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Go Ahead and Break Up With a Friend During the Pandemic

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Hard to Say is a column about delicate situations and difficult conversations, for people who wish they could hire a ghostwriter for all their texts.

A reader writes:

I’ve seen some sentiments going around Twitter over the past few months about how you should be extra patient and non-judgmental with your friends because there’s a pandemic… the gist being that people should get a pass on bad behavior right now because everyone is struggling. Do you agree? What if someone is behaving really badly, or selfishly? What if they are taking risks (not wearing a mask, going to house parties, etc.) that put others at risk, or think posting a black square on Instagram constitutes full-throated activism? Even though I know we’re currently in extreme circumstances, I don’t think I’ll be able to easily forget or forgive how some of my friends have acted or the things they believe are OK. What are your thoughts?

The people who have been saying we should be patient with our friends right now aren’t wrong, exactly. Our lives have been upended this year in ways that are fairly unprecedented, and it’s wise to have grace for people you care about who aren’t acting like their 2019 selves. “Not acting like themselves and, in fact, behaving in a way I do not particularly love_” here might look like expecting a lot of you, emotionally, complaining constantly, flaking every time you’re supposed to catch up, getting really obsessed with likes and follows, or not being there for you when you need them. It might _also look like not wearing a mask or saying derisive things about BLM, but we’ll come back to those situations later.

Before you write a friend off, especially a close friend, for behavior that isn’t particularly politically charged, I think it’s worthwhile to go through the exercise of taking the most generous view of this person and whatever they are doing that is annoying you so much. Some things to consider:

  • Major recent life events. Have they lost their job and/or health insurance, gone through a breakup, had a family member get sick or die? (And think about things that happened late last year, before the pandemic started.) These things can really mess with all aspects of a person’s life—even if they are saying they are fine, and even if lots of people are going through the same thing. 
  • Access to healthcare. Dealing with gestures around tiredly everything right now is… a lot! It’s even harder when you’re in physical pain, unable to sleep, or depressed. Does your friend have insurance, a primary care doctor, all their usual prescriptions, a therapist who they see regularly? 
  • Support networks. Who else does your friend see/talk to every day, or regularly? Loneliness can take a toll, so think about whether not having the usual social connections (including co-workers or acquaintances) or not having someone to talk/vent to might be playing a role. 
  • Self-awareness. Do they seem conscious of the ways in which they are acting differently this year? Have they mentioned to you that they are struggling for one of the above reasons? Being aware of the problem will only go so far, of course, if it doesn’t actually motivate them to make changes or stop whatever it is they’re doing, especially if they are doing something that is really hurtful to you. But if they recognize that they aren’t their usual self, that matters. 
  • Duration. Is the behavior new this year, and seemingly related to the pandemic, or has it been going on in some form for a while now? 

Maybe you’ll think this through and realize that their behavior isn’t as selfish as it seemed at first glance—that they are doing their best under really difficult and unusual circumstances, and that you’re actually able to muster some empathy for them. Right now, it’s very easy to feel incandescently angry, and to direct your rage at your friends and family instead of, say, the elected officials who keep shitting the bed and failing the people they are supposed to represent over and over and over again. 

Before you declare someone you used to be close to toxic and cut all ties, may I also suggest… talking to them about what’s bothering you? You might say something like this:

  • “Hey, I’ve noticed lately whenever we catch up, we’re spending a lot of time talking about what’s going on with you, and I’m not really getting a chance to share what’s going on in my life. Could you try to shift the balance a bit, or make a little more time for me to talk about my stuff too?” 

Additional advice that might be helpful for this conversation: how to deal with a friend who is venting to you non-stop, what to say if a friend’s posts have you worried, and what to do if your friend’s posts are just kind of annoying

Maybe they’ll be receptive; maybe they’ll double down. The only way to know for sure is to try. 

ALL THIS SAID… if you want to break up with a friend because of behavior this year, particular behavior that is related to their values… go ahead. 

In general, you don’t need a “good” reason to break up with anyone—a friend or a romantic partner. If you don’t actually like someone all that much (or get the sense that they don’t like you very much), dread hanging out with them, feel mismatched in terms of interest, or constantly find yourself wishing they were different in rather significant ways, you should pay attention to those signs. If a friend suddenly starts being really nasty to you, or sends you a long letter outlining all the ways you’ve failed them over the years, it’s totally reasonable to just be like, Okey dokey, I think this thing has run its course! 

But if you do care about having a “good” reason, well…. pandemic-specific behavior like not social distancing or not wearing a mask when one very much should is a pretty good one. 

Most of us have dealbreakers when it comes to friendships, even if we’re not conscious of them all the time, or during “normal” times. I think it’s been easy for a lot of people—particularly in a culture where talking about “politics” makes a lot of folks uncomfortable and where “agree to disagree” reins supreme—to ignore or downplay the unsavory or even shitty beliefs of people they otherwise like. The events of this year have made waving these traits away a lot more difficult for a lot of people.

Which brings us back to the examples you brought up, Letter Writer.  

Being flippant about wearing a mask or avoiding evidence-based coronavirus best practices in favor of one’s own desire to gather with 30 family members indoors every weekend isn’t the same as not always asking you how you’re doing during hangouts. Similarly, being wishy-washy about Black lives and police brutality isn’t something that all of us can “agree to disagree” on. While I’m very hesitant to call mask-wearing or the belief that Black lives matter “political,” it’s clear that both of these things—or, really, the absence of them—reveal something deeper about who we are. The things you want your friends to do better this year, LW, are rooted in your values, which is why it’s not outrageous to want to end friendships over them.

