Recently I've invented a hobby whereby I invent factoids that are close enough to the truth to be believable, or just so totally random that they're difficult to prove/disprove (e.g. "Professional hurdlers run faster and make fewer mistakes when forced to jump over animals of the exact same height as a hurdle.") I tell these facts to friends and acquaintances in such a manner that they believe to them be irrefutable truth.
Recently, I overheard a friend repeating a disprovable fact to a group of friends, who mocked her. I enjoy making up these facts and don't want to stop, even though other people are going to look foolish for believing them. Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
The hobby you have invented is called lying. You tell lies. That's the hobby.
Unfortunately, humanity has collectively subscribed to a social compact that discourages telling casual lies. That's how we are able to function. That's why Wikipedia works.
There's a reason no one ever says, "The great thing about Matt is that I can never tell if he's telling the truth, or just a creative fact he made up!" Compulsive lying is not an endearing trait. Your brand of compulsive lying is not even a shrewd negative trait. At least if you were doing it for personal gain, people could understand your motivation. You're just a Roomba, randomly vacuuming up and backfiring dirt as you skid into walls. You have no goal. The scariest villains are the ones who act with no clear purpose.
What is the triumph in convincing people to believe plausible things? The smug satisfaction of knowing someone else was wrong because you told them something that was incorrect? If I tell you the temperature dropped to 29° last night—even though I know it only dropped to 30°—and you believe me, is that a win for me? A loss for you?
Hobbies should have some element of challenge, even if it's minor. That's why collecting stamps is a hobby that already existed—it's pretty hard to acquire all the stamps. (Also, no sentence beginning "Recently I've invented a hobby whereby" has ever ended well. If what you are doing is so abstract and ludicrous that you must couch its explanation by clarifying it is a hobby that you specifically created, it's probably not the best way for you to be occupying your time. Nobody ever had to say, "Recently I've invented a hobby whereby I restore old furniture.")
This habit is neither useful, nor a skill. At best, you might be able to parlay it into a career [verb]-ing Mad Libs for a living. Since you are obviously not dating anyone, why not devote your time to memorizing actual interesting facts? (Note that interesting facts are made interesting by virtue of the fact that they are both surprising and true.) (Note also that Reno is located further west than Los Angeles; how interesting.)
Futility of the exercise aside, why would you want to trick your friends into looking dumb? If you feel happy (or even blithely indifferent) when someone is made to look dumb, that person is not your friend. By this definition, you have no friends. All you have are your facts.
Which are lies.
An acquaintance of mine started an online fundraiser to help her pay to study abroad in Australia (for the "culture", according to the fundraiser page). She inundated Facebook with desperate pleas to help her raise her goal of $30,000. I hid her from my feed, only to get invited to a fan page for this fundraiser. I saw she was only at $400 and posted an update about how she was going to start calling people. It was painful to see. I used to work in NGO development, so I messaged her offering advice on raising money (e.g. offering baked goods to donors because there's only a small overhead). After an exchange, it ended with me telling her she'll be hard-pressed to convince people this is a worthy cause. She, understandably, defriended me and told me I made her tailspin into a depression, causing her to give up on her dream. I'm wondering now if the "right" thing would have been just to let her keep embarrassing herself. But I think in her place, I would have wanted someone to send me a message. Is that okay?
Semesters in Australia are the biggest study abroad grift going. Planning a study abroad trip to Australia is an American student's way of saying, "I want to go somewhere warm and sunny, but I damn sure DON'T want to learn French or Spanish." These jokers will forever rue the day Hawaii was admitted to the Union, because it means that traveling there for a semester of Introductory Jazz courses no longer counts as "studying abroad."
