I was having a discussion today with a friend about honesty. In some cultures, and for some people, honesty can only be called that when the person expressing their thought says it in the bluntest way possible. Any other way of expressing their thought, be it tactful or using “white lies”, is considered lying. If you don’t like that dress, say you don’t like that dress. Otherwise you’re just telling a lie, and lying is wrong.
I can get behind a lot of that thinking, though I do believe that there’s one key point that we need to keep in mind when we’re having these discussions. The goal should be to be honest without being hurtful. Too often in our society, we turn to barbed comments and snarky remarks to address things that we don’t like about someone else. Often, these remarks are in the guise of concern, hence the term “concern-trolling”.
I was having lunch upstairs, as I usually do at work, when a coworker happened to look at what I was eating, which was a can of Campbell’s Vegetable Soup. “Oh, you do know that’s really bad for you, right?” she said. And I tried to shrug it off, to smile and hope she’d stop talking about my lunch in such disgust, but the conversation got worse. Suddenly, according to my coworker, my soup was “one of the worst things you could eat” and “sure to fast-track my life to death”. I regret not asking her why she felt the need to educate me on the evils of Campbell’s Soup, and so nastily, too, but I really just wanted to get out of there and keep the peace. And that’s concern-trolling – pretending to be concerned about someone else when you really just want to be snarky to them and prove a point.
I’ve been guilty of concern-trolling in the past, though I try not to do it now. Because honestly, when you concern-troll, why are you really doing it? Are you really concerned about my health and well-being? Are you really concerned about my emotional state or my ability to enrich my mind with reading the right book? Or do you simply want to lord it over me, to tell me through your fake barbed concern how much better you think you are than me? Because I guarantee that you’re not concerned for me when you look at what I’m doing with scorn and disgust. I guarantee that you don’t care about my “path to death” or my health or my well-being at all.
Why does society concern-troll? In the case of food and weight, we’re told that the only way to do it right is to eat a diet devoid of the “bad” carbs and fat. For many people, that’s a hard and almost unattainable thing to do. When they do manage to achieve that “right” kind of eating, they get smug and proud about it, in the way that anyone does when they’ve “found the way”. But instead of minding their own business and working on their own health and well-being, they need to feel that they’ve done something good for themselves by “showing up” someone who isn’t living their lifestyle. It happens with religion. It happens with academics. It even happens with former addicts. They need to feel validated in their choices to live “the right lifestyle”. And instead of showing real concern for their fellow human being who lives their life differently, they need to feel smug and superior. Hence, concern-trolling is born.
The thing about concern-trolling, though, is that it doesn’t work. It doesn’t show people the light. It doesn’t shame them into doing better. It gets their back up and it makes them angry. Being condescended to, being told how wrong they are, being smugly told to “enjoy” their death-lunch – no one likes that and no one responds to that. So, concern-trolling isn’t actually born out of any concern or empathy at all. It’s a way to be rude. It’s a way to be honest without thinking about how that might make someone else feel. To me, that’s wrong.
I’m tired of being concern-trolled. It happens a lot, especially when I publish a post about body positivity. I’m told to enjoy “barrelling towards a shortened life of hypertension and diabetes”. I’m told to “watch what I put in my mouth and I might be happier”. I’ve had dozens of comments like that, and it makes me wonder what kind of life the commenters must lead, to be so brazenly mean to someone they’ve never met. When you’re told that watching fat people is physically painful to the commenter, because of the “struggle they must go through”, but in the next breath, the same person is posting about how disgusting those fat people are, you don’t feel like these people feel anything but revulsion towards their fellow human being at all.
I won’t change that thinking. I’m not trying to. I’m just saying that we all see through it – we see through your attempts to make us feel inadequate and disgusting by showing fake concern wrapped around barbed comments. Because if you were really concerned, you wouldn’t stand over me and peer at my Campbells’ soup, your nose wrinkled in disgust. If you were really concerned, you wouldn’t tell me that the Celtic cross I wear around my neck is Satanic and I’ll surely go to hell. If you were really concerned, you wouldn’t tell me that the child I’m giving a bottle to in the stroller is too old and I’m just infantilizing her beyond what’s necessary.
If you were really concerned, you’d shut your mouth, turn around, and walk away. Because you’d realize that the way I live my life is none of your business. You’d realize that everyone has extenuating circumstances and their own story. And if you were really concerned, you’d get to know me first, hear my story, and then make judgements based on that.
Stop concern-trolling. It makes you look stupid and it makes me feel sorry for you. Live your life the way you see fit. I’ll do the same.