No time? Listen to it instead
The internet age is all kinds of amazing. There’s so much potential, and there’s so much positive we can take out of it. We’re connecting faster and broader. Knowledge is right there for the taking. Sounds like paradise, and to some extent, it is. There’s a little problem, though. Josh from third grade won’t stop sending me messages. I don’t know how to cut him off.
That’s the problem with the age of connection. We’re all so connected that we have this plethora of irrelevant, stale, and utterly toxic interaction all around us. It’s hard to outgrow high-school if all of high-school is still on your Facebook friends’ list. It’s hard to tell that acquaintance of college to leave you alone. You get the idea.
This is right where the bullet points in bold should be, but we’re not going down that road today. Sorry, this isn’t Buzzfeed. All the humour aside, I’ve thought hard about this, and I feel that the ideas of cutting people off, moving forward, leaving someone behind, are worth more than bullet points.
Firstly, the idea of someone being toxic is always in context. Some people have unlikeable personalities but to say that a person is generally toxic is a little too simple, in my opinion. Any person who was toxic to my life was also someone’s best friend. I know, birds of the same feather and all that but we’re not going there. At least, not today.
Now, let’s try to define how someone can be toxic to your context. If you’ve read this piece till here, there’s one thing that with all probability is true: you like to improve the quality of your life.
Trait 1: A person who does not want you to do precisely just that is toxic to your context.
I’ve had friends back in school who kind of disappeared from my life as soon as I started to get out of the hole I had dug for myself. In hindsight, I’m glad they left. People often have trouble keeping up with growth-seeking individuals if they are not privy to the idea.
Growth-seeking is a subjective term, though. It could mean different things to different people. A friend might want to get into better shape while you might want to start practising mindfulness. That’s completely alright, as long as both of you respect each other’s intention towards growth.
Trait 2: A person who either doesn’t want to grow or tries to hinder yours, directly or indirectly.
Normal behaviour that I’ve experienced at least is people I broke bread with telling me how a new lifestyle change was completely pointless just because they couldn’t imagine themselves following it.
When I tried to make my case, the conversation that followed would usually turn into a heated argument over irrelevant details instead of the actual context.
Trait 3: A person whose willingness to stay ignorant overpowers their sense of reason.
There are countless people like that, and even for those who blatantly believe in the misinterpreting the subtle maxim of “ignorance is bliss”, a certain extent of leeway is alright. We’re all human, after all.
Then, there’s the problem of heated arguments.
Trait 4: A person whose last n interactions with you, for the largest n you can remember, involved conflict.
Healthy debates and arguments, which lead to a common middle ground, are at the heart of most of my close friendships. The tight-knit circles I’m in thrive on people disagreeing with each other.
However, there are always some people who cannot fathom a different point of view. Hence, they nitpick, and they find that one specific detail which does not matter in the overall context. Then, they argue.
This conflict would often start in online conversations. Often, without a prompt from you. It could be a reply on your Facebook post or your Instagram story, and it could lead to extensive, blog-post length arguments. The problem with these arguments is twofold.
One, they don’t lead anywhere because a person entitled enough to send you a contrarian opinion without taking in context your own, clearly public stance, is probably not searching for a middle ground. Two, they are a complete waste of your time and mental space.
Trait 5: A person who is entitled enough to take your time, point of view, mental space, experiences or life for granted.
Since we’re on social media, let’s talk about language. There is a specific class of acquaintances who have no boundaries.
These are the people that make you go,
“Hey, man. Just because I shared half of that sandwich with you that one time during the third semester, that does not automatically make us best buddies, so you know, fall back a little.”
People often have a hard time realising when their way of addressing you or anyone is too loose for their level of rapport and presence in your life.
Now, this is a tricky one because mentioning this could go a long way, and even lead to amazing friendships. However, more often than not, if you talk about being uncomfortable, they won’t get a cue.
You don’t have much of a choice if that’s the case. However, it always helps to communicate clearly.
Trait 6: A person who won’t get a cue that they are not your friend.
These are people who fail to understand that there are certain boundaries before people can talk to each other casually and unapologetically.
There are people like Josh from third grade. However, you’ve been out of touch with them, more or less. Between the time that passed, you grew in directions so different that when you interact with them, you cannot keep a straight face.
If you’ve made it till here, you’ve probably mentally listed at least one person or experience with each of the traits mentioned, and by extension, you probably could also place yourself in one or several of them for other people.
Thanks to the idea of never losing touch, we have a mismatch between time and interaction.
Still, I like to believe that no one person is inherently bad, and as long as someone doesn’t hinder my growth or space, and if I can always get back to them at a time more comfortable to both of us, it’s alright to have a thousand friends on social media.
At the same time, I’ve been ruthless with cutting people off based on their level of toxicity in my life and context. They may be good people, but if the only interaction I have with them is negative: off they go. That is because the interaction brings none of us any pleasure, peace or growth.
It’s just interaction for the sake of it. I’m not wasting the little time I have on substandard interaction that will only rile me up.
I know my tribe. I know what people fit into it. Sometimes, I realise how a new person fits right into that tribe at the first “Hello!”. Plus, if person A is toxic for me, I’m pretty sure I’m toxic for person A to some extent too.
I believe genuine connection lies in sifting through the noise and finding quality interactions. There’s only so much time in a day.
We’re continually meeting people, and social media makes everyone stand right at our door. There is a lot of knocking throughout the day. Sometimes, we can take our time to open the door; sometimes, we can choose not to open the door for specific people. It’s up to us who we choose to invite into our space.