The more I get to know Americans, the less they fit the image I used to have of them. Surprising as it may seem, they are not all like characters in Woody Allen films. Some attitudes I have encountered recently on the (mostly) American message board I visit have puzzled me quite a lot.
Question: if you see two strangers arguing in the street, do you go up to them and interfere in their argument? If one of them insults the other and then, realizing they overreacted, apologizes, do you – before the insultee has time to respond – tell the insulter there is no need to apologize? Or do you tell them they are forgiven for what they said? I don’t think so. Yet that kind of thing happens all the time in the virtual world.
What on earth makes a person think they can exonerate or forgive someone on behalf of someone else? As Primo Levi said, in a much more serious context of course, only the victim can forgive the person who did them harm. And, in the case of murder, the culprit cannot be absolved by anyone, not ever.
Anyway, if I’m having an argument with someone (yes, it does happen), I do not want anyone to come to my rescue – I am old enough and articulate enough to defend myself – and, if I’ve been abused, I do not want some meddler turning up and telling my ‘adversary’ that all is well. It’s up to me to say so, not them.
And then there’s the idea that you can be proud of someone even though you aren’t their spouse or a member of their family or directly involved in their achievement – like their teacher or trainer, for instance. (On that forum, the ‘achievement’ in question is very often spending an enormous amount of money on a luxury product, not discovering a cure for cancer, and I will never understand how that warrants congratulations, anyway, especially these days.) I thought it might just be me, so I asked around and no one can understand why one should say ‘I’m proud of you’ to a stranger either, so it must be a US thang, like dressing up one’s pet or newborn baby for Halloween, using buttermilk and canned soup in everything, allowing a creationist anywhere near the White House, and owning a gun.