Fraud on the Internet: the Frier and the So What
In Hebrew, we have a common phrase that summarizes part of the Israeli cultural identity: ani lo frier, which translates loosely to “I’m not a sucker.” Being exploited, having someone pull the wool over your eyes, giving away your kindness to someone who doesn’t deserve it earns you that title of frier. Being a frier, a fool, is one of the worst things you can call a person in Israel. Here in America, you could call someone an idiot and get away with it. Call someone a frier in Israel and you better be prepared to be slugged.
A watered down English equivalent would be “I knew that!” when the person so clearly didn’t know that. Or “I meant to do that!” when they clearly didn’t. Americans have a hard time admitting their mistakes, but when someone tricks us, we’re okay talking about it. Pointing out how horrible the other person is. In Israel, you would never want to admit aloud that someone got you to give them empathy when they were lying to you. In America, we talk about it, sometimes under the guise that we’re protecting others by spreading word.
I’m not sure where I’m heading with those thoughts except that they’re a cultural difference I’ve noted; these two ways of reacting to our fears of playing the fool.
No one wants to be tricked, but it happens, and with the exception of far-reaching schemes such as Bernie Madoff, it is usually something that affects us deeply in the moment and then fades away.
Once a Mother wrote so eloquently about a situation unfolding in the ALI blogosphere that people emailed me about today, a situation I know nothing about. She points out that lying about loss obviously happens — Warrior Eli ring any bells? Little April Rose? — but also that people grieve in a multitude of ways; sometimes ways that don’t make a lot of sense to us. We can’t always predict how we ourselves will act when the shit hits the fan, much less what rings true for someone we only know through a computer screen.
In grade school, there was a girl in my class who always said and did the wrong thing, and she was teased all the time. She always raised her hand to answer the question, and she pretty much always got it wrong. One day, she came to school and told us that she was moving to Korea. It was decided that we’d combine a scheduled classroom party with a going-away party for her, and we all worked on banners and cards to send her off to Korea. Living in the DC area, this happened often since many of the students at my school were the children of diplomats or they were administration appointments, and they’d come and go with the postings. We held a lot of parties, made a lot of cards.
The day of the party arrived, and we brought in our baked goods and our cards and streamers. We decorated the room. And we gave this girl her cards. We all hugged her and told her that we’d love to be her pen pal. Her mother came by the room towards the end of the party for pick-up when her daughter was carrying out all of her cards and the banner. The teacher told the mother that we’d miss her daughter, and the mother asked why. After some awkward dancing around on the topic, we all learned that this girl wasn’t moving to Korea. She was going to be back in school the next day. She never told us why she made it up, though I have to guess that it was for the attention, the love, the small pool of days when no one teased her when she said Montana was the capital of the United States.
I think about that girl all the time; what would make a person create a fake story, especially one that would have to come apart at the seams at some point? When she was still in school, weren’t we going to find out that she wasn’t moving to Korea? This fake story had a shelf life.
I asked about it last week with Forest Boy. I think there’s one part of me that is fascinated by the fact a person would do this. (It seems very difficult to me, but Josh also points out that I can’t keep a surprise for longer than 30 seconds. Secrets — if you ask me not to tell anyone — I can keep forever. But a surprise I know everyone will find out at some point? Those things I gleefully shout out within seconds of creating the surprise.) There’s another part of me that doesn’t want to be the frier and reacts with frustration to the idea of being taken in. And there’s another part of me that remembers that girl from grade school, and my heart goes out to anyone who could benefit greatly from a few kind cards and a banner, but doesn’t know how to go about getting those things in a straightforward manner.
Thank you to everyone who wrote me, but I really like Once a Mother’s take on things. It costs nothing to extend kindness. For instance, it cost my classmates and I very little to make her the card in the long run after our initial reaction — truly, the price was a loss of trust, a few cents worth of increased suspicion, and some wax from the crayons. And on the Internet it costs us little to trust until proven otherwise and extend kindness. Or to not be able to do that and to walk away without saying anything at all.
What if my classmates and I hadn’t made cards for the next child who announced they were moving? And what if that child did move and left our classroom feeling empty and isolated because there was no send off? I would rather make one extra, perhaps unnecessary card than have people who are leaving and need the card not receive one because I’m caring more about not being a frier than I’m thinking about how to reach out to others, be a kind human being.
There are people whom I have never met (yet), but I care about you and what happens to you deeply. When you hurt, I hurt too, just as I do for all my face-to-face friends. We are a tribe here. I can extend that love when the relationship comes first, the need for support comes second. That connection is important because the strength of that connection informs my reaction, how deeply I feel about hearing news.
My choice is to continue to extend kindness when I can extend kindness, extend support to those whom I know in the online sense or the face-to-face sense. It may mean that I become the frier sometimes, but truly, so what? Isn’t the alternative — becoming untrusting — just as detrimental as playing the fool? So I choose to trust until I am clearly shown that I shouldn’t trust. And breathe deeply because we’re humans and we’re fragile and why we do things isn’t always clear.