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FORENSIC ETIQUETTE

Excavating the ruins of a friendship or a relationship is always tricky.  The classic line of He said / She said morphed somehow into Sex, Lies and Videotape – one imagines it was the advent of videotape, as sexing and lying have been quite popular for some time – and now you can’t get away with anything.

Especially if you have a facebook account.

Any fragment of that shattered tranquility can be wielded as a weapon.  From out of context text messages – in context text messages, for that matter – errant facebook posts, caller ID, your browsing history, your predilection for working late on specific nights… to too short phone calls or unanswered invitations – lying by omission, or just too busy to think? – mistrust, dishonesty, frustration and resentment takes these little needles and uses them like an evil acupuncturist to inflict pain as opposed to alleviating it.

Most of all we do it to ourselves.  Self-flagellation isn’t just for religious nutjobs.  We loooove to suffer, and we love an audience even more, though (maybe) not as much as we love to watch.  That’s a form of suffering in and of itself, really.  You’re either an emotional vagabond or a sadistic voyeur.

Take your pick.

What is to be done?  How does one transition through pain with dignity and foresight?  The tragic hero(ine), devastated by lost love or a calumnious association and crying out for justice, mercy or revenge is embedded into our psyche.  Our own immaturity and attention seeking ratchet that hullabaloo up to heart breaking decibels.

The question, I suppose, is posed to two parties – the ones enjoying their moment of drama, and the ones with free tickets and front row seats.

Let’s take the actors first, shall we?

From an etiquette point of view, as opposed to a legal one – though it will help in that department if it comes to that – start by shutting the hell up.  That’s right – close your mouth, put down your phone, step away from the keyboard – enough is enough.  It is bad enough that you have to go through a break-up or betrayal, but for your own sake, don’t finish the entrusting your confidences to those you turn for support by clicking send.

How sacred a vow could it have been if you think that committing this information to the internet somehow raises the tone of the conversation?  What solace or solution will broadcast ugliness bring to you in the cold, dark night?  The idea of shoving a splinter of shame into the fingernail of your recent confederate might be appealing, but what long term satisfaction has it brought to you?

None.  What it has brought to you is a reputation, now earned, of being a crazy person.  Congratulations, you can pick your meds up tomorrow at 10.

Tarnishing your own honor with hysterical acts of slander against the accused just makes everyone wonder why it took so long for them to see you as the nutjob you are.

So say nothing.  When prodded or probed for more salacious details of your personal disaster, think of how you yourself would view such dire confessions from a nodding acquaintance.  Generally with pity, right? Which grows quickly into fatigue, and scorn?  Is this the costume you’d like to wear to the ball?

I thought not.

Now the rest of you *ahem* us.

Just like a traffic accident or the proverbial train wreck – you just have to watch, correct?  Can’t peel your eyes away from it, huh?  This certainly explains reality TV.

It’s all bullshit.  One associates with tragedy at a distance because it throws the fragility of life into sharp relief.  That could have been you.  Earthquakes, bombings – these things happen without notice, and it really could be anyone bleeding and screaming just around the corner.

Same with train wrecks and smashed automobiles.  You say “Gosh, how horrible,” and gawk a bit and move along…unless you’re a paramedic, or a police man.  In which case you say “Nothing to see here,” which is patently untrue, “move along.”

But you don’t pull over and start asking questions.

Same with a dissolving friendship or marriage.  Let the authorities handle it.

Which isn’t to say that when your friends are undergoing a hardship you turn your back on them.  Far from it.  You hold their hand, act as a shoulder to cry on – maybe you get to be the rebound, who knows? – you do what you can to comfort them and be sympathetic.

What you don’t do is have the reenact the crime again and again.  You may listen to the recriminations for a time, but after that time, you encourage them to move along.  At some point you have to put your foot down and say enough.  You aren’t doing anyone any favors by adding fuel to the fire, or saying you never liked so-and-so anyway.

That’s a long way around, I suppose, to come to the same rule.  Just shut up already.

The problem is this – in the age where every spare and random thought can be committed to … well, not paper, but the ether, I suppose, but it could be printed out if one was truly fastidious and there were enough trees, we are to busy being busybodies and not truly helping anyone, least of all ourselves, by shoving our ever increasing sniffers into the dirt and hay of other people’s lives.  We leave behind these electronic fingerprints and reams of ill-planned commentary which can by used against us, and rightly so, by the real or otherwise wronged party.  When this unfortunate ball of confusion rolls into our lives it’s trouble enough, the real trouble is when it rolls into a court of law, in which case it’s out of my hands and the gentle gloves of good manners are replaced by the somewhat sterner iron mittens of the judiciary.

And then just like that car wreck, you’ll notice – it can happen to anybody…sure…

But not as often to careful drivers.

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