Sunday, 3 April 2016

Two of The Most Annoying Words in The World: "Lighten Up!"

Regular readers of my blog will know that there are certain words and phrases that I just can't stand.  In fact, I wrote a whole entry about it, which you can read here.  But there were phrases I didn't add to that list, because they're worthy of a blog all of their own.  Those phrases, my friends, are the following:

  • "Cheer up, it might never happen."
  • "Lighten up!"

So, what is it about them that sets my teeth on edge and incurs my general wrath?  Well...

In the case of "lighten up," there's a particular time when it's used - badly - and that's usually in some kind of argument.  It's a knee-jerk reaction to being told that what you've said isn't funny or fair.  The problem is that by just saying "oh, lighten up," you're not listening to the other person's point of view.  Like... at all.

Take a case in point.  On April Fool's Day, Gwen Stefani decided to post a picture of an ultrasound scan, with the words "it's a girl!" on Twitter.  Whether or not you think fake pregnancy announcements are funny is beside the point, when it comes to what happened next...

A woman responded to the minor news story that broke when it turned out that the post was merely a prank, by saying that, as someone who had miscarried and was trying to get pregnant again, she felt that a fake pregnancy announcement wasn't actually very funny.  That's literally all she said.


Straight away, that woman (and anyone else who shared her view) received a response basically saying: "Lighten up."  I mean, those words were used amongst several profanities, because we all know trolls don't have the intellectual capacity to conduct any kind of real debate, but "lighten up" was most definitely present, as were a whole heap of personal insults, because... Well, reasons.

I watched this little Twitter drama unfolding for a while, as the woman responded to the troll by reminding her that just as the troll was entitled to her view that Gwen's joke was hilarious, she was entitled to her view that it was a bit insensitive.  She went on to remind her of the reason why she found it insensitive.

And the troll just came straight back with: "Oh FFS, get a sense of humour!  You're pathetic.  Lighten up!"

Or, to put it another way:  This troll was telling a woman with a legitimate reason to have found something upsetting (a recent miscarriage), that she was pathetic for not laughing along with the joke.  Like I said, regardless of whether you personally find fake pregnancy announcements funny or not, most of us should be switched on enough to know that not everyone will feel the same and that those who don't, probably have a reason for the way they react.  Here, a person was trying to explain why she didn't find the joke funny and all she got back was a dismissal.

THAT is why I have no time for the phrase "lighten up."  Too often, it's used as a way of completely avoiding having to take anyone else's opinions or feelings into consideration.  A person will use it when they've said or done something that someone else has a negative reaction to and rather than think about why they're reacting that way, the person just decides "well, I think it's funny, so they just need to lighten up."


I'm not going to lie.  I have a bit of a weird sense of humour and I know for a fact that over the years, I've laughed at something deemed inappropriate and been called on it by someone who doesn't share my strangeness.  Never have I ever rolled my eyes and told that someone to "lighten up."  Why?  Because humour is subjective.  What I think is hilarious, isn't going to necessarily tickle everyone's funny bone.  Equally, I've been around people laughing at something I don't find funny (either because it's just not appealing to my sense of humour, or because it actually does offend me) and thankfully, most of my friends and family get that it's fine to have a different view of what's hilarious and what's not (to be fair, it helps that I laugh at most things...).

Everyone is free to laugh at whatever they like.  But if someone doesn't laugh, that's okay.  And if they try to explain why they're not laughing, the very last thing we should be doing is shutting them down and ignoring what they're trying to say.  "Lighten up" is an expression that can do just that.  I know, because I've been on the receiving end of it many a time.  

Someone close to me once made a "joke" about how I'll probably never have kids.  I know, hahahahahahaaaaaaa.  The one thing I want more than anything in the world, but I'm single and poor and it's not happening any time soon.  For fairly obvious reasons, I didn't laugh.  At all.  But when I expressed how hurt I was at the joke, guess what I was told?  "Lighten up!"

Seriously, do as she says.

And no, it's not about wrapping people up in cotton wool and protecting them at all costs.  The irony is that I make jokes at my own expense all the time.  So, I'm not averse to jokes about me - even jokes that might seem a bit harsh - as long as they're funny, and as long as I'm not the butt of every personal joke you make over the course of an evening.  

