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Faux Pas

I had this idea a while back to do 10 days of Faux Pas on Facebook, unannounced. I would think of things which would be perceived as social embarrassments, and deliberately commit them, without letting on that I knew they were mistakes – as though I made them innocently, not knowing any better. I think the 10 straight days of it would’ve blown my cover (I don’t post 10 straight days of anything) but I liked toying with the idea, specifically thinking on and identifying the social norms that hold sway here, and then thinking of ways to violate them.

What are the norms on Facebook? I’m sure they exist, but it takes some thought to suss them out, because, being norms, they are observed and not broken. You don’t get many opportunities to observe That Which Is Not Done.


This is not appropriate attire for your first interview.

It could be something as simple as, say, posting a deliberately unflattering photo of yourself (on the not very bold side).

A quotation attributed it to the wrong source, widely known, with the spice of passion on the side (still weak, but slightly more bold).

Praising some show or book which is universally held to be bad, not amusingly or ironically bad like a low-end beer or an arena rock 80’s band, just bad.

Posting some overly emotional story about my parents, or a girlfriend, or an anecdote about a party or date that puts me in a bad light, or some stridently ‘New Age’ belief, and rambling at the end as though I couldn’t tell…

Now we’re getting into genuinely uncomfortable territory. This is where norm-breaking can be therapeutic, and political, too.

Why do this? Because norms can be oppressive. To some extent, it’s a moral duty to break the bad ones. There’s often a political dimension to it too, that people who observe the norm-breaking may not see.

A while back, I went on a date, and my date brought up STD tests. I was a little shocked, but I understood it was a kind of political act: I am bringing this up in a context you normally don’t see to try and normalize it. Later on, I did something similar, and was called out for being thoughtless and dumb. I was blindsided by that, but looking back, that’s where it came from, the same motive. Defiance.


This might hurt.

Breaking the norm is the point; you’re trying to shatter it, by defying it. You know it’s there. It’s a kind of civil disobedience. Because as I grow older, I’m increasingly unsure that being polite, making sure other people are comfortable, not being too harsh, etc. is the right choice.

For the right reasons, I believe in deliberately creating awkwardness, and then pushing it farther still to a place that is unstable. There’s space there, and freedom, in not being bland. Because if you can’t talk about things that are tricky and dangerous, where is the flavor? How else can you change things, if you don’t address them?

Because the things we can’t talk about have another side, an ideological one. They uphold the status quo. They can also hide what should be spoken. That’s what makes them dangerous.

So be kind, unless sentimental kindness is the problem. When you need to, smash the glass. Because, sometimes, taking up those sharp pieces is the only way.


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