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Judging from a Distance, Literally

Judging from a Distance, Literally

Laurie Ulster

I’ve found a new trend!

Sure, there’s bread baking, and puzzles, but this one doesn’t require any supplies: judging. All over social media, in private groups and public forums, everyone is judging everybody else’s response to the new world of social distancing, mask wearing, and curve flattening.

Under normal circumstances, my Facebook group of local parents is a great place to find the best plumbers, electricians, and piano teachers. These days, it’s also full of ways to volunteer your time, donate gear or meals to hospital workers, or see which stores still have paper towels. But guess what it’s also full of? Posts about people who aren’t social distancing properly.

It started with someone complaining about a gathering she’d seen, where families were mingling and playing together at an intersection near her house. But surprise! It wasn’t what she thought. Shortly after her post went up, it was countered by an indignant reply, explaining that each family was actually sticking to their own corner of the intersection so they could sing happy birthday to a nine-year-old. Everyone angrily called out the original poster, then the conversation turned to other groups who WERE guilty of what she’d thought she’d seen. Since then, there’s been a parade of new posts calling out other neighbors, dog walkers, joggers, and kids.

Then the L.A. Times turned up the heat with an article called Enough with the WFH sweatpants. Dress like the adult you’re getting paid to be—because in the midst of trying to navigate a whole new world, we should feel crappy about wearing casual clothing. The writer was particularly disturbed by a photo of Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour in sweatpants… it seemed to upset his sense of reality. If you can’t count on Anna Wintour to be snobby about clothes during a pandemic, what is this world coming to? And if you can’t wear uncomfortable pants, what kind of professional could you possibly be?

Of course, social media got ahold of that article and in came ocean waves of judgment about the guy who wrote the article. Some just disputed his premise, while others called him a terrible person and a bad writer. The cycle continues.

But here’s the thing… like the bread baking and puzzle-doing, judging is a catchy little habit. It’s hard to resist. When I see my friends posting pictures of themselves out in the woods or on a vast, empty golf course, with no one else around, I think to myself, Why on earth are you wearing a mask? If you’re not near anyone, you know it doesn’t matter, right? I’m judging them, in my own weird way, for not really understanding what the masks do—and simultaneously making the assumption that there’s no one just outside of the camera frame.

I have successfully resisted the urge to comment on those posts, at least until the day I become a virologist. Because honestly, what do I know? We’re all reading the same eight thousand conflicting reports, so I keep my mouth shut.

Last week, the superintendent of schools in my neighborhood had to start off her weekly address to parents with this:

“Synchronous/live online sessions are intended for teachers to meet with their students. Parents should not participate in these experiences by asking questions or logging in via a secondary device.”

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I sent that excerpt to my entire family and posted it on Twitter, deciding that it was just fine to judge helicopter parents. I know we’re all worried our kids aren’t getting the greatest education right now, but seriously? Logging in on another device? That was an easy one to make fun of.

But then I homed in on a much better target: What if I decided to judge all the people who are judging everyone else? There are so many great options:

  • People who think you shouldn’t wear pajamas all day
  • People who think it’s pretentious to dress up when you’re not going anywhere
  • People who think missing the prom is a tragedy
  • People who think being sad about missing the prom is trivial
  • People who think you should clean up your house before your Zoom meeting
  • People who think you’re uptight if you clean up your house before your Zoom meeting
  • People who think you’re lame if you’re not cooking every night
  • People who think you’re showing off if you ARE cooking every night

So many options!

From now on, whether they’re right or not, I’m going to sit in silent judgment of everyone who’s decided what everybody else should or shouldn’t be doing. Who judges the judgers? ME.

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