My family is very inclusive. If you are a friend of the family, chances are you could become just like family. You’ll have an open invitation to family dinners and activities. You might even end up participating in our Secret Santa gift exchange. Many friends of the siblings call my parents Mom and Dad. In general, I think this is an awesome way to be. However, in this particular instance, I’m not happy.
A few years ago my sister invited a co-worker of her significant other and his wife and kids to my nephew’s birthday party. This is totally acceptable. We’ve met a few people that were really nice with great kids and it’s my sister’s right to invite anyone she wants to her kids’ party. With my parents having several grandchildren, there are birthday parties year round.
There wasn’t a problem initially. I’ll call the mom Liz. Liz is a young mom with a lot of energy and an easy laugh. Her kids seemed like normal rambunctious boys. She didn’t seem out of the ordinary. I don’t recall when it happened, but we eventually became Facebook friends. Then she moved away due to her husband being in the military.
Sometime after that, Liz posted a video on Facebook. There was no warning comment or any text added to sum up what the video was. The video itself was titled with some phrase including ‘must see’ and ‘incredible.’ I had just watched the truly inspiring video of Susan Boyle’s audition and clicked on Liz’s link without hesitation.
What happened next was a four minute video that I watched about one minute of. The video was fast paced quick clips of real life, living people being hit by cars or cars being completely obliterated by other larger cars or trucks. Real people. Real blood and gore. Real death happening before I could register what I was seeing. Once I did snap out of my shock enough to stop the video, I needed several minutes to stop shaking, crying and wanting to vomit.*
Who the hell posts this shit on Facebook?! I thought Facebook was mostly safe. None of my ‘friends’ had ever posted anything like this before. I naively assumed there were rules against this sort of thing on Facebook and maybe I assumed that if someone did post it, they’d at least give others a heads up.
I don’t recall what I commented on the video exactly. I was somewhat shocky for several hours after watching it. The gist of it was, “Don’t click on this link unless you want to see real people dying in very clear bloody detail. This video needs a warning!” I believe she laughed and sort of apologized for not labeling the video. I didn’t unfriend her. I just called it a cautionary tale for me to learn from and an opportunity for me to talk to my kids about this aspect of social media (be careful what you click on).
Sometime after that incident, Liz posted a link to a commercial to the new Call of Duty: Black Ops video game. I thought the commercial was amazingly well done. It showed everyday people dressed in their everyday work clothes being solders in the game. A business woman in high heels and a tailored suit commandingly slow-motion walks through a battle with a determined glare and a huge assault rifle (I believe she is a sibling of one of my kids’ classmates). The action is non-stop with the iconic and feeling inducing “Give Me Shelter” by the Rolling Stones playing interspersed with explosions and gunfire. A line cook slow motion shoots two pistols at the same time and ends the commercial with more slow walking in front of explosions and nonchalantly throws the (I assume spent) guns. There’s no blood or gore or people dying on the screen.
It was an epic commercial and I appreciate effective marketing. I would call that a “good share” on Facebook. All of the real life people in their everyday clothing looked old enough to drive. I enjoy video games but I’m not fond of first person shooters in general. This ad made me want to try this game. I hadn’t tried a first person shooter in years and asked Liz what she thought of the previous Call of Duty games. She raved about the one that’s setting is World War II and said that it was her three year old’s favorite game. What?
Did I mention I’m a big sister and a mom of two kids? I found myself shocked again and in hindsight, I think I should have done something differently, like maybe not comment at all. I did put a lot of effort into expressing my views kindly and compassionately, however I can’t escape the fact that I gave Liz unsolicited advice about the formative years of children and what age is appropriate for realistic violence. I did first ask her to clarify that she was actually letting her toddler play the video game and asked if she was concerned about what kind of impact that has on a little kid. The entire conversation quickly went south and heated up.
Liz believed it helped her young son connect to his soldier father who was overseas with the military for much of his life. She believed the World War II background of the game is educational. She believed that witnessing violence doesn’t have any negative impact on a person, no matter what age. For example, she had been a witness to realistic violence her whole life and she’s fine. That’s when I recalled the earlier unlabeled video of real people dying from earlier. Though I doubt she was exposed to the level of ultra-violence available today, there is really no debating when someone uses themselves as an example of parenting done good.
With a deep sick feeling I realized nothing I could say would change anything about the situation, so I unfriended Liz from Facebook. I have often thought about exposure to realistic violence in entertainment and its impact on developing minds. I do believe that there are unforeseen consequences to it but I have no idea how something like that can be measured. I believe the technology to create more vibrant and realistic violence has outpaced the ability to measure its long term effects. Where would we even find a control group?
In general, I believe it’s up to parents to decide what is right for their children. However, if I believe that someone is harming their children, even if it’s due to ignorance, does that mean it’s okay for me to judge them? I am really confused about what is right in this situation. In the case of Liz, since she lives out of state, I don’t have to question the moral dilemma. She’s not my friend. I only ever see the occasional comment from her on my sister’s pictures or posts. I feel no urge to convert her or teach her sensitivity. I can’t even say that she is in the wrong and I am in the right.
Many times I have reviewed my past beliefs and decisions and acknowledge the errors or lack of experience moments. Someday I will probably look back to this experience with more wisdom and insight than I have now. I wouldn’t even be thinking about this except that Liz has posted publicly to my sister, that she cannot wait until she’s back here and they can hang out again. My sister confirmed, Liz is moving back.
Much of the time we’re visiting at my parent’s house for holidays, birthdays or Sunday dinners, my sister and I are out on the patio talking and laughing. Sometimes one of her friends from work or a family member of her significant other is there. Sometimes my brothers bring a girlfriend or friend. It’s usually no big deal and I try to keep track of who is who. I have no idea what it will be like with Liz there.
First, I don’t know how she feels about the last time she and I talked online and I unfriended her or if she even remembers or cares. Second, unlike my sister’s other friends who I don’t know well enough to have any opinion, I for sure have opinions about Liz. At the least I know that I would never choose to spend my time with her. Finally, the reason I’m writing all of this out is to wrap my brain around what my problem is and how I can solve it.
I can choose for myself who I want in my life. I cannot choose who my family wants in their lives. If the situation hasn’t changed, Liz will be here without family, which makes me think my family will invite her and her kids over for holidays. I need to understand that I have judged Liz on very little information. That her reaction to my unsolicited advice had as much to do with my saying anything in the first place and how I said it, as it did with whatever her views are on kids being exposed to realistic violence.
I have become defensive when I’ve felt attacked more times than I can count. Also, since that online argument, I have changed my policy on commenting on things I don’t agree with. Guess what? We don’t have to comment on things we don’t agree with! It might be sad, but I actually had that epiphany. I guess most of all, what I really need to do, is acknowledge that I really don’t know Liz and I probably never will. And that’s okay.
I love my family. I love their inclusiveness and the safe haven they represent to many. It’s an ideal I hope to live by with my own children and my nieces and nephews. Liz is a young mom and a military wife that has to handle all the day-to-day on her own while her husband is out there risking his life somewhere far away. I should cut her some slack and not let angst over our differing views impact my family time experiences. There’s a pretty good chance that despite seeing real people really dying and realistic violent entertainment that the kids are alright. Besides, who am I to judge?
*(Several years before this I received an email from a now former friend that wasn’t labeled. The video was footage of an American hostage being beheaded by terrorists. I will never forget what I saw or what I heard. I haven’t had nightmares about it in years but it still haunts me.)