There’s something that happens more and more on Twitter that makes me feel slightly queasy. But I also hesitate to say this, because it might not go down well. It’s the habit of (as soon as the results of a competition are out) dashing off a tweet to the effect of: ‘Congratulations to all the winners [of Comp Name]! Amazed and humbled to see my poem [on the shortlist/among the Commendeds]!’
There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘well done’ to other poets, surely? So by griping about it, does that make me a sore loser/ grumpy person /antisocial member of the poetry community? Possibly all of those, but I hope not. My queasiness comes from observing what looks like an exaggerated pleasure in others’ successes on the part of the tweeter, whilst at the same time sneaking in the fact that he/she was commended/shortlisted or whatever, thereby starting yet another chain of ‘Congratulations!’ tweets etc. I try not to go on about my distaste for ‘humblebragging’, but this new trend of congratulating ‘all the winners’ (presumably including a number of poets completely unknown to the tweeter) seems to be humblebragging by any other name. It appears to be widespread, and it feels like a relatively new phenomenon.
You may be thinking ‘well if she doesn’t like it, she can always unfollow/mute’. True. And sometimes I actually do, but I prefer not to, as the ‘offending’ tweets are frequently made by people whose tweets I generally enjoy and want to hear from. As I said, it’s so widespread it’s become normal everyday behaviour. But the queasiness continues. Why do I feel this way? Am I really the only one?
Recently, as a response to someone announcing that to be on a shortlist they felt like ‘a winner’, I asked them if it wouldn’t feel even better to actually be the winner. The reply was that ‘I find it easier to be happy for other people’s successes’ – now I may be reading this wrongly but the implication was ‘…than my own’. This was from someone who’s had plenty of successes.
Is the world really so full of altruistic people who truly, genuinely, find more pleasure in the success of others than in their own? Or are they reluctant to admit it on social media, for whatever reason – fear of looking big-headed, or of people not liking them, or just a preference to go along with the cheerleading norms, or even a worry that to celebrate ones own success means to put others down…I do hope the last one isn’t the case, because I think it’s mistaken.
Look at this way: if we stopped congratulating ourselves at making a longest/shortlist/commended, and only invited or offered congratulations to those placed 1st, 2nd or 3rd, then the vast majority of us would not be winners. At the moment it looks like literally everyone is winning something, and that’s very disheartening to those poets who never get anywhere in competitions. (I find it disheartening myself, and I do sometimes get somewhere. And however pleased I may be with a shortlisting, I am always disappointed not to have won.) It can also look like a coterie of winning poets continuously congratulating each other.
I read another comment recently, in which someone apparently was so upset not to get ‘on a list’ that they felt they may give up and stop writing. The responses to this were concerned and supportive, with someone else pointing out that ‘you have to remember that no-one talks about their failures on social media, only their successes.’ But can we reasonably expect people to remember this? Was this person feeling that way due to his/her tweetstream giving the impression that the whole world was on the bloody list except them?
It’s been said plenty of times before. Social media (and the internet long before social media) is a goldfish bowl of performative behaviour. I think those of us who spend a lot of time on it have a responsibility to remember that. There was a time when out-and-out self-promotion seemed to take over Facebook and Twitter (which was a big reason why I left Facebook some years ago). The rule of ‘Twitizenship’ now seems to be: only promote one’s own successes if at the same time you shout about everyone/anyone else’s.
And failures? Someone once said they hated the way some people filled up Facebook with their bad news, which no-one wants to be dragged down by. And yet, whenever I talk about my many poetry rejections on this blog, it gets the most positive comments. It would certainly be refreshing to see the odd ‘for the tenth year running I came nowhere in the Bridport’ on Twitter. But who wants to be accused of sour grapes?
I just wish we could a) talk more realistically (and more often) about the fact that the vast majority of poems don’t win prizes, as this may help us all to put things in perspective, b) worry a little less about keeping up a saintly/sanitised appearance on social media, and c) put the brakes on the ‘congratulations’ circulars: by all means send a DM, but no-one needs to be congratulated publicly/anonymously on Twitter for being on a shortlist, in my humble opinion. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Am I just being grumpy?