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The doctor is “in,” but shouldn’t be

April 4, 2011

You get what you pay for

When did we become the tell-all generation(s) from hell? I was in Brookstone, a store I used to go into because it was cool and had innovative, interesting products. Walking through its cool, innovative wood-lined portal, I overheard what I initially assumed was a casual conversation between the shop assistants and a customer, but no. The customer was regaling the shop assistants with the story of her mother’s divorce.

Momentarily confused, I thought I’d mistakenly walked onto the set of Oprah. The trio sat vibrating in expensive leather massage chairs, discussing this girl’s life. Then I realised Oprah’s no longer soaping up the day on the tell-all couch, and groaned inwardly. The spirit of Oprah lives on in every person who feels compelled to share their personal life story. This is her legacy, and now she will never die, not until we regain a sense of decorum and learn to put up boundaries, like obnoxiously extroverted neighbors need to put up curtains.

Now that Oprah’s off the airwaves, I thought I would be able to get away from the emotional dipping sauce life has become every time I go out my front door, the same front door where just the other day, a guy tried to guilt me into buying a newspaper subscription: “They’ve let us come out today in the rain…” his spiel began, and I thought, “Wait, what? Who LET you? You mean, they let the crazies off the farm today? And don’t guilt me into buying your paper; it’s not my fault you’re out in the rain…” You see what I mean? As soon as you interact with anyone these days, it’s all soppy “think about me and my personal drama” crap. I’m exhausted emotionally before I even leave my house, and a lot of it is because people are dying on Facebook, and it’s all the fault of the not-so-innocent bystander, apparently.

Now, stop. You think I don’t take this problem seriously, but I do. I take it so seriously, I am seriously saying to you, quit Facebooking about your pain. Quit social networking about your life story. Quit sharing your guilt, your agony, your inability to make a choice about which guy to marry or the details of your brutal divorce with complete strangers. Cut it out now. Get over the habit of telling everyone, including those within a 20′ radius when you’re standing in line to see that latest chickflick, about your life, your miseries, your concerns, your angst, your drama. We care, and we shouldn’t.

I like giving advice. I’ll give advice all day long if you let me. It suits my ego, it makes me feel important, and I get to feel briefly and momentarily connected to the world in a way that gives me the illusion that my being on the planet for the blink of an eye I was here mattered to someone. But I am not the Buddha, and neither are you. We are all giving one another an awful lot of advice these days, I’ve noticed. Now, the irony of this is that when I was a kid, I really wanted to be Lucy from Peanuts. Lucy’s sign said “The Doctor Is IN,” and Charlie Brown would come to her for advice, which she dispensed with cavalier disregard to his emotional state or the fragility of his feelings, because Lucy was not a professional psychiatrist, she just played one on TV.

People online have no real understanding of your pain, but they’ve/we’ve lived through some version of it. We are not qualified, most of the time, to diagnose your emotional ills. I’ve noticed there don’t seem to be too many professionals offering up their services for free, either. Most of the advice and help comes from “anonymous” donors, those you’d otherwise be bumping into in line, waiting to see the movie. You might never learn their name as you shared your intimate life details in the bathroom, just prior to seeing the movie in which some girl gets dumped by some guy. Tears will flow, you will need Kleenex, but the person handing you the Kleenex will be the real-life person you came with, not some virtual person sitting 18 rows away you’ll never meet.

Think about that. Who is handing you the box of kleenex while you vent and rage and undergo your personal storms? That’s the person who’s truly listening to you, not your 4,000 Facebook “friends,” none of whom know you well enough, nor care, if you live or die.


Take, for example, this one poor sad woman who apparently over-shared, her too-much-information gene run amok, on Facebook this past Christmas, and ended up committing suicide. Her suicide was greeted with cries of derision and disbelief, much like in the days of yore when sacrificial lambs drawn and quartered or put into stocks in the town center had lettuces and rotten tomatoes thrown at them. The message from humanity’s dark side has always been: show me someone in pain, who’s weak and down, and we will throw salt, jeer, make fun of, and otherwise display our worst characteristics in response. In that sense, when it comes to the dynamics of the internets, nothing has changed from the 1500s; we continue to belittle people who are stupid enough to put themselves on display in their weakest moments.


