It is clear that we live in the golden age of failure. Across America, people on Mondays decide that meeting a cup of something from X on Thursday would be a great idea. But when Thursday suddenly comes, they realize that it would be much better to go home, fall on the bed and watch the video from the Carpool Karaoke
channel. Therefore, they send an SMS or a letter with the text “Sorry, I will have to abandon today's gatherings. Many cases. Grandmother discovered bubonic plague ... "
Delaying cases is one of the defining properties of the current moment, because it serves as a link to larger trends: the uncertainty of modern social relations, the expansion of responsibilities, what my friend Haylie Darden calls “ethics of flexibility”, quickly raised thanks to applications for smartphones. Not to mention the decline of civilization, the destruction of morality and the disappearance of everything that is dear to us.
Failures start with a certain mental disorder, with a person who has ephemeral enthusiasm for communicating with others, but with limited knowledge about his own future desires. In theory, the proposal to meet with an interesting person seems beautiful, or at least quite interesting. A person seeking to please everyone around agrees to all the invitations, subconsciously realizing that he can later refuse them.
The brutal reality keeps quiet until you look at the calendar and find that you have five different cases scheduled for next Thursday at 4:00 pm, and you will not have a free evening until 2021. You are covered with a fog of panic, good intentions disappear, and the refuser is beginning to refuse.
And technology facilitates this process. Just reach for the phone, and refuse to meet is as easy as to refuse to travel to Uber.
There are different categories of failures. There are refusals to meet with friends. And here, apparently, there is a certain curve of failures. People easily refuse to meet with close friends, because they will understand everything, and with distant ones, because they do not matter much. But they are less inclined to refuse to meet with friends somewhere in the middle of this scale.
There are professional failures. They have a hierarchical structure. A person with a higher status will often refuse to meet with a person with a lower status, but if some intern suddenly refuses to meet with one of the directors, this will be a sign of serious disrespect.
And there are people on the remote. In the information age, masters of networking have emerged - they collect millions of useful contacts, understand the power of weak connections, and refuse to talk on the network with the cold eye of a murderer when they get a better offer.
I read online discussions to understand the ethics and etiquette of failures. Surprised by the number of people who easily refuse to meet and do not see the problem.
They talk about our right to control our time and take control of our lives. Those who have been refused should understand that sometimes other people are too exhausted to fulfill their promises.
Indeed, sometimes in refusal there is nothing terrible. In 50% of cases, I am happy when people cancel a meeting with me. They just gave me an unexpected period of free time.
But we need to try to make it harder to refuse. Technology seeks to facilitate any action, but friendship needs a binding bond. Technology is pushing us towards efficiency gains, but we probably need to acquire social rules that create obstacles in our way.
We could come up with three moral barriers that any failure must face.
First, is the reason for refusal valid (you urgently needed your children, a kidney donor suddenly appeared for you), or is it not respectful (are you tired, want to be alone)?
Secondly, did you refuse with dignity (sent an honest text, suggested another replacement date), or did you refuse to selfishly (tell me how busy you are as if you are the only person who matters)?
Third, have you thought about how this will affect the other person? (I concluded that it is almost always a mistake to refuse to visit some important event for another person - wedding, birthday, funeral, since your absence will be noticed).
Personally, I sin by the fact that, because of my clumsiness, I often assign two cases to each at the same time and forget to write down the cases in the calendar. I refuse to meet when overwhelmed with work.
Any social norms condemning refusals would probably be useful to me; they would push me to think carefully about promises before giving them, to ponder how I spend time, and to worry about too many promises and too poor fulfillment.
More recently, social responsibilities were not treated as a one-time note sticker; people took it for granted that reliability is a key element of a good relationship, that you spend your life as you spend your time, and that if you don’t deceive people who matter to you, you have a chance to build a deeper and quality friendship, live better, and so that you are respected.
Of course, all this disappeared with the advent of smartphones.