I had a couple of interesting communication related experiences yesterday. One involved an online exchange I had with a stranger. The other involved an observation I made in a matter of seconds as I passed a playground.
A few days ago, I noticed that someone on Facebook had written that they had been born just as smartphones were coming on the market. They wanted to know what life was like before smartphones were invented, as they were thinking of ditching their phone. I noticed one person wrote that we all watched a lot more television in those days, which I will agree is true.
It occurred to me, after I read that person’s post, that I spent a large portion of my life without the Internet. When I was growing up, we had to talk to each other in person. While I definitely had some uncivilized moments back in those primitive days, I also think I learned basic decorum that some people are missing in today’s hyper-connected Internet world.
We used to have to talk to each other in person, or maybe write a letter. We had no email, Facebook, or Twitter. Our circles of contacts were much smaller than they are today. Consequently, most days, we didn’t find ourselves in a pissing match with a stranger. Last night, I found myself being invited to such a match… and after it was over, my head was spinning! How did I get to this place?
Two days ago, The Atlantic shared an article titled “When Did People Start Brushing Dogs’ Teeth?“. It was an interesting piece about how, in the past, most people didn’t clean their dogs’ teeth. Nowadays, veterinarians encourage dog owners to use canine toothpaste and toothbrushes and have their dogs’ teeth professionally cleaned. The author of the article, Kelly Conaboy, married her personal experiences as a dog owner with somewhat recent history. She wrote:
The supposed ease of the finger brush is an attractive prospect for those facing both a new daily task and a new source of guilt. My friend and I both are dog guardians for the first time in our adult lives, but we agreed that, growing up, we didn’t remember being told to brush our family dogs’ teeth, nor did we remember thinking it was a task we were neglecting. We didn’t even remember ever seeing dog toothbrushes or dog toothpaste for sale. My friend looked into my eyes and asked a question I could tell she’d been mulling for some time.
“Were we always supposed to brush our dogs’ teeth?”
I grew up in the 80s, and we had dogs during that time. I don’t remember the vet ever telling us to brush our dogs’ teeth. Hell, my very first paying job was working for that very same vet. The subject never came up during that time.
Years later, when Bill and I were newly married and had moved to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, our “higher speed” Northern Virginia vet recommended dental care. Our dog at that time, Flea, really needed a dental in the worst way. We couldn’t afford to have his teeth cleaned until Bill went to Iraq, and we got a temporary boost in his pay. While Bill was deployed, I had Flea’s and his sidekick, MacGregor’s, teeth cleaned. I believe it was about $1100 for the two of them. Flea lost four teeth; they just fell out of his mouth. Miraculously, we weren’t charged for that.
Our finances are much better nowadays, so our dogs do get routine dentals done. I have tried to brush their teeth, but my dogs have never been too cooperative with that particular chore. Arran was particularly resistant to things like toenail trims and teeth brushing. Still, I can see the value in doing it regularly, if your dog will allow it. And now, dentals are a must, even though we didn’t used to do them.
Conaboy’s article is very interesting, as she explains that yes, we probably should have been brushing our dogs’ teeth all along. But, you only know what you know. As time passes, most people become more knowledgeable and wiser about things. So, if you didn’t know about the importance of doggie dentistry in the 80s, you might know now, right? Know better, do better (as much as I hate that cliche).
The Facebook reactions to that post ranged between approval and mockery. Lots of people assume canine dental hygiene is just a scam to help vets pay off their student loans. For the life of me, I can’t understand why so many people would begrudge veterinarians making money so they can pay their bills. Some people act like everyone should work for free, as they also lament communism and people expecting things “for free”. Even if doggie dentistry was a money making “scam”, why would people in a capitalist society have a problem with that? If you don’t want to get your dog’s teeth cleaned, no one is forcing you. It’s just a recommended service.
Personally, I’m a believer in doggie dentals. Noyzi had his first one last summer and is due for another. We just need to make the arrangements. Arran really needed one before he passed, but obviously, it wouldn’t have been wise to put him under anesthesia.
I decided to comment on the article. I do not think what I wrote was at all controversial.
Imagine how you’d feel if you didn’t clean your teeth. I don’t brush my dog’s teeth daily, but he gets regular dentals. It helps prevent chronic diseases and makes his breath stink less.
They’re paying a lot more attention to horses’ teeth, too. Call it progress.
I got maybe 19 likes for my comment. Cool, huh? But then someone named Laurie wrote this seemingly snarky comment to me. And it wasn’t about canine dentals, but about my comment regarding horses.
…horses get their teeth filed once a year to remove rough edges. Believe me, nobody is brushing horses’ teeth!
