Conversations: A Way to Open Doors

Social media has forced society into new ways of living their lives. When I grew up, people stopped by to visit, we asked them to stay for coffee and dessert or even dinner. We were good hosts. We had conversations. Sometimes these turned into debates in a Hungarian household (and I assume any European one would be the same). It wasn’t fueled with hatred or venom, just trying to understand each other in a loud voice with arms swinging while they spoke. This was healthy because people were in discussion. The walk to the door started and ended with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Now, instead of visiting each other and having conversations, we are stuck with posting, replies, ghosting and gaslighting. This has become normal that no one even bats an eye anymore when they hear about this. Offenders feel entitled to ghost or gaslight because they read an article about it. Anger has ensued as a result of this. Kids are committing suicide, people are being killed and its all in a day’s cycle of venting their hostility, their fears, their pain, their inability to have a conversation with someone.

In my family, we are a cast of narcissists. Now that the first-generation patriarch has died, and along with this, many friends of the family, there is no respect for the past or for each other. We have “the hero,” and the “placater.” The latter means they are the one who allies with the narcissist and the former is the beloved family member to the narcissist. Then we have two “recovering” addicts who don’t feel a need to be in AA because they aren’t interested in growing. There is no respect for anyone who doesn’t live in denial or who lives with integrity. It is about “sweeping things under the rug,” or “fuhgeddaboudit,” (line from Johnny Depp’s character in Donnie Brasco). Lots of gossip and lies but no conversations. When you try to have a conversation, they ghost you or become aggressive and kick you out of the house or yell at you for asking a question. Or, better yet, gaslight you by saying it never happened. I have found, in my practice, that many families are dealing with this type of family unit which causes anxiety for the scapegoat – the one trying to please, the one who gets walked on, talked about, or the black sheep ultimately. The scapegoat is ganged up on in the family and it is accepted.

I am not saying that the past was ideal, but it was a better form of communication to converse rather than to be on social media and post/reply. Emails are just as bad because we often get caught up in misunderstanding the intent. We all do this. What I have found is that when the past (the elders) gets together – those who are left, there is a deep respect for each other. There is a sense of loyalty. Even if they had fights in the past, even if there were moments when they would tell their husbands/wifes that they didn’t like something about that person – NOW, they get together and hug and talk about the past, the present and the future. How many people have someone they can count on who will be with them till the bitter end?

Conversation is an opening. It takes bravery. It takes someone who has respect for another person – for people in general. It is about making something happen because you are invested in that relationship. It is also about discussing things you don’t agree on and hearing what that person has to say. It is about giving someone a chance. It is for saying hello and goodbye – even when this hurts to hear. It is about making amends and mending relationships.

I often tell people to think of the years we have heard pro-life/pro-choice arguments. The years of anti-gun rallies vs. pro guns. Now we are seeing women’s rights being destroyed by a new wave of extremists who feel entitled to walk in our bathrooms and invade our privacy. Who feel they are entitled to take over women’s sports. Will women’s rights be annihilated and will we continue to have this argument for decades, just like it took us for suffrage? Just like the abortion and gun debate? And why is it that pre-pandemic, feminists would have done anything for women’s rights and now they turn a blind eye – for men?

Like the next guy, I like the Twitter feed posts, I make my comments, though I know I am often preaching to the choir. I am not interested in arguing with people online because I don’t know them. I rarely make comments on people’s posts I don’t agree with or engage in fights because it won’t solve anything. It is not a conversation. It is a reply to a post. Social media has not made progress, it has hampered it, no matter how much people want to argue about it. It has allowed people to come out of the closet and harm people under the guise of freedom of speech. This is why young people are being harmed – not by guns, by people who aren’t talking. Social media is a place for trolls to hide and perps to gain glory.

Being upset with someone and having a conversation with them, offers a chance for someone to grow (or not). It alleviates tension by allowing people to vent. Not conversing is akin to a five-year-old saying “I don’t like you and I am not going to talk to you anymore.” Although, the minute the five-year-old sees that their nemesis has a great new toy – friends, once more. Adults don’t do this. In my life, I have not heard people focused on suicide/homicide as much as we are now. It has become trendy in a sick way. No different than kids self-diagnosing online for pity. Or being sensitive to pedophiles rather than their victims. And celebrities push these things – pushing drag queens to be with little children. What was in that vaccine anyway? I wonder.

