Once you stop consuming the WhatsApp forwards of your extended family, you will be able to recover your relationships with individual relatives
I have some counsel for people who suffer extreme distress from reading the bigoted, thoughtless, vile, unscientific, irrational, misogynistic posts of their relatives in family WhatsApp groups. Some of you are so wound up by now that you experience distress even at the posts about the glory of yoga/meditation/Ayurveda/herbal tea.
QUIT the group.
Depending on which smartphone you have, it takes no more than two-three gentle taps of your finger on the screen to exit any WhatsApp group. Believe me, it’s not you who is responsible for the anguish. It’s not them either. Hawa kharab hai, as they say in Hindi. Something is rotten about the times we live in and it’s not just a mutating virus named covid-19.
Have faith in family. You may leave the family group but the family will never leave you.
They will think of you more than they used to. They will send you messages separately when they are relevant to you. God forbid, they might even call you. They will never forget to invite you for weddings, birthdays, picnics and whatnot. They will send you mithai ka dabbas even if you are unable to attend. Your mother will tell you what each one of them was saying about you in your absence. Some of it will sound nice to you.
Once you stop consuming the WhatsApp forwards of your extended family, you will be able to recover your relationships with individual relatives. You will no longer associate the scientist in your family with the unscientific post she sent about the collective energy of candles defeating coronavirus. You will not be compelled to remember the dripped-in-hate post your sister forwarded. You will begin to forget how gullible your uncle is, the one who was once your childhood hero. Your father might be sharing the same pseudo-science that Amitabh Bachchan has posted and deleted on Twitter, but alas, it is too late to be reprimanding faded superstars in our own family.
When someone is embarrassing themselves in public, you look away. You don’t want to blame them for having tripped. You don’t want to burn yourself to cinder by raging all the time. If they are on Facebook, mute them. Block a few relatives, they will never confront you about it. I speak from experience.
All around us, many of those we have loved, respected and learnt from are crippled by the age of disinformation. They have allowed their imagination to be brutalized by the tsunami of fake news and hate posts. They are drowning, not waving.
Last week I wrote this sentence on my Twitter—Leaving a family WhatsApp group is an act of love. I had just exited one of my last family groups and I was trying to process my mixed feelings.
What had bothered me about this group was not so much what the uncles would forward or recommend every now and then. What got to me were the silences. The hypocrisy of pretending to be apolitical in a time when every choice we make is political. The timidity of not calling out each other. The smugness of feeling protected by our class and caste privilege even as millions of people’s lives have been thrown into disarray all around us.
And yet, leaving the room was an act of calmness. Leaving means I can make my choices and feel my feelings without imposing them on anyone else. It means I am creating space for my own self. I have resisted the easy temptation to turn my frustration into rage towards my own people. I have chosen not to fritter away my energy where it will solve no problems and definitely create a few useless ones. Because truly, people are much more than what they post on social media.
My one-line tweet evoked more responses than I had expected. I am amazed by the stickiness of the WhatsApp group as a medium. It is relatively new, yet how attached we have become to the idea of belonging in multiple groups. We complain but we don’t leave. Most of our elders won’t even mute them. Admins don’t delete groups when their original purpose is over. Why are we hanging around each other so much in the virtual world? So much free space and yet we have become claustrophobic.
Life, as our days in lockdown have reminded us again, is short. There is music to learn and books to reread. Plants to tend to and poetry to indulge in. Slogans to paint and fund-raisers to organize. Prioritize compassion and befriend one’s own vulnerability.
Do not be waylaid by the family WhatsApp group. You fought hard to emerge as your own person in real life, don’t succumb to this shallow new medium that replicates all the sad, toxic hierarchies of extended families.
Walk out. Do it now.
We live in times when survival depends on breaking away. Do not be afraid of failure and rejection. We need both of them in large doses. Neither of them is permanent. They are the opportunities that can lead us towards a new way to think and live. Be the example everyone needs to see.
Use that finger, be the first to step out. Exit every group that disturbs you. Use protection, be safe. Stay home with yourself.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker and the author of My Daughters’ Mum and Immortal For A Moment.