I remember a few years back, some poor writer had the misfortune of having an idea for an article–something like “Women can still be sexy after 50.”
This is the sort of thing that can seem innocuous when you are alone in your kitchen on a Sunday morning. As a writer, you may even entertain the fantasy that it will gain traction and do really well with readers. But in today’s social media climate, it has become increasingly difficult to do or say or post anything that is not going to, in some way, offend someone.
This, of course, was no exception.
The offended person decided to screenshot the article and post an essay about how much they were offended by the article, which they describe as “tone-deaf,” and the image, which was essentially a photograph of the ladies’ auxiliary shuffleboard team. Apparently, this was not an isolated incident. I believe the gist of the essay was something like “it’s hard enough to exist on a planet where we grow older every day without someone reminding us in such a heartless fashion.” And I get it. I wake up and go into the bathroom every morning and every time I look in the mirror, I’m a little older. It’s disheartening.
At the conclusion of the rant came the famous anthem of the offended: “Do better!”
This command is thrown around quite often on all forms of social media, though I find it shows up on Twitter more than anywhere else. I, for one, cannot possibly count the times I have been at the receiving end of this “request.”
As a lover of language, a poet, and a writer, it is hard for me to focus on anything besides what these words actually mean. In the context of social media, they are not used to request that someone take the time to consider someone else’s feelings the next time they have the audacity to have an “idea.” They are more or less the mating call of the irate. Before you know it, every mouth breather from Boise to Escondido is chiming in with another sarcastic comment—also punctuated with “Do better!”
Here are five reasons why people need to stop with the “do better” bullsh*t:
1. It’s insincere.
As I mentioned before, people don’t fling around the “do better” phrase with the idea that they are helping someone who may have mistakenly overlooked someone else’s feelings. That is obviously not how people go about teaching or informing. It is, however, how people prove to other people how much more “woke” they are. And if you are more “woke,” that’s excellent. But it is entirely possible to be so without letting everyone within earshot know you are. I believe that’s referred to as humility, which is a precious resource in the social media world, so if one ever has the opportunity to bring some to the table, they should.
2. It’s self-righteous.
The signal people are giving off when they clack out the dreaded “do better!” on a comment thread is that they are just so much more sensitive to the marginalized and downtrodden and we should be ashamed of ourselves if we aren’t. It is essentially saying, “I am better than you…so catch up.” This is okay, I guess, but it often shuts down the most remote possibility that the commenter might actually be wrong. Just because 75 other people pile on and agree, does not mean that something is definitely right. Over 2,200 people bought tickets for the Titanic and almost 120,000 people bought Edsels.
3. It’s a bastardization of the original sentiment.
When Maya Angelou first brought this phrase to the public consciousness, she said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Now let’s see, what’s missing from the new and improved version of this quote…I mean besides the first 14 words? Empathy. Somehow, I can’t see a poetic giant like Angelou sitting home at her desk and indulging in little dopamine rushes by making other people feel small.
4. It’s performative.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading through one of those pile-ons on Facebook or Twitter, you probably noticed that the thread progressively got more horrific as the number of commenters increased, with each person trying hard to out-snark the last. It’s like it begins as the two old guys in the balcony from The Muppets and by the 50 or 60th comment, people are making death threats. At that point, it’s difficult to tell who really needs to “do better”—the people commenting or the person who originally (and often unintentionally) offended someone.
5. It’s bullying disguised as social consciousness.
And that’s about the size of it. Remember, when Angelou said what she said, she was saying it with compassion and empathy, knowing full well that people are generally not born with the inherent knowledge of everything that could be hurtful to everyone else. Especially these days, when it’d be just as easy to wrap yourself in a cocoon and stay silent than to try and predict every time someone is going to take umbrage with something you say, write, or think.
It’s a big, crowded world and, most of the time, you have to decide if you want to be right or happy. In my book, happiness means a lot more. What is “right” changes far too often for that to be a worthwhile goal. But happiness will always just be happiness.
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