Are you the kind of person who tosses and turns at night replaying a minor remark you made at a social gathering? Can you be crushed by a single barbed comment? Do you cringe at the level of vitriol you see in the “readers’ comments” section of online news sites? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, I feel for you. Like me you appear to be thin skinned. Are there any strategies that can be deployed in order survive the dangers (to us) of a barbarous world?
Don’t go out: As someone short and clever once said, “It’s a dangerous business, going out your door.” You could try avoiding social gatherings where you have a tendency to embarrass yourself whenever you engage in conversation. You could embrace the honourable role of lurker on the Internet, never succumbing to the temptation to contribute your own input. You could take that one step further and simply lock your front door and disconnect your modem/router. It’s the only way to be sure, after all.
Limit your range: If you absolutely must go out, then you could at least stay close to home. What is the absolute furthest you need to walk in order to acquire sustenance? Don’t go any farther. The same holds for conversational topics. If you have to converse, you could try restraining your topics to the weather (just agree that the weather is either good or bad, and probably much worse than you remember it being). On the Internet you might want to limit your communication solely to those you know well. Stay away from any form of one-many communication tools like Twitter or Facebook (FB) or blogging. Remember, if possible say nothing.
Stay with your own kind: There is a reason that wildebeests hang out with other wildebeests. I don’t know why that is. But on the Internet it seems to be safer to hang out with others who already share exactly your own opinions and have no other opinions. Obviously the easiest way to accomplish that aim is to hang out only with yourself. There are dangers here, of course. It might be a bit lonely. Sometimes hanging out with people just like yourself is called homophily. I once heard Ethan Zuckerman convincingly argue that homophily can make you stupid. Is stupid really that bad?
You may know people who are remarkably thick skinned. I know a few. They make cringeworthy comments regularly and appear to be immune to the whole agonizing tossing and turning thing. Sometimes it is as though they don’t even realize that they have said something embarrassing. (Here, I’d like to say, “You know who you are!”, but of course you don’t.) I’m not sure how they got to be so thick skinned. Is there some equivalent of plunging your hand repeatedly into buckets of increasingly larger grained sand and stones? In any case most people described as thick skinned tend to be a bit too thick skinned for my taste.
I wonder if there is some happy medium between thick and thin that could be reached. It must be nice to always say the right thing, in the right way, at the right time. I suppose there are people like that; I just haven’t met any. Failing perfection (which sounds like a good title for a blog) perhaps the best that might be achieved is a kind of gracious humility. I think of this as a certain modesty in one’s claims and a ready willingness to acknowledge overstatements and misstatements and rectify them.
If you are thin skinned and not one of the hearty folk there is still plenty of scope for you to step out your door. With a bit of patience and a lot of bravery, there really is no telling where you’ll end up. You will still toss and turn at night, but it’ll only be because of that dirty great root sticking in your back.
And oh, don’t hang out with wildebeests.