I feel like a lot of end of year posts tell of things you did, and New Year’s posts tell of things you want to do or think you should. But for this last List-cember post, I wanted to share five things we don’t have to do—even though the world suggests we should.
There are so many good things in this world. So many good people, good hearts, good intentions and good words, but they are so often shoved into the background by greed, selfishness, jealousy, pride and fear—many of which are celebrated or encouraged—intentionally or not—by and on social media.
So, as we reflect on the year we’ve just finished and look forward into the year we have ahead, let’s try and remember that we don’t have to do these things, even if they seem easy, popular or what everyone else is doing.
Also, please hear me when I say that I don’t write this post from a motherly, all knowing, “perfect” perspective. I am just as guilty of these things as anyone else, and I write this as a letter to myself as well as anyone else who might come across it.
1) Take things personally
Have you ever been driving on the freeway and wanted to change lanes but the person next to you is either going too slow, too fast, or for whatever reason, just won’t let you over, so you are FUMING, spewing words of hate at this person for being a terrible, selfish driver? Have you ever done so without turning on your blinker, thus not giving the person next to you any reason to know anything about your desire/need to change lanes, thus making them not a selfish, clueless idiot, but just an uninformed driver who is simply trying to get to their destination just like you?
I saw a post on Twitter a while back where a girl shared that one of the most valuable things her therapist ever told her was: “Not everything is about you.” While this seemed obvious at first, I realized how often I too assume this—as a driver or otherwise. Not necessarily in a selfish way, but in an anxious one that suggests, somehow, that everything everyone is doing is targeted at me—whether that be in a positive or negative way.
This is not necessarily surprising, as digital media has made us all believe we are the center of the universe. Algorithms are designed to cater to our needs and technology has been created to satisfy our every whim within seconds. As a result, I think we tend to forget that we aren’t the center of the universe. That there are opinions, perspectives and values that are different than ours—will always be different than ours—and those differences aren’t an attack on us, but rather a truth for someone else.
Don’t get me wrong, our values are important. Removing toxic people and things from your life is important. Unfollowing and/or muting friends and family members that only bring you frustration is important. Fighting for what you believe in is important. But encouraging progress and community by holding room for healthy conversations between opposing perspectives, rather than submitting to the taught behavior of blocking and ignoring all opinions and people that don’t agree with or celebrate you, is one of the most important things we can do right now.
Take a minute. Turn on your blinker and look out for others’. Remember that the things people say and the opinions they hold are built on more than just impulsivity. We are all products of our unique upbringings, and our values are defined by our core experiences. Your way of living is not the only way. So while you shouldn’t turn a blind eye to those blatantly trying to belittle or destroy your or others’ way of life, you also shouldn’t always assume that someone else’s way of life is a direct attack, slight, or even remotely related to or taking concern with yours. It is not always about you, or me, or any single person. Life was given to and made for all of us, and we can all make the world a better place by sharing our unique perspectives and listening to those of others.
2) Have the last word
The idea of the “clap back”—of having a good retort to an insult or sarcastic comment—has become very popular online. People love to see the drama, to see the perfectly worded arguments and digital slaps to the face. I get it. I’ve tuned in to the drama and I understand wanting to be the smartest, wittiest or toughest. It can give you confidence, it can make you feel like the bigger person. But a lot of the time, it just drags you down.
Sometimes you might say something you don’t mean, just because you were trying so hard not to be the person who was left speechless or proved wrong. Sometimes you set yourself up for more hurt than the comment is worth. Sometimes you forget you can just let things go.
You can let the argument end, you can release the negativity associated with the situation. You can be the better person and realize that, maybe it doesn’t serve you to continue to try say the most hurtful, most clever, or most sarcastic thing. A lot can be said with silence. With not giving in to the invitation to fight or tear down.
Plus, the thing about drama is there will always be more, and people will always move on to the next big thing. But you, me, we are all left with the consequences of our actions, of our “last words.” So maybe sometimes we don’t throw that final punch, maybe we react with kindness, or maybe we say nothing at all.
3) Lean on drama for conversation
I am someone who at times is self-conscious about lulls in conversations. I often feel very responsible for keeping conversations going and read awkward silences as a fault or failure of mine. As a result, sometimes when I can’t think of anything else to say, my mind will reach for details that I’ve seen online or heard in passing conversation. Rumors beg to be spread in those moments, it’s what keeps them alive. But maybe next time you catch yourself without an obvious next topic of conversation, you don’t turn to the gossip and drama of other people’s lives. Maybe you just relax into a moment of thought. Maybe you get a little vulnerable and share something about your own life that you’ve never shared before. Maybe we stop spreading (or starting) negativity or judgement just to protect ourselves from discomfort or awkwardness.
4) Make sense to everyone
2021 was a big year of getting to know myself. I spent a lot of time alone, a lot of time experiencing my own company and everything that entails. I got to know what I like and don’t like without the context, and thus the opinions or judgements of other people. Sometimes it was magical, sometimes it was terrifying and lonely. Because when you really get to know yourself, you learn who you truly are, and in understanding and accepting that person, it becomes harder and harder to present anyone else to others. And sometimes, when you present your truest self to others, it doesn’t make sense to them.
But that’s okay.
Your likes, dislikes, values, opinions, quirks and choices will not always make sense to everyone—and sometimes won’t make sense to anyone but you. But you are the only person living your life, so when it comes down to it, the only person you should make sense to is you.
The term “relatable” has become so enamored and sought after. We want other people to relate to and understand us, especially in our most vulnerable places. But it often takes someone stepping outside the box of relatability to share something actually relatable—even if it’s only to a select few people.
So let’s stop worrying about making sense to every person we meet—or every person we love. Let’s just learn who we are in our most honest states, and start introducing those people to the world.
5) Witch Hunt
I get that the world has a lot of flaws, and I agree that some of them are unforgivable. I believe that there are people who abuse their power, manipulate others, commit unimaginable crimes, and treat people as less than human. There are people who need to be taken down, laws that need to be changed, directions and attitudes in the public that need to be adjusted and corrected. But waiting in the wings, listening with ears that only aim to cancel and condemn, and borderline hoping that someone makes a mistake solely so you can put them in their place—namely on video or in the spotlight of the social media comment section—does not actually do the world any good.
We live in a world that thrives off of cancel culture. Everyone claims to be furthering a greater cause, when most people are really just screaming at each other from opposing sides of an argument. We’ve stopped looking for ways to connect with each other and instead obsess over ways to destroy each other. We dig into each other’s pasts, unwilling to take notice of whether previous opinions, comments or mistakes have led us to become better, more productive, more educated human beings. We negate all progress and feed only on persecution, convinced that the destruction of bad people will result in the flourishment of good people. But we forget how much life goes into forming an opinion or person, and how far a simple redirection can go. How far a story can go. How far our vulnerability, our willingness to explain where we stand and why we stand there, can go.
So don’t write people off after one mistake. Don’t witch hunt. Don’t feed off of the failure of others. Communicate, encourage, and redirect. Prioritize community over cancellation.
Happy New Year, y’all. May we take extra time and care to make this year as bright as possible, for as many as possible.
Wishing only good things for you, see you in 2022!
Check out more List-cember posts here.