I was surprised by her response, because nowhere did I make a statement indicating that horses’ teeth are being brushed. I wrote that they’re “paying more attention to” them (which they are). So I responded.
I didn’t say they were brushing horses’ teeth, I said they were paying more attention to them (aka floating them).
Laurie comes back, tagging me with a link to a National Geographic article about Mongolian horse dentistry that’s been around for hundreds of years.
I probably should have just left it alone, but this is a phenomenon that genuinely puzzles me. Lately, I feel like people are just waiting for a reason to come at other people with criticism or discounting comments. I didn’t get the sense that Laurie was trying to be helpful or conversational. It felt like she was trying to pick a fight, although it’s possible that I took her comment as more aggressive than it was intended to be. So I wrote:
Is there a reason why you’re picking on me? What is so controversial about what I posted? I don’t need a link from National Geographic. It’s not that important.
Laurie wisely (or perhaps cowardly) didn’t respond again. I honestly didn’t see why she needed to confront me about my first comment regarding horse dental care. I grew up around horses, and I know for a fact that, back in the day, veterinarians didn’t routinely float their teeth unless there was a specific need for it. The procedure did exist, but it wasn’t like an appointment with the farrier every six weeks. It was only done when it was clearly necessary.
I don’t spend time with horses anymore, but I do know that nowadays, equine vets are floating a lot more teeth than they used to, just like today’s small animal vets are doing a lot more dentals. That was my point. Did Laurie miss the point? Because I never claimed anything about horses getting their teeth brushed. I even wrote that my dog doesn’t get his teeth brushed, even though I probably should see if he’ll let me do it (Arran wouldn’t, so I never got into the habit). The main idea of my comment is that companion animals need dental care, too, not that every animal should get daily tooth brushing.
Laurie probably didn’t read the article, because it’s behind a paywall. She probably also didn’t read my initial comment very carefully before she decided to respond. I took a peek at her profile. There’s a picture of her riding a horse in what appears to be three day eventing. So she’s a “horse person”. I also see that she lives in Clifton, Virginia, which is a Northern Virginia suburb. I spent several years of my life living in Northern Virginia, so I have personal experience with the stereotypical type of person who tends to live there. I’ve also been around plenty of “snotty” horse people who have more money than brains or class.
Certainly not every person from NoVA is an asshole; but there are probably a lot more assholes per capita living in that area, than there are in other places. They can’t really help it. Northern Virginia is a place where it costs a lot to live, there’s a lot of traffic, and many people have powerful jobs. Based on her profile, Laurie appears to be a “somebody”, and since she’s involved in an expensive sport in an area where it costs a lot to live, she’s probably a bit of an asshole. I don’t know for certain, of course. We’re complete strangers. There was a time when I never would have had a conversation of any kind with Laurie, unless I happened to meet her at a horse event. But, since I don’t ride horses anymore, the chances of that ever happening would be pretty slim.
For all I know, offline, Laurie is a total sweetheart, but based on our unfortunate interaction yesterday, I came away with the impression that she’s kind of a bitch. She may feel the same way about me, because I didn’t just acquiesce or ignore her when she crawled up my ass about the intricacies of equine dental care. Instead, I pointed out that I never claimed people were brushing their horses’ teeth. Then I confronted her for “picking on me”. That, in and of itself, is probably annoying to her. She probably didn’t expect me to confront her in kind about her comment. But then, I was genuinely perplexed as to why she felt the need to bust my chops about my original statement. There was nothing snarky or rude about it, yet Laurie felt compelled to issue a “gotcha”. And I, in turn, felt compelled to call her out for trying to do that.
It was a rather uncivilized and unnecessary exchange, wasn’t it? It occurred to me that Laurie wasn’t coming at me from a place of friendship or cordiality. She was wanting to issue a correction, without knowing a thing about me, and apparently, after not having read very carefully.
I understand that most people wouldn’t think twice about this interaction. Some people may be reading this thinking that I’m neurotic for taking the time to write about it. The truth is, I AM a bit neurotic. That exchange happened to hit one of my “psychological sunburns” (as the damnable Dr. Phil would put it). My whole life, people have been telling me to “shut up”, discounting my opinions or experiences, laughing at me, or otherwise trying to belittle me for just being myself. As a middle aged person, I am no longer willing to just let things go. I probably should be more laid back than I am, but ignoring these types of people, who try to make themselves feel better by crapping on me, makes me feel helpless. So now, people who do what Laurie did– especially when they’re overbearing women– tend to get the business end of my retorts.
