Ignoring the Issue
By Gregory Henn
Fingers tingle with anticipation as they type the words out, each one more hopeful than the next. When the final message is constructed, it gets read and re-read countless times to ensure that the wording is just right and conveys the exact feelings we want it to. We hover the mouse, or our thumbs, hesitantly over the “send” key and mentally try to not think about the outcome, no matter how nervous we are. And then, with one click…it’s done. The message is sent off into the great oblivion to hopefully be read and responded to quickly. But sometimes, that just doesn’t happen…
Ignoring people is by no means a new concept, but looking around lately, it’s not hard to see that it’s become much easier. So easy in fact that we’ve been trained to ignore people on a daily basis. We ignore the people around us at Starbucks by being on our phones as we wait for our drink. We ignore the homeless person asking for spare change on the street corner. We ignore knocks at our door or phone calls from numbers we don’t recognize. Granted, some of those are for safety purposes, but if we’re being honest, sometimes we just don’t want the bother of interaction. Now, before I proceed, please understand I am NOT advocating that we engage with every single person we come into contact with, because that’s just not wise. However, when I look around at all the “barriers” people have created around themselves, it’s a wonder that interaction with other people is even possible. Perhaps the worst perpetrator of all is how we engage one another on social media.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, all encourage their users to interact with other people. That is after all, the “social” part of social media. Yet how often do our comments, messages, and other methods of reaching out fall off unanswered into the silent abyss that is the Internet? Forgetting about celebrities for a second, how often do we try and communicate with even our own friends and find that we are faced with…silence? When we later discuss it with them, they apologize for not checking, or for simply forgetting to respond and the issue is quickly forgotten. Except not entirely, because simple excuses do little to quench the pains of being ignored.
Why do we do this? Well, in short, I think we ignore because ultimately we want to be the ones to decide who gets special access to our lives. By putting yourself on social media (unless you become totally private) you are allowing yourself to be open to incoming attention, both wanted and unwanted. But the genius rests in the fact that since you never actually sit face to face with the person, you get to plan out your response in a careful and calculated way. If this individual doesn’t seem like someone you want in your life, you can ignore their friend request and hope that they eventually lose interest and go away. When you get a reply to a tweet you wrote, you aren’t obligated to respond. In a sense, it was designed that way. Never before have we had such platforms for people to be “connected” on, and ignored simultaneously. It’s truly a marvel.
If you stop and think about it, none of this would exist in the real world. It would be far too awkward. Imagine you’re sitting down at a table at Starbucks and a person comes in and sits down across from you. Now imagine that they begin talking to you. If you just sat there and did nothing (silently hoping they’d just go away), people might begin to think there was something wrong with you. Yet, somehow we don’t even think twice about doing this over social media. One can make the claim that they are just inundated with messages and comments and that it is hard for them to respond to them all, but I cry foul on that. Even within your own inbox, you will prioritize who you want to respond to or not.
Now, while being ignored for any length of time hurts deeply, it’s when we are never responded to at all that hurts the most. People who never get a response are left with a million unanswered questions, while the other party involved gets to skip and jump and play their life away feeling “free” from the annoyance. But, speaking as someone who has been ignored quite frequently in my life, let me encourage you that a non-response is the worst thing you can give another person. Please believe me when I say that we would rather all be recipients to the truth than to silence.
Truth seems to be one of the few remaining currencies we still have as humans. When we give truth, we often gain truth in return. Truth about ourselves as well as truth about someone else. This whole mentality of ignoring something and hoping things just go away on their own is actually quite damaging to people. If someone is repeatedly ignored because they maybe do things a certain way, but no one ever tells them, do you think they’re going to keep doing it? Of course they are, because they don’t realize that what they are doing is resulting in them being ignored. It usually just takes one honest person to finally tell them the truth, and they’ll realize where they’d been going wrong all those years. One honest person that could have prevented years of heartache and confusion.
There’s that age-old phrase that says, “the truth will set you free”, and I think that is definitely true. But there is another aspect to it as well. Truth not only sets you free, but it sets the other person free as well. People who are frequently ignored often harbor negative feelings about themselves for a long time. Someone who is repeatedly ignored might grow to feel they have less worth than they originally thought and begin to question their sense of value compared to others. The often ignored might grow to become a bitter and jaded person who seeks to avoid human contact, or worse. Now, I am not suggesting that ignoring someone once will turn them into a sociopath, but the truth is, you don’t always know where the other person is coming from at that particular moment in their life. You might just be yet another in a long stream of people who have ignored them in the past, and this time might push them over the edge. (I admit I’ve seen a few Lifetime movies. It never ends well.)
So what do we do with this? Are we to engage every single person we come into contact with in deep meaningful conversations? Definitely not. There is a time and place to keep things short and surface-level with someone. But I think we need to re-assess the way we look at ignoring others as a good avenue to take. What might appear on the surface to be an easy out, rarely ever is. We might think we’re doing nothing wrong, but I can guarantee you it hardly feels that way from their perspective. I think if we truly considered the other person’s feelings above our own initial comfort level, there would be a lot more honesty being tossed around. And while the truth might hurt their feelings at first, in the long run, everyone winds up better for it.