Our values inform so much about our lives; they influence our priorities and decisions and how we spend our time, money, and energy. They play a huge role in where we live and go to school and the jobs we do, and in who we date/fuck/marry. If you feel really strongly about something—whether that’s wearing a mask or, at the other end of the spectrum, not wearing a mask—it’s perfectly reasonable to not want to invest in or rely on people who don’t share your deeply-held beliefs. 

Do I think you should make the decision to end a friendship based solely on what you see on Instagram, without ever talking to the person again? Eh… it depends. If they aren’t a terribly close friend and the stakes are low—i.e., if you’re looking for permission to simply mute or unfriend them and move on with your life—I think it’s probably fine. If we’re talking about a closer friend, it’s probably worth seeking out a little more information before you blow it all up. Maybe you’ll discover that they and their 30 family members isolated for two weeks before the indoor birthday party or something. I don’t know if those details will change how you feel, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea to try to get more context before you totally write them off. 

Of course, doing this might actually require a hard conversation, which I know no one likes to have. A lot of people would prefer to slowly ghost people, or claim they’re “sooo busy” instead of just saying, “Yeah, what was up with that party with your family? Based on your posts, it looked kind of risky, and I was kind of surprised because it’s so at odds with how I’ve been behaving during this pandemic.” If you don’t think it’s worth it, or you have a ton of evidence at this point that this person does not share your values, or you’re dealing with something wildly inflammatory where one post was all you needed to see, tapping out makes sense. But if you are feeling generous, I do think a little patience and curiosity here can be worth it. 

This pandemic has been going on for the better part of 2020, and is showing no signs of stopping. I don’t think we can really say at this point that this is not “real life.” Yes, there are extenuating and terrible circumstances that have an effect on people’s behavior, and we should all look for ways to offer people grace—during a pandemic, and always. But if your friend’s behavior is less about the current circumstances and more about the way our current circumstances have exposed a massive difference in your core values, it’s OK to admit that you’re not OK with it. Whether that requires a formal friend breakup depends on the nature of the relationship. But if you just want permission to be done with people who, you’re finally able to admit, don’t really have the qualities you’re looking for in friends, then consider that granted. 

Rachel Miller is the author of The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People. Follow her on Twitter.

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World

Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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Classic toy tie-up: Etch A Sketch maker to acquire Rubik’s Cube

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Spin Master Corp., the company behind the Etch A Sketch and Paw Patrol brands, has agreed to acquire Rubik’s Brand Ltd. for about $50 million, tying together two of the world’s most iconic toy brands.

The merger comes at a boom time for classic toymakers, as parents turn to familiar products to entertain kids stuck in lockdown. Like sales of Uno, Monopoly and Barbie dolls, Rubik’s Cube purchases have spiked during the pandemic, according to the puzzle maker’s chief executive officer, Christoph Bettin. He expects sales to jump 15% to 20% in 2020, compared with a normal year, when people purchase between 5 million and 10 million cubes.

By acquiring Rubik’s, Toronto-based Spin Master can better compete with its larger rivals, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. All three companies have pivoted to become less reliant on actual product sales, diversifying into television shows, films and broader entertainment properties based on their toys. Spin Master CEO Anton Rabie said he wouldn’t rule out films or TV shows based on Rubik’s Cubes, but he was focused for now on creating more cube-solving competitions and crossmarketing it with the company’s other products, like the Perplexus.

“Whoever you are, it really has a broad appeal from a consumer standpoint,” Rabie said in an interview. “It’s actually going to become the crown jewel; it will be the most important part of our portfolio worldwide.”

Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube in 1974, a solid block featuring squares with colored stickers that users could twist and turn without it falling apart. It gained popularity in the 1980s and has remained one of the best-selling toys of all time, spawning spinoff versions, international competitions of puzzle solvers, books and documentaries.

The toy has been particularly well-suited to pandemic conditions. During lockdowns, parents have sought to give kids puzzles that boost problem-solving skills useful in math and science careers. Normally, toys tied to major film franchises are among the most popular products headed into the holidays, but studios have delayed the release of major new movies because of coronavirus. So classic products are experiencing a mini-renaissance.

“The whole pandemic has really increased games and puzzles,” Rabie said. “But whether the pandemic existed or didn’t exist, we’d still buy Rubik’s. It’s had such steady sales for decades.”

Rubik’s CEO Bettin said it was the right time to sell the company, with the founding families behind it ready to move on. London-based Rubik’s Brand was formed out of a partnership between Erno Rubik and the late entrepreneur Tom Kremer, while private equity firm Bancroft Investment holds a minority stake in the company.

Early on, Bettin felt Spin Master was the right home for the puzzle toy, he said. Spin Master, which was started by a group of three friends in 1994, has expanded through the purchase of well-known brands, including Erector sets and Etch A Sketch. Rabie says he works to honor the “legacy” of those products, which Bettin cited as a key reason to sell the brand to Spin Master over larger companies that were interested.

“It was important for us to not be lost in the crowd, and to be sufficiently important and cared for,” Bettin said. “And there’s a balance between being with someone large enough to invest, and agile enough to ensure you are key part of their plans.”

Spin Master won’t own Rubik’s Cubes in time for the holiday season – the transaction is expected to close on Jan. 4. At that time, the company will move Rubik’s operations from a small office in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood to Spin Master’s new games operations center in Long Island.

Some of Rubik’s Brand’s 10 employees will be part of the transition, but they won’t stay permanently, Bettin said.

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