When you start writing fiction, there a bunch of little tips and tricks you pick up along the way: “Show, don’t tell,” “kill your darlings,” and “every villain is the hero of their own story.” They’re all valuable and useful, but it’s this last one that I want to talk about today, because it’s useful in the real world as well.
See, I take real issue with calling people crazy.
It seems everyone has that “crazy ex” or “crazy cousin” or such in their life. Maybe your ex cheated on you with your best friend on prom night, or maybe your cousin is into self-harm, or is a furry. Crazy!
Except that calling them crazy says more about you than it does about them. If I were editing a story about them that you wrote, I’d break out the red pen and start furiously scribbling the margins with probably my favourite editorial comment: “BUT WHY?” The villain never decides to blow up the earth because It’s The Evil Thing To Do, there’s a reason why they can’t stand the sight of that big old ball of green and blue goo anymore. Similarly, the people in your life that do these “crazy” things? There’s reasons they do the things they do, too. You just have to figure them out.
Maybe your ex got drunk on spiked punch, and you were busy ignoring them all night for your friends, and they were upset and offended and excited because it’s prom and where are you anyway, and then it just kind of happened and felt right at the time, but now they feel guilty and sick about it every day and don’t know how to act or what to say or how to make it right or if they can make it right, or how much of it was your fault for ignoring them, and if that’s even a valid reason in the first place!
See, that’s not crazy. People are complex systems with often conflicting motivations. When you call someone “crazy”, you bail on even attempting to discern what makes them tick, and you show how lazy and uncaring you are.
Worse still, it conflates your lack of concern with genuine mental illness, which is where the labelling goes from simply “lazy” to “gross and dangerous”. Your cousin is already having a hard enough time dealing with their parents’ divorce and being bullied at school, now they also have to deal with the stigma of being insane or unstable. Calling them crazy invites others to similarly dismiss them as a basket case instead of a person experiencing genuine distress in a way they maybe aren’t capable of handling right now.
I know some people who are near-terminally lazy and uncaring of others. I know people who are immature and impulsive. I know people who are spoiled and codependant. Heck, I grew up with people who were mean and seemed to genuinely enjoy it. (But then again, who didn’t know people like this in high school?) I know people with depression, with bipolar disorder, with ADHD, with intense anxiety, with the scars of childhood bullying written on them as plain as words.
But I don’t know anyone who’s crazy.
(Oh, and anyone worrying about if you were mentioned in that second-last paragraph there, odds are wildly against it. The internet has sufficiently widened my social circle that I’m exposed to a pretty wide swath of humanity from which to draw. Plus, if you know me personally, I’ve likely told you what I thought of you directly to your face, so it’s not like you’ll learn it by accident though a vague allusion in a blog post.)