people were placed was misinterpreted as my mocking blameless citizens.
3) Step three actually circles us back to step one, it’s too easy to just put your random thoughts out there, like the people who reacted to me (with the exception of one friend who questioned how I would suggest the problems be addressed, and while I don’t have an answer, it was a good and fair question).
In order to stop a vicious infinite loop from occurring, I had to practice a considerable amount of restraint, including resisting the urge to correct a very irritating grammatical error (that was hard for me). And I also refrained from reminding a stranger that some things are not lost in translation.
“That chick is just lucky I’m too polite to to tell her ‘I lived in the South. I know what bless your heart means, and fuck you, too.'” I groused to my boyfriend. (I love ‘bless your heart,’ it’s a marvelously versatile expression, but when it’s used to mean “fuck you,” it’s still rude).
“Social protocol is to express sympathy,” he replied.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m a New Yorker,” I reminded him. “We express sympathy by being pissed off.”
That’s why some of us might seem more like rhinoceroses at first glance.