Something similar happened the day after we lost Arran. I posted about it. A troll on RfM left me a really mean comment about Arran. I confronted the troll, and promptly got a “talking to” from “Lot’s Wife”, a poster who seems to insert herself in every controversy and offer her fifty cents. “Lot’s Wife” is a person I’ve come to really dislike, and she’s a reason why I don’t really visit RfM much anymore. She reminds me a lot of an “overly helpful” person I used to run into regularly. And now that I think about it, all women who treat me that way remind me of one of my sisters, who used to criticize me for everything from the way I look, to the way I laugh. I’m sure these types are battling their own neuroses and psychological sunburns, but then their neuroses seem to bump into mine! I guess I can, at least, turn these interactions into thoughtful blog rants, right?
The main thing is, though… most of these people probably wouldn’t behave this way offline. Or, if they did behave this way, they’d probably tone it down significantly. It’s a lot harder to be aggressive, or even assertive, to people who are staring you in the face. Laurie also probably wouldn’t have misunderstood my comment if we’d been talking to each other in person. We both would have had non-verbal cues to guide us and inform our responses. It probably wouldn’t have been nearly as negative an interaction.
I miss in person interactions with normal, nice people. It seems like the older I get, the less often I interact with actual people, rather than online profiles. And the pandemic made things worse, and eroded people’s social skills, including mine. I wrote about that last year, when Bill and I got our COVID-19 vaccine boosters and I was super cranky because we got to the site too early. I found myself feeling less “nice” when someone in person witnessed our exchange and chimed in “helpfully”. I probably wouldn’t have reacted that way in the past, when I had more practice talking to people in person.
And now… on to the observation I made while passing a German playground…
Yesterday, it was cold and sunny outside. I took Noyzi for a short walk. As I passed the little playground in our neighborhood, I happened to witness something that struck me as rather profound.
There were about two dozen little kids on the playground. I think there might have been two or three adults supervising them. A little girl, maybe four or five years old, fell down. She started crying, and didn’t immediately scramble to her feet. Instead, she laid on the ground wailing for a moment.
The adults did not come running, as they might have in the United States. Instead, another little girl, maybe the same age or a little older, came over to the kid on the ground, offered her her hand, and helped her to her feet. The first girl stopped crying and slowly got back to playing with her friends, running around the playground. The entire incident took less than a minute or two, and yet the simple civility of it blew me away on several levels.
First of all, when I was that age, I don’t remember being supervised that closely on a playground that wasn’t attached to a school. We kids would go to the playground, but there wouldn’t necessarily be any adults around to watch us. Sometimes there were, sometimes there weren’t.
Secondly, when I was a kid and something like that happened on the playground, I don’t remember other kids coming over to help the fallen kid to their feet. More often than not, they’d just stand around and laugh. I didn’t see any kids laughing at the girl who fell down, but in my day, I’m sure they would have. At least, if they were American kids. Today, an American adult supervising the children would have probably run over to the girl to see if she was alright, but in my day, we were pretty much expected to get over it by ourselves, as appears to be the case in Germany.
What the little girl did yesterday struck me as remarkably mature and civilized. I’ve noticed a lot of that kind of basic civility in Germany. Like, for instance, the time I was forced to stand on a train leaving the Frankfurt Airport while holding curry wurst. The train lurched, and I almost fell, which would have caused me to spill the snack all over the place. A German lady very calmly grabbed the curry wurst before I ended up wearing it. My first reaction was annoyance, but then I was grateful. It really was a kind and thoughtful thing to do. Her reaction was to be helpful, rather than critical or mocking. I’m sad to say, I don’t see this instinct as much among Americans, especially online.
I’ve even noticed this among Germans online. When the dog we hoped to rescue in 2020 got loose and we were trying to find him, I noticed many Germans were happily sharing our Tasso flyer. Very few were writing mean comments about how irresponsible I was after the dog escaped his pet taxi. I even got some really kind private messages from strangers that were genuinely helpful and consoling.
Conversely, I feel like Americans often just want to tear people down, especially when the other person is a stranger. Or they’re “fake nice”, as they’re ripping each other to shreds privately.
This doesn’t mean that all Germans are mature or polite. I’ve been yelled at plenty of times by Germans in person. It’s just that I’ve found that most people here seem more willing to see other perspectives and they don’t immediately react with snark or rudeness when someone has a different viewpoint. I feel like more people here are more likely to offer a hand to help someone up, rather than pointing and laughing at them. But, of course, some exceptions apply. See any story about my ex landlady. 😉
Anyway… just some deep food for thought on Wednesday, which is a light chore day for me. I guess my interaction with Laurie the veterinary dental expert is proof that virtually ANYTHING can be controversial on the Internet.
ETA: This morning, I woke up to find a notification from Laurie. I chose to ignore it. 😀