You're my Inspiration, S** Hole Country Edition
December 8, 2018 8:49 AM   Subscribe

A random Internet stranger found my Reddit profile this morning, and sent me a long, overly-detailed private message. I'm feeling a little uncomfortable and would appreciate some input. More specifics below;

Thanks for listening, AskMe. I've been on Reddit for three years and change, though post irregularly at best. My interests on there include Rogue-like and RPG games, the Aubrey-Maturin novels, and accessibility, among other things. I will often go months without posting.

Anyway, I got a long and kind of rambling note from an Internet stranger this morning. They claim to be 18 years old, living in a specifically-named "shit hole country," their words, not mine, and grappling with a possible visual impairment. I am totally blind, and have been since birth.

They included a lot of details about their medical issues i didn't ask for. They also claim me as an inspiration, and say that they want to study CS and math, the former at least is an area of some strong interest to me. Finally, they mention that they've seriously considered suicide if their impairment progresses and hinders quality of life. It's at best a possibility, from what little I could understand of their medical jargon.

I'm uncomfortable being seen as inspiration by anybody, let alone a stranger with whom I've never interacted before. I feel odd being the person to whom they confide intimate details, even if they are trying to put a positive spin on their situation. I understand why suicide might be an attractive option in some ways, but it's also one which makes me cringe.

Has anyone else ever gotten a similar message? How'd you handle it? I'm not really sure how much distance I want to maintain, considering they started with an awkward, un-asked for series of disclosures. Any perspective would be very helpful, AskMe. Thank you :)
posted by Alensin to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This might turn out to be funds solicitation from anywhere. The inspiration compliment is the hook, the stated disabity and suicidal ideation, is the line; the funds request will be the sinker. The shithole country reference implies poverty, you have been thoroughly apprised this is coming, this is the holidays...

You are under no obligation to reply, your silence will create the vacuum into which the spin will unfold. Just watch it, and if you decide to be this person's Guru or inspiration after the holidays pass, then do but keep this time of year to yourself.
posted by Oyéah at 9:08 AM on December 8, 2018 [17 favorites]

I was expecting worse than what you describe although I can understand your discomfort with the message and being contacted out of the blue, especially their mention of suicide.

Sometimes people just need to hear that there are options for them and that they have the potential to live a good meaningful life. If you aren't comfortable sharing anything personal with them that's your right, but it might mean a lot to him to get a response basically wishing him well and encouraging him not to give up, and noting that you aren't on reddit very often or whatever to discourage him from becoming a penpal. You can also take a few more days or a week to respond to give him that sense as well.
posted by lafemma at 9:09 AM on December 8, 2018 [26 favorites]

Yeah. Here on Metafilter. A guy who was not a member followed me and reached out to me. Eventually, he came to Birmingham, UK from Michigan to meet with me. He ended up going to a code school and is now a business analyst at a business school venture incubator. I think these kinds of reach-outs are up to you with what you do to them. Offer a few hours for them to pick your brain and have a conversation. He probably knows the changes he needs to make himself, but needs a sounding board to affirm what he already knows. Then, end it. I offered to mentor the guy I met but I was not actually interested in doing it. We've stayed in touch but he has moved on from needing help, which is great.
posted by parmanparman at 9:10 AM on December 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

I've had random people contact me through reddit. To my knowledge, they won't know that you saw the message so if you choose to disregard, no salt will be thrown in any theoretical wound.
When I've gotten messages like these, I throw a prayer for this person out into the universe and move on, the idea being that I can't save everyone.

From your question, I can't tell if you're keen on corresponding with this person... My hesitation comes from there being no way to know if this person is for real. Emotionally investing in this would be risky and/or a waste of your time and energy.
Best of luck.
posted by eggs at 9:15 AM on December 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

I would not respond. Honestly, the mention of being suicidal makes me think this person is trying to guilt you into responding. It’s inappropriate at best and manipulative at worst.
posted by a strong female character at 9:24 AM on December 8, 2018 [15 favorites]

This sounds like a scam. However, I have secretly developed deep feelings about the internet comments of people who have no idea that they were being closely read (I hope). The best thing to do is not to respond. If, by some chance, they are genuine, then you have not been cruel to them, which is the best they could reasonably hope for.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:28 AM on December 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

This happens to me pretty often as someone who's sorta-publicly trans. It's never been a scam so far, it's consistently just been people (often here on Metafilter) starting their transition, wanting company and support, and feeling encouraged by something I said.

Depending on how I'm feeling, sometimes I strike up a correspondence, sometimes I reply with some links to resources, and sometimes I ignore the message entirely. I think all of those are valid responses. I'm not here to be anyone's inspiration, or to be a support system for people outside my social circle, but sometimes striking up a conversation with someone who is where I've been is rewarding. Still, if someone was talking about suicide in their opening message, that might well push me towards "provide a few links and then disengage."
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:48 AM on December 8, 2018 [19 favorites]

In "real" life, someone approaching you in a public space and suddenly telling you you're an inspiration, that they want to be your friend, that they _need_ something from you, can be a bit of a burden. It's momentary, usually, but then you know the person is out there, and the incident can feel similar to someone approaching you and asking directly for money or something -- maybe you've never had a bad experience like that, but you've heard about them, you've seen them depicted, so you're naturally nervous.

In online life, though, you have all the control, at least in this specific case. You can relax a little. You have the power to say nothing, to do nothing, to not react at all. Anything you do, any action you take, no matter how small, is a bonus gift from you to the universe, not an obligation.
posted by amtho at 10:09 AM on December 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hey, I think I may have bumped into you on reddit. I too like roguelikes, and let me say that I find the notion of a blind person playing and enjoying them very cool and fascinating. And it doesn’t seem all that weird that another person with low or poor vision would see your ability to overcome as an inspiration.