Culprits clapped in the stocks would often have stones, rotten vegetables, or even dead animals hurled at them by the on-lookers. When the time to be spent in confinement was long, a victim might dehydrate or starve if a compassionate by-passer was not to be found

I think it’s fascinating that America abolished the pillory, where we publicly put wrong-doers on display and humiliated them, in 1839, yet we continue to willingly put ourselves in virtual stocks and invite passersby to comment, jeer, and throw tomatoes at us:

Also known as a neck-stretcher, the pillory’s purpose was to publicly punish (and humiliate) people for all kinds of offenses. Frequently, a pillory could be rotated, so members of the public could get a good look at the person on display, as depicted by William Pyne in The Costume of Great Britain (1805). The most famous pillory in London was at Charing Cross.

Sometimes people locked in a pillory had bricks, or other heavy objects, thrown at them. Not a few died as a result, since they were unable to protect themselves with their hands.

Others, like Daniel Defoe (the author of Robinson Crusoe) who spent three days in the Charing Cross pillory (beginning July 31, 1703) for writing a pamphlet (The Shortest Way with Dissenters), were showered with flowers by a sympathetic crowd. Most, however, endured the more usual barrage of smelly eggs and rotting vegetables, dead cats or animal offal, sticky mud and human waste.

This type of punishment, at least in Britain, was finally abolished in 1837.

The demise of religion in society also seems to be tied to this need to expiate guilt and sin, a further reason why you’re willing to tell everyone everything you’ve done—you feel guilty and you seek to atone. Also, we have become a narcissistic society, so we can’t get enough attention. The online world, combined with our tell-all mentality, is perfect for this combination of throwing bricks, while those in pain wait for the next compassionate person to wander by.

The question is, why tolerate so much negative attention? Why put yourself out there only to be shot down, time and time again? Why are we so willing to tolerate jeers, abuse, and all forms of emotional torture? Why do we continue to wait for that one compassionate soul to rescue us?

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

I guess there’s a large dose of Charlie Brown-style masochism in anyone who reveals personal details to the unwashed masses, who are all perfectly capable of (and entirely willing to) hurl rotting vegetables in derision. Lucy was never all that compassionate toward Charlie Brown’s complaints, if you recall.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2011 11:51 AM

    Joan Rivers told this joke: ” I caused my husband’s heart attack. In the middle of lovemaking I took the paper bag off my head. He dropped the Polaroid and keeled over and so did the hooker. It would have taken me half an hour to untie myself and call the paramedics, but fortunately the Great Dane could dial.”
    I’m guessing that would be an example of too much personal information…

    • April 4, 2011 11:54 AM

      Yes, BUT. She was JOKING. How much ACTUAL personal information do you think she realistically included in that schtick? Not much. 😉

  2. April 6, 2011 10:24 PM

    Good Grief – I think Caroline Myss is Lucy personified.

  3. October 3, 2011 5:34 AM

    Ironically, you have done the same thing in this blog that you complain of others doing. The only palpable difference is that they have a character which allows them to feel comfortable sharing what is important to them with others in person, and you have a character which limits you to sharing on an impersonal level (via a blog). The impersonal format gives you freedom from “judgments” which may come across in the listeners facial expressions or responses. And if that’s what you need, then good for you – you have it. But, please don’t comfort yourself by presuming you have a greater or more appropriate demeanor than those you gripe about: you’ve done the same thing in an alternative format.

    And to be honest, you’ve given more information than I would be interested in knowing about you: because it’s so remarkably judgmental, and judgmental people tend to be hypocrites. As it happens, I’ve had people talk to me- out of the blue and unsolicited about many personal things. It’s better out, even to a stranger, than in, where some things can rip a person apart. And while a listener always has the option of declining the conversation politely, I think that a person who lends the compassionate ear is better off for it. 8)

    • October 27, 2011 3:48 PM

      This blog does have a page entitled “have umbrage, will travel,” so…. I’m not sure what you were expecting, but I’m sure you’ll find what you need elsewhere. It probably won’t be here, but thanks for giving it a try. This is my blog for whining and complaining, not compassion.

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