$30,000 is...an insane amount of money. (Is it possible this scholar was starting an online fundraiser to buy Australia?) Part of the deal of being a student is you have access to cheap lines of credit to underwrite your studies. This amount would indicate your acquaintance is receiving no financial aid whatsoever. If you going somewhere and learning something is socially beneficial and could conceivably prove an eventual boon to humanity, you can probably get a scholarship to help drive down out-of-pocket expenses. If, for some reason, you don't qualify for federal aid (perhaps your household income is too large; perhaps because your relationship with the U.S. government could be best described as "complicated"), there are a near-infinite number of private scholarships available.
But what possible social benefit could there be to this girl studying in Australia? Does she intend to come back and share the culture with us? ("You all know about The Veronicas?") To stabilize the notoriously volatile relations between the U.S. and Australia? To settle the long-running Ian Thorpe-Michael Phelps feud? To finally answer the question: "Many people are from England; what if, instead, they were from...Australia?"
Creating an online fundraiser to raise $30,000 to travel to Australia must have made her wonder: How did anyone ever get to Australia before the Internet made it easy to beg for $30,000?
It is baffling that your acquaintance deemed 30 G's a reasonable goal in the first place. What do you even say in a Facebook post asking friends to contribute $30,000 to send you to Australia? "If just 60 people each give just $500, we're there"? ("There" = "the Harvard of Australia") ("The Harvard of Australia" = a hammock outside a bar)
Can you imagine what you would say if someone called and asked for a donation to study the culture of Australia?
"I'm going to learn to play the didgeridoo."
"Sounds great. Here's $14,000."
Don't feel bad for causing her to give up on her dream. First off, you probably didn't—people who say things like "You made me give up on my dream!" tend to have a flair for the dramatic, and are not grounded enough to commit to long-term goals of any kind. Even if you did: HER DREAM WAS TO GO TO AUSTRALIA FOR FREE. Kind of dumb! Like, some people go to college dreaming of becoming a doctor, a lawyer, or a teacher. This young woman went to college dreaming of becoming a person who had spent a few months in Australia. (Also, no one in the history of Australia has ever dreamed of going to Australia. That's why they made it a penal colony instead of a Sandals®.)
Crowdfunding is a tricky game, even moreso when a scheme's sole beneficiary is the person soliciting donations. You can raise money for mandatory, expensive medical treatment, or because your home was destroyed in a fire, or even for educational expenses—within reason. It's in poor taste to hassle friends and strangers for cash just because you're wondering what Australia is all about anyway. Sort of like starting a Kickstarter page because you want to acquire—but not pay for—a new TV. ("I'd like to study the culture of Australia—in stunning HD!")
You initially did the right thing, which is hiding her posts as soon as you realized they were going to annoy you, instead of bookmarking them for obsessive daily hate-reads. Then, when she thrust her campaign in your face through a side channel, you did the right thing again by kindly offering relevant expertise. Should you have escalated to the discussion to the point where you were telling her she was going to have a hard time convincing people her stupid Australian pipe dream was a cause worthy of their financial support? Probably not. (In fact, because she was so obviously never going to reach her goal, this would have been a good opportunity to look like a hero by donating $100 to a project that was never going to get off the the ground. All of the credit with none of the outlay, assuming donations were refunded.)
But you know what? You were right. And your heart was in the right place. (Of course, you still must have known that even if the cupcakes she made were incredible—even if she sold, like, 4 dozen of them—the sales were not going to get her anywhere near $30,000 any time soon. Maybe if what you meant by "Hold a bake sale!" was "Sell a bakery that you already own that you're not using" she could have gotten there. Depends what part of town the bakery is in.)
You may have been over-real, but she appears to be over-entitled, which is the greater crime.
In any event, you know what they say in Australia (although she doesn't, because she wasn't able to go, because you were mean about her champagne wishes and $30,000 dreams):
No rules. Just right.
Thatz Not Okay is a regular column in which I school inquiring readers on what is and is not okay. Please send your questions (max: 200 words) to email@example.com with the subject "Thatz Not Okay." Art by Jim Cooke. Photos via Shutterstock.