I don’t think it’s a scam, I don’t think anybody targets obscure niche video game fandom for classic grifts.

However; I do also understand why the message is a bit offputting. You are of course under no obligation to respond at all, but it might help it sit better with you if you take it at face value: someone reached out to thank you for being you, albeit in a very clumsy and awkward way that indicates poor social skills, perhaps related to being young, differently abled, and from a different culture.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:16 AM on December 8, 2018 [8 favorites]

I don't think this is a scam, just a person with poor boundaries who is hurting and doesn't have very many places they can turn. I definitely understand why it's off-putting though—I've been in similar positions before and it's uncomfortable. I think, if it were me, I would try to offer some form of encouragement at least—I'd at least reply with some vague but warm words of thanks and inspiration. You don't have to offer further help. You don't have to agree to be a mentor, or a therapist. You don't have to ask questions about their life or offer specific advice. You can do any or all of those things if you want to and you feel like you have the energy for it, but chances are you just don't and that's fine, you're genuinely not under any obligation here.

People with poor boundaries have a way of making other people feel obligated to talk to them. They push past our guard and put us in a position where we feel like we would be the rude ones if we cut them off—it's a bit of social jiu-jitsu. Thing is, we don't have an obligation to talk to someone who makes us uncomfortable just because it might hurt them if we don't. You don't become responsible for somebody's life just because they tell you that they're suicidal. People are responsible for their own lives.

However, I think you can respond to this person the way you might respond to someone who sent you a more appropriate message about basically the same thing, something like, "Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I noticed your profile and found it inspiring. I recently learned that I may lose my vision, and it's been really hard coming to terms with that. Seeing you out there leading a rich and successful life gives me hope for my future. I want to be a coder one day myself. Best!" If you got a message like that, you might be moved to share some warm wishes and thanks and maybe a nugget of perspective, right? So I think a reply along those lines would be appropriate here as well. There would be no obligation to continue the conversation if they continued to make you uncomfortable.

You might also give them the number for a suicide hotline.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:16 AM on December 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

Or maybe not the suicide hotline; I forgot this person comes from a country where such services are presumably rare.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:31 AM on December 8, 2018

Consider the possibility that they may have also sent this message to others. I would not be so flattered (not to say this isn't real but you don't know yet). Have you looked at their posting history? What are the posts like?

Is your love of CS and maths something that can be gleaned from your own posting history? What about your own hardships? Have you written about those on reddit?

I would state that you feel uncomfortable with this degree of information and put them in touch with people or organisations who can help them esp. in their own country. If you know people, put them in touch. Let them know they are capable of xyz but I would steer clear of being their emotional rock.

Was the mention of the shithole country to imply that they have poor medical facilities or that they are themselves poor? Which country was it? Some nationalities are a little OTT with compliments. Some people are also over-complimetary when trying to solicit help or bond with others so it's hard to tell. This person speaks very good English (American English too - "math" ... i know it's possible and probably more likely to be taught AE abroad) and they have internet access so they're already doing quite well for someone who is impoverished (if that is what they are implying). Be careful. Proceed with caution.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 12:33 PM on December 8, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks for the input thus far, AskMe. :)

The country he referenced was Azerbaijan, which is admittedly a nation I know next to nothing about. His English was very good.

A quick glance over his posting history reveals strong activity in subreddits related to glaucoma, among other things. The medical jargon is pervasive. It doesn't look like an account that was created specifically to target me or other blind folks, but I'd definitely call it socially awkward.

I find the approach off-putting. He DID mention some specifics about roguelike games and other stuff that is specific to my posting history, but he also began with "You are an embodiment of true inspiration," so…

I'll let this stew for a bit longer and see how it shakes out, I guess. For the record, if anyone from here does want to talk geeky stuff I'm always down for that, just so long as you don't tell me about your suicidal ideation as a starter :)
posted by Alensin at 12:46 PM on December 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

Some of this oversharing is probably just cultural. I've been places where people, especially young men now that I come to think of it, were just generally much more effusive and, well, intense than what I'm used to both in person and online. His online affect may be closer to the norm for his home culture. Doesn't mean you have to be cool with it, but probably some regular old cultural differences are in play here.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:53 PM on December 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

Well, some people just are socially awkward. I think it’s a simple human kindness to overlook off-putting. We are all off-putting in one form or another. Do whatever you feel comfortable with, absolutely, but maybe a quick note, a link to a hotline, and a thank you for the compliment, might be a nice gesture of humanity. And you can add a line about not being able to continue the conversation any further.
posted by MountainDaisy at 7:26 PM on December 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Being 18, being into subcultures including maths and a video game subgenre, being from a radically different culture, being a non-native speaker, and being scared of a newly impending visual impairment are each, individually, enough reason to be coming off as off-putting, be bad at assessing boundaries, and be very awkward. Maintain whatever support vs boundaries is comfortable for you in interacting with internet folks, and if you have some extra patience to spare, do spare it.
posted by Pwoink at 4:52 PM on December 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just one small point here: I know his English was very good, but it probably still isn't his first language, or that he totally gets all the cultural subtleties of Anglo-American speech.

"You are an embodiment of true inspiration" does sound incredibly awkward for a native Anglo-American speaker, and kinda weird, but a charitable interpretation would be that it's not his first language, nor is he from the US/ Canada/ UK/ Australia.

You know how when you use Google Translate to translate a sentence into another language and translate it back out, it comes out incredibly literal and/ or not making any sense? It's kinda like that. He could have meant "You really inspire me."

I'm not saying that's what's going on here, or that you should reply (suicidal ideation is scary), but I wanted to give a perspective from a non-US/Canada/UK/Aus English speaker.
posted by moiraine at 9:30 AM on December 11, 2018

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