Tuesday, April 1, 2014

It's Not Personal

Today I woke up knowing that, before the day was through, somebody was going to take to Facebook to announce a "pregnancy."

How is that, you ask?

Why, it's April Fools' Day, of course!  What could possibly be funnier than waving a "positive" pregnancy test around in a little AFD game of Most Gullible Friends?

Hahahahaha.  It's so hilarious.  I mean, you not only get to see which friends actually care about you, you get to make fun of them for believing you would tell the truth about a huge, life-changing event like pregnancy...

But you know what?  Even though I personally consider this kind of thing to be thoughtless and tacky, and even though it's incredibly painful and upsetting to me as an individual, it is not personal.

And I don't need to make it become so.

I've been thinking about people taking things too personally for a few months now.  It started when I read a snarky comment in Dear Abby written by a reader who took offense to Abby's annual Christmas greeting to her Christian readers, because, as a non-Christian, she wasn't included in the warm wishes.  (And here I thought we were still in generic "Happy Holidays" mode after a bunch of non-believers felt miffed that other human beings would take the time to wish them well with the words, "Merry Christmas"...).

Not long after that I read an article on the Huffington Post written by a mother who used her public forum to pressure Nordstrom into stopping the sale of an offensive pillow.  What was so offensive about it?  Printed on the front were the words "To h*** with beauty sleep, I want skinny sleep."  An upsetting message, to be sure.  It upset me so much I laughed out loud at the sentiment.

And finally, in the news recently, a local company came under fire for their plumbing ad, which featured a toddler standing next to a toilet, holding a rubber ducky in his hand.  "No job too small, we fix it all" was the slogan.  Marketing perfection, in my opinion.  Anyone who knows a toddler knows that there is no siren song more compelling to him than the splish-splash of a toilet, and, as a mother who has spent many a day playing Go Fish in her bathroom, I can completely relate.  Not only would I remember this ad, I would use this company the next time Buzz Lightyear embarks on an exploratory mission of Planet U-Bend.

But one Utah mother was so upset about it she not only asked the company to change their advertising, she called a local news station to report their insensitivity when they didn't respond quickly enough.  You see, 20 years ago, when her toddler was 14 months old, he fell in a toilet and couldn't pull himself out.  He later died from the effects of his injuries.

I completely understand why seeing an ad with a toddler standing next to a toilet would upset her.  She experienced a tragedy, and she is totally justified in feeling the way she does.  However, she is not justified in demanding that no one -- no matter how unintentionally -- be allowed to remind her of her pain.  She is not justified in stopping a company from using a universally relatable image to market their business just because it dredges up bad memories for her.

We all have reasons for feeling the way we do.  We all have life experiences that are painful.  The writer of the Nordstrom letter, for example, had struggled with an eating disorder in her past -- of course she would see destructiveness in anything that appeared to present skinniness as the ultimate virtue!  Like her, we all have triggers that remind of us of tragic or difficult times in our lives, and like her, we all fail at times to see the humor in certain situations because they are heartbreaking and gut-wrenching and deeply personal to us.  But they are not personal to everyone.  Demanding that no one be allowed to do anything that reminds us of these experiences, demanding that no one be allowed to see humor in something we do not, is selfish and egotistical.

This does not mean we can never ask for greater sensitivity or more kindness.  Heaven knows we need more kindness.  We all need to be more sympathetic and make more and better efforts to be aware of what others are going through.  But more than anything, we need to stop taking things so personally.

Because, truly, it's almost never about us.


Jenny Sorensen said...

This is my favorite so far. I enjoy them all. It's so funny. I had two April fool friends pull the old. "I'm pregnant" prank. I was going to post on Facebook that this was mean and they should knock it off. So glad I did not. Thanks for sharing this.

Megan B ♥ said...

You so totally rock!

Chris said...

Andrew once said glibly: "This is America. If you're not offended, you're not trying hard enough."

Shauna said...

Excellent post!