As a teenager, I didn’t know what a gay person was nor did I know what suicide and homicide was. I heard about these things on TV and even in my family, but it was not something within my inner circle. My friends were NOT telling each other to “Go kill yourself.” They weren’t having discussions about “What should we do if a shooter comes to our school?” We weren’t openly discussing sexuality, except gossiping about the Science teacher or the girl who was a little butch (though we didn’t use that word). We complained about our parents, worried about our grades, talked about the future, about boys we liked (or girls the boys liked). We wondered if we were “showing,” if we wore white pants on that dreaded day which we didn’t expect. We made lots of really dumb mistakes that were life-changing moments, or experiences we never repeated again. This is because we were not beholden to a computer or a phone. We were in school to learn. We went home to be taught values. We went to church (or did not but this was rare). We respected our elders, which was taught to us by the unspoken family rules (though some needed little reminders). Conversations happened with peers, generally not so much with adults – unless you had a more healthier family mindset.

My entire life, I have not had such an issue with friends until returning home to Ohio, which I call the “Sweep it under the rug,” state. There were disagreements in the past, but I can trace my biggest frustrations with the advent of social media and the shift in conversation. Before Ohio, I was involved with lots of commitments, boards, volunteering in everything under the sun. I had a good friend, who was like a mother to me, and I could depend on her to be there for me through thick and thin. I was on social media, and made mistakes on social media, but generally with strangers as I was not really clear how to handle the oddity of remarks. I didn’t focus on this so much though because the bulk of my life was with people, in-person. Being in groups of people, you can chat amongst each other (live) to help understand a situation that you had gotten into with another. However, I really had very supportive and loving people in my life so that – for the most part, it was generally over a boyfriend and rarely a girl friend (gal pal).

Returning to Ohio, my best friend died, and I was faced with the family and their narcissism. I had to create new friendships and Ohioans really don’t like adding to their cliques. This is something I saw immediately but have heard from various other non-natives. Suddenly, I have had to face isolation, misunderstandings, a pandemic, running a business (not having co-workers), a covert narcissist with my only boyfriend here and ghosting for the first time. I also had a troll from Australia who was trying to harm me/my company online at the onset of my business. Believe me, there is no support for such a thing unless you are killed by that someone. Suddenly, people notice. All these computer slang terms, I have learned from hearing clients talk about it and then realizing how it had also impacted me.

What I have also seen here, in Ohio, is very bad coping skills. Suddenly, everyone is very large – even their partners. People seem to want to stay in their homes and live off of ordering things online. There are smaller friendship circles. When I tried to join boards, they ask ME for money. I have volunteered to be involved in things but have been ignored – for the most part. Of course, doing things on my own, talking out loud on a blog, engaging in my passions, makes one even more knowledgeable in a sea of non-intellectuals. There is a saying, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” Though, I have found, the older I get and the more I know, the less people care and the less they want to hear. Thus, the more you know, the more isolated you become. A boyfriend once said to me “It is lonely at the top.” Not that I feel I am on top of anything, but I relate to the saying nonetheless. Conversations are the most important form of expression that I value. I can’t grow unless I have someone to talk to and they engage in a discussion with me. Silence is a bitter enemy to me which I am very challenged by.

As I think of silence, I think of the signs in people’s yards which have invaded my community since the pandemic began. These signs are not conversations but akin to an inner city thug “tagging” the “hood.” For those who don’t know, this is what gang members do, like a cat, marking their territory. It is a version of graffiti, though it is a signature/warning of a gang member. When I see signs in people’s yards, denoting their opinions, it is like tagging their house and telling people to stay away. It is a threat, just like tagging.  It is also telling buyer’s to beware considering this area. It is social media come to life. It is people who no longer have respect for “curb appeal,” and want to trash the neighborhood with their thoughts. Not conversations, just signs.

We don’t open doors with signs. We don’t open doors by ghosting, gaslighting, posts or replies. We open doors by listening to each other and engaging in a discussion – in person, or even on the phone. A couple will not last without conversation and a friendship will end quickly, just because they have felt threatened by a remark. Once we were a strong, sturdy, people and now we are a weak, sensitive, sad existence. I am talking about my experience but since social media is international, I am quite sure folks around the world can relate in different ways – with their own stories. It would be interesting to hear thoughts and comments about how this is so, where you live. People do not survive in isolation. They become depressed. Some become angry and self-righteous. We are meant to talk to one another. We were created on a planet with so many people. Open the door to make amends or to check in with a long-lost friend. Be brave, be strong, be willing to be loved.

Note: Photos are of my stepfather with his friends. First photo is in the late 50’s early 60’s when they had first come from Hungary. Second photo is around the 80’s.

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