Pissing People Off

by Michael Camilleri

When I was in university one of my roommates brought over a friend of his. The friend was incredibly brusque to the point almost of rudeness. Afterwards, as an apology of sorts for the behaviour, my roommate explained that his friend had decided he was happy with the amount of friends that he had and didn’t bother trying to make any new ones. He didn’t even go through the motions society encourages us to perform in those types of interactions.

At the time, I thought the guy was an arsehole.

Last Thursday I unfriended over 200 people on Facebook. These included people I knew from primary school, high school and university.1 I did this with some trepidation. What would people think if and when they discovered I had unfriended them? Would they no longer like me? Would they think I was an arsehole? In spite of these concerns, I told myself I needed to press ahead. I did so for two reasons.

First, the accumulation of friend detritus on Facebook had made the service next to useless for me. I realise Facebook has added smart lists (or whatever the thing is that is like Google Circles but automatic) but it didn’t help. My newsfeed was filled with crap I didn’t care about. I want to make clear that I realise that it was not crap to the people posting it. And, indeed, the characterisation of the material as ‘crap’ is intended as a reflection on me, not on them. I perceived it as crap because it was from people who weren’t really friends. They were ‘Facebook friends’; people I had friended, either out of a common experience we had both shared (sometimes decades ago), or out of a feeling of social obligation. I hadn’t had the balls to risk upsetting them (which is what I feared might occur). And it wasn’t out of any high minded sense of empathy on my part. It was entirely egotistical: I didn’t want them to think less of me.

The second reason was because I decided this was practice. Despite not having a clear idea of how I plan to get there, I still nurture the hope that I am going to do something to really make a difference in the world. And I’ve come to the realisation that people that do that need thick skins. They need thick skins because they’re going to piss people off. That’s because if you want to do something that makes a real difference you are going to upset some people. Which is part of what makes it hard and why no one will have done it until you show up. Moreover, it’s going to be a lot harder than unfriending 200 people on Facebook. But this is a place to start.

In the unlikely event that I both unfriended you and you’re reading this: I should have been honest earlier and I am sorry for wasting your time. I don’t want to waste any more time and I hope that makes sense. If you think of me as an arsehole as a result, well, I can’t say I wouldn’t think the same way but possibly not for the same reasons. I sincerely wish you the best in whatever it is you’re doing and I hope the fact that I’m not there taking up mental space lets you focus on the people who really do matter (and if you didn’t expend any mental space on me, well, then I guess I probably just did us both a favour).

I plan to do something that will have a little more impact at the end of the month. I intend to write about that here too.

  1. A process Facebook makes incredibly difficult to do. Not only is there no mechanism I could discover for mass-unfriending but, when using the web interface, every time you unfriend a person (a procedure that entails at least three clicks), the entire list of friends is reloaded with all of your friends in a randomised order. From go to whoa took two hours in case anyone else plans to do likewise.