Sometimes, let people be wrong
We poke fun at people with OCD tendencies—people who can’t let desk items lie crooked, who must break to an even dollar amount at the gas pump—that sort of thing. But I think most of us suffer from OCD tendencies when letting people be mistaken or incorrect, in our opinion.
I’m talking about seeing things on the Internet, Facebook or whatever. It could be a story, a meme, a shared post, whatever. It might be a forwarded email, or a story from a friend, even a their/they’re/there or your/you’re mixup…who knows? If it’s wrong and we know it, there’s something in us the springs to life, pushing us to go out of our way to correct the bad information.
Even if we don’t know the person, most of us, at some point or another, have inserted ourselves into a conversation or situation and have offered a corrective bit of information.
“Hello, I’m Josh, you don’t know me, but actually the thing is this.…”
And of course this normally changes people’s lives and everyone is a richer person for the experience. Yeah…
I remember as a college student there was a friend from the speech and debate team—maybe it was some other group, I don’t remember. Anyway, it was a group that focused on delivering speeches and/or arguments. His particular story was this 10 minute narration where recently (at the time), a liberal college professor and retinue came into a restaurant carrying a bunch of anti Iraq-war signs. They gave the wait staff a hard time about their rights or something. Then a veteran stood up, gave a speech of his own, and paid for the anti-war people’s dinner. The other restaurant patrons applauded. Cue curtain.
It was a moving account. I was impressed by the story. Later I found out it was a chain letter from the Vietnam-era, repurposed to fit in with the post-9/11 Iraq war. Found a page online, where the word-for-word narration existed, supposedly from the 70s. Even the old letter was shown to be a falsehood—an urban legend. I, of course, sprung to action, trying to let people know about it around campus.
They didn’t really want to know it wasn’t true. I was politely told to drop it through their apathy. Nobody likes a know-it-all after all, right?
Later as a journalism student, one of my professors told this story about her great aunt having a cactus that exploded from all of these hatching spider eggs inside, covering her apartment with baby spiders. Turns out that one was false too, and you can find version of it happening to bananas or cacti all over the web.
On and on, through the years I’ve noticed as we push out forwarded emails and memes and whatever scraps of interesting or emotional content we can. We gorge ourselves on it, passing it along through our social channels with all the strain and effort of a mouse click.
The bummer, though, is we often don’t care about facts. Sharing is so easy that looking something up to verify it is too much work. Remember your first smart phone? You’d look up anything, map anything, figure out anything. Now? Six smartphones on a dinner table and no one wants to see what other movie that person was in. Meh. We’ll live.
Moreover, we often don’t care if it’s true. We love it if it bashes our political enemies, or adds to our existing prejudices against our target skin tones, but we don’t ever seem to think we should take responsibility for the stuff we post, especially if it’s just being funny. That’s another blog post, though.
And of course, as in years past, when finding myself on the “I’m right” end of something, I would spring to action, listing the Snopes.com or Wikipedia article that stepped through the cited ways the suspect information was suspect. Can’t let that stand, can I? People like me have to maintain the standard, or whatever the hell I’m doing.
But as I see the same sorts of things posted year after year, and I wear myself out, I’ve noticed a few things.
One, who am I to think I’m always the right one? Geez.
Two, it’s not by job to get people to change. I can encourage them to think for themselves, but I can’t make them if they’re the type of person who constantly falls for bad info.
Three, some people don’t want to be correct, they just want to be heard (Proverbs 18:2, all day…)
With this third point, it took me a while to come to terms. My OCD tendencies of trying to be right—or at least trying to keep others from being wrong, tied me to a heavy burden of constant vigil.
Partly, I would like to think it’s a vigil of concern and empathy—I’ve been duped before into believing something sent to me—sent out into the world to try and get something done concerning an issue, only to find out I was the victim of some 40-year-old chain letter prank. This supposed vigil tried to stop that from happening to others.
However, more to the point, often it was a vigil of pride. Especially in the case where I don’t know the ‘offending parties,’ going out of my way on something like Facebook to start to argue with a stranger is egotistical and prideful.
If I know the person, if I have an actual relationship…great, maybe I can gracefully bring something up if it’s a problem. It is good to stand up for what is right, after all. And in the case of hateful, sexist, bigoted or racist stuff–yes I’m going to keep standing up and speaking out. But for most of this vapid stuff, what’s the fuss? So, I’ve tried not to be johnny-on-the-spot with debunking links.
And that’s where I’ve noticed the OCD ticks. I’ll see a gimmick, meme, or vitriolic rant on a blog or social media channel, and I’ll let it go. Well, I’ll TRY to let it go. At first it was impossible. Now, it’s easier. Soon, I hope to live a more peaceful life, not as outraged or put off by crazy people’s prattling.
And in so doing, I’ll be adding less crazy prattle to the world as well.