We all have felt it. The surly teenager that doesn’t acknowledge your presence, the elderly parent that practices selective hearing, or the spouse that responds “Did you say something?” after you pour out your most closely held feelings. Some we chalk up to stages of life. Others we brush off to poor timing or other circumstances well beyond our control. But today we have been given new tools that make the act of ignoring another human being all that much easier, and all that more deliberate.
Think about it. Caller I.D. allows you to select which phone calls you will pick up and which you will allow to go to voice mail. A familiar trash can icon is a frequent recipient of the emails and text messages that aren’t deemed worthy enough to receive a reply. Social media sites call other people who contact you “friends” but give you the option to “ignore” any request. Twitter gives you the option to be notified when someone elects to “follow” you or mention you, but there is no notification option when someone opts to “unfollow” you. Miss Manners would be appalled at how easy we have made it to ignore and dismiss another human being and we’re convinced it’s not only acceptable, but appropriate.
So, I say we fight the passive act to ignore. Defend the human need to connect. And remember that there are human beings behind the phone calls, emails, texts, and all the other ways we use to communicate with each other. What happens if you imagine making eye contact with whoever’s request, question, idea or sentiment you’ve chosen to ignore? Stand up and be human, and do it in a respectful and meaningful way. So, what does that mean? Do we discard our personal boundaries and become reactive to all of the thoughtless fodder that comes our way? Or do we find strength through being intentional, transparent, and honest? Here’s a perfect situation to channel “Invisible Girl” (see September 1, 2009 blog post), my resident expert on being ignored and her ten steps on how to fight back.
- Don’t hide behind technology. Email, text messaging, social media sites, and twitter aren’t good forums for complex decision making; that’s what face-to-face, eye-to-eye interaction is all about. (Do we even remember that?)
- If someone contacts you from afar, the past, or reveals a personal vulnerability, realize that required courage. And courage should always be applauded, validated, and recognized.
- Be honest in all of your communications and remember honesty takes courage. (See #2 and repeat back: courage is to be applauded, validated, and recognized.)
- Never ignore a love letter (or email). Have you ever written a love letter? Do you know how it feels to receive a love letter? Love letters always deserve a response, even if you can’t reciprocate the emotion. There is no better way to kill love in this world than to ignore it.
- Before you delete that email, ignore that phone message, or pull a no-show, imagine if your actions sent the person the message, “I think you are insignificant.” Does that feel acceptable? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to admit that you’re busy, you’re irritated, you’re confused, you’re distracted, you don’t see the world in the same way, etc. You’ll feel better in the long run.
- Never ignore a good deed. This world is in desperate need of goodness.
- If you are being ignored, don’t be afraid to speak out. You were given a voice for a reason.
- Make someone laugh. It’s hard to ignore a giggle.
- Those who ignore usually do so out of fear or immaturity. Remember what separates us all from the animal world: the act of communication and the gift of language.
- Finally, as a wise person once said, don’t keep going to the same well if the well is dry. If you open up all lines of communication and are still being ignored, that person doesn’t deserve your attention. There are many more friends out there listening for your voice.