It's about listening to another person's point of view and showing a little respect for it, even if you vehemently disagree.  It's about admitting when you've crossed a line, rather than dismissing the person you've upset.  It's about, to quote Adam Hills, not being a dick.

In the end, I waded into the argument on Twitter.  I told the troll that the woman had given a legitimate reason for being upset at the original joke and that it was insensitive to dismiss her.  And guess what they sent me back?

"Lighten up or get off social media!"

Funnily enough, it turns out that trolls are sensitive little kittens, because when I responded that I most certainly wouldn't be getting off social media, because I had no intention of being told what to do by someone so pig-headed that they couldn't - or wouldn't - look beyond themselves to consider another person's feelings, the troll blocked me.  Which frankly, I saw as a result.

There's something intrinsically arrogant about someone who never pauses to listen to someone else, or who assumes that everyone either thinks the same way they do, or are just wrong.  

And that leads me nicely to the other phrase I can't stand.

"Cheer up, it might never happen," is one of those things that gets shouted at people - usually women, it has to be said - by total strangers, in the street.  That, along with "smile, love," desperately needs to be wiped off the face of the Earth as soon as possible.

Essentially, it has nothing to do with human compassion and everything to do with "your face isn't appealing to me at the moment, so you need to do something to make it look nicer."


I don't know about you guys, but this is not how I walk down streets:

It's a sidewalk, not a catwalk.  Except I'm English, so it's a pavement.

I mean, how do you know I didn't just get told I have three months to live?  Telling me to "cheer up," when you're a total stranger to me just marks you out as a douche canoe, because you're not going to follow it up with "hey, are you okay?  Want to talk about it?"  You don't actually care about my feelings, oh gobby stranger, you just want me to grin so that my face is slightly more acceptable to you.

Besides which, how do you know that the idea that "it" might never happen isn't actually the reason I'm not smirking like a loon in the first place?!  I might be thinking about the fact that I may never make it as a writer.  Telling me "cheer up, it might never happen" would therefore be the worst thing you could possibly say - and the last thing that would make me feel cheery.

And who goes around grinning like a Cheshire cat all the time, anyway?!  If we all did that, the world wouldn't be a brighter place, it would be utterly terrifying.

Imagine a world where everyone just grinned ALL THE TIME.  Tell me you're not horrified.

For all you know, I might not be sad at all.  I might be wandering around, trying to remember a song lyric that's been in my head.  I could be thinking about what I fancy for lunch.  I might just be daydreaming about Phil Lester and his general loveliness.

Actually, it's usually that last one.

But whatever is going on in my mind, the fact is that deep down, I hate "cheer up, it might never happen" for the same reason as "lighten up."  When you get to the bare bones of it, it's just hugely dismissive.

When a stranger yells it at you in the street, they're not actually bothered about why you might not be smiling.  They don't want to know.  It doesn't interest them.  They just expect you to be smiling, because they want you to.  Just like people who snap "oh, lighten up," expect you to be laughing, because they are, regardless of how hard you try to explain why you don't find something funny.

Having "smile, love" etc shouted at you in the street doesn't make you want to flash a gorgeous grin.  It makes you want to do this:

But then they'll just tell you to "lighten up" and the circle of Hell continues.

As is so often the case with my rants, this whole thing basically boils down to our need to listen to each other and understand that we're all coming from different places.  If someone doesn't get our jokes, fine.  That's just their sense of humour.  And if someone doesn't walk around grinning all the time, fine.  That's just their... Well, face.

Let's not casually dismiss people's views just because they don't match up with ours.  Maybe the next time you make a joke and someone says they find it offensive, shrug your shoulders and if an apology is necessary, be a big enough person to make one.  Then move on.  No "lighten up" required.

Oh, and just don't tell a stranger to cheer up.  Ever.

You're damn right, Buffy.

On that note, it's about time I gorged myself on leftover Easter egg, whilst watching TV.  And the only lightening up I'll be doing is messing with the screen brightness.

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