I grew up watching soap operas, and one of the biggest tropes in soaps (yes, I see what I did there) is that Character A sees Character B in a compromising–or shall we even say, less than flattering–position/situation. This typically leads to lots of misunderstandings and, of course, amps up the drama. One of my mom’s favorite refrains when we would watch these shows was always “Believe half of what you see.” She would say it almost every time. Because the truth in those situations was almost always somewhere in the middle as we viewers knew. Half of what Character A saw was true; the other half was usually filled in by what they thought they knew.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot during COVID-19, especially in this age of social media where people often post pictures or videos online. I have Very Strong Opinions about what is and is not acceptable behavior, especially as the number of COVID cases keep rising and more and more people keep dying. I protest what I believe is inappropriate behavior mostly by not liking posts/pictures that make me uncomfortable and by making snide comments to my phone or computer in the privacy of my own home.
I remember very distinctly saying to myself, “Getting on a plane during these COVID times? Please” before I myself got on a plane to fly across the country during the fires. Of course, there was a massive wildfire raging and I was stressed and sick and facing the possibility of forced evacuation anyway. But if I had just gotten on a plane and posted a picture that I was going to visit family because I needed to get away without that context, I would have been judging myself mercilessly.
I was reminded of this when my best friend called to yell at me and my daughter. Why? My daughter had posted a video of herself imitating Megan Thee Stallion’s “Body” video, and her friend had filmed the whole thing. “What were you thinking?” my best friend admonished. “Visiting indoors with no mask? You have to take this seriously!”
What my friend didn’t know is that my daughter’s friend has been staying with us for almost a month now because she had her own family emergency. All of us had been COVID tested by that point, so the girls were being completely safe at home since the friend is now part of our household. But without context, my friend could only believe what she saw, which was half of the picture.
Likewise, a friend of mine posted about her Friendsgiving and posted a picture of herself and a friend. If I didn’t know the background to that picture, I would have been furious. “FRIENDSGIVING,” I would have huffed in my apartment, “DURING COVID????” But because I knew (a) my friend is immunocompromised and rarely, if ever, leaves her house and (b) her friend took a COVID test and quarantined two weeks before the visit and then took another COVID test with a negative result right before driving up, I didn’t have to withhold my like on my friend’s post (THE PUNISHMENT) and I even got to be happy for her not being alone for the holiday.
Here’s what I’ve been struggling with and that I finally had to accept:
While it’s nice, and dare I even argue, responsible to provide context, I am not owed context. People literally do not have to provide context for their pictures to me, a person on the internet. They do not have to tell me that they had an emergency that forced them from their homes, that they quarantined in someone’s basement and took a COVID test before mingling with their friends, that they only go to the store once every two weeks and decided to take a selfie that one time, that they live alone and desperately needed company so took the risk to visit their other friend who lives alone and has followed the same protocols as them, that they went to Downtown Disney and it’s basically an outdoor market where everyone respects distancing and it’s as far apart as you can be from other people while also being in a place that brings you a semblance of joy. No one has to tell me anything or justify themselves to me–NOT EVEN PEOPLE I CONSIDER FRIENDS.
Because here is the other truth: If someone is really concerned like my best friend was, they’ll ask. If I really care, I’ll ask. But also, if I want to just sit in my house and pass judgment on people when I only know half of the story, I can also do that. (Of course, if they post a picture of themselves surrounded by maskless people who I know for a fact don’t live in their household because they’re their co-workers or whoever, I can also feel completely justified in that.)
Our government’s response to this pandemic has been horrific. Most of us–even the ones really paying attention–are still fumbling in the dark for what is appropriate or not. There are so many mixed messages being given on the state, local, and federal level that I understand it’s hard for some people to figure out what is really safe vs. what they want to be safe just because they’re allowed to do it.
But as I’ve said before, I trust the people I choose to be friends with to be kind and compassionate and to do the right thing. I trust that they are not willing to put themselves or their families or complete strangers in harm’s way. I trust that even if their local government allows certain activities, they will do the research on how safe any activity they want to participate in is. I also trust that I don’t always know the whole story, and that no one has to tell me anything they don’t want for me to know, even in the time of social media where it seems like people are giving me access to their whole lives.
(I also know that a very small portion of people I choose to be friends with are also possibly asymptomatic vectors of disease, but that’s a post for another time.)
I hope everyone had a safe and happy Thanksgiving. We’ve never lived through a pandemic before. You’re doing great even if I am silently judging your possibly COVID-infected activities.
Hey, I never said that just because I accept I’m not owed context doesn’t mean I won’t still be judgmental when you don’t provide any.