Is ‘Blessed’ a Big Deal? November 28, 2010

Is ‘Blessed’ a Big Deal?

The Vigo County School Corporation (public school) headquarters in Indiana had this message in front of their main building last year:

Best Wishes For a Blessed New Year

As reader Meg drove past the same building today, she caught a similar message:

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving

Is the word “blessing” worth raising a fuss over (by contacting a school official) or do you just let something like this slide?

My initial thought is to let this slide, though I worry that “God” is only a message away…

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I’m an atheist and I count my blessings all the time. It’s just a way of saying I’m grateful for my life and appreciate all the good things in it.

    I never thought of it as “from God” before. Maybe I’m not looking at it the right way?

  • Yes. And yes I would call and complain. God’s not a message away; it’s in this one. Bless implies god. What the fuck’s doing the blessing? God. The school should not be endorsing that belief.

    I don’t have a cow over every teacher that say bless you when a kid sneezes (mainly because it’s so expected in our society that you have to save that particular battle for the teachers idiotic enough to try and teach your kid to say it) but a public school should not be endorsing that bullshit on a sign.

  • incunabulum

    They think they are being coy and sly. It’s like a shibboleth – with a wink and a nod they are letting you know that they are Real True Christians ™.

    When someone tells me to have a “blessed day” I usually ask them, “Is that some sort of Pagan or Wiccan thing or something?” It usually annoys them and gets an explanation that they were asking Jeebus to bless me. To which I reply, “Oh. Now I get it. I was thinking of ‘Blessed be’ or something. Well, good luck not confusing people with that!”

  • No. Having been known as the Blessed Atheist for years and having the website the Blessed Atheist Bible Study, I take exception to this. I consider myself quite blessed just not by any deity. I have a wonderful child and wife and love my life. Even though this is all due to random chance and hard work, I prefer to use the word blessed, a kind of stripping the word from them and using it for my purposes.

    But deeper than that is the argument that even if the roots of the word are religious we have to reject the very idea of tearing out of public areas every word that has religious connotations. The intent with this sign is not an overtly religious one, and people should not be taken to task for its message. As atheists and people for a strict separation of church and state, we must realize that fighting every battle that even lightly smacks of religion will only turn nearly everyone against us. Standing and fighting against even the merest hint of religious phrasing in public schools doesn’t make us righteous and brave. It makes us assholes. This is how it will be seen and this is will not do our cause any good.

    We need to win the war here people, and the only way to do so is by winning the hearts and minds of the general public, not by slapping them whenever they even approach the line. We need to rely more on the carrot than the stick we have currently employed. Although in it’s strictest interpretation, this may be viewed as a endorsement of religion, fighting the word blessed in the public areas will be interpreted as being a dick.

    Let’s not be a dick.

  • Claudia

    My initial thought is to let this slide, though I worry that “God” is only a message away…

    I agree. My general feeling is that it’s calculated to be pushing to see just how far into religious language you can go and get away with it. Still, I dislike slippery slope arguments. I’d let this pass, and simply be on heightened alert just in case this was “testing the waters”.

  • Greg

    Honestly, I’ve never once associated the word ‘blessing’ solely with a god or gods. After all, not too long ago, a suitor would ask his lover’s father for his blessings for the match. Certainly there were no gods involved there!

    Of course, it’s perhaps a cultural thing that it implies god in America, and not being American I’m not in a position to know these things?

  • Meg

    KKBundy, you don’t live here.

    I’ve lived all over the country and this is the first place where the first question every new person you meet is “What church do you belong to?”

    The intent of this sign is not only very religious, it is very Christian.

  • Tony

    This is obviously a reference to massive British thespian, Brian Blessed, seen here expressing his disbelief at Flash Gordon’s continued existence:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFnmT82yGpk&feature=related

  • Michael

    Maybe we should save the battles for the important stuff. I consider myself a staunch separatist, but I still got upset that someone tried to stop the Prez from saying “..so help me God.” This kind of stuff gives us all a bad name and reflects poorly on the community. If we can win the big battles, this little stuff will fall away.

  • popeyemoon

    Just remove the letters ess and have a bling new year.

  • Benjamin

    Doing a little bit of research (by which I mean to say, I went to Wikipedia), I discovered both the etymology of the work “blessing” and its implicit connotation.

    “To be blessed” means ‘to be favored by God. What that school sign is saying, in equivalent words, is “Best wishes for a New Year favored by God.”

    As a teacher myself with definite qualms about the entire Pledge of Allegiance business, it seems like I should be logically consistent and say that the school sign reads as an explicitly religious message. As such, I’m against it.

    On a related note, I’ve trained myself out of the “Bless you” response to a sneeze while holding on to the societal expectation of acknowledgment when someone does so. I let them have a nice, German “Gesundheit!” (“health”).

  • Stephen

    Well, let us look at the definition of blessed. I’d say 4 of the 5 are religious in nature.

    Blessed
    –adjective
    1. consecrated; sacred; holy; sanctified: the Blessed Sacrament.
    2. worthy of adoration, reverence, or worship: the Blessed trinity.
    3. divinely or supremely favored; fortunate: to be blessed with a strong, healthy body; blessed with an ability to find friends.
    4. blissfully happy or contented.
    5. Roman Catholic Church . beatified.

    I’d say speak up. No way should this be promoted by the school system.

  • Stephen

    @Ben – I agree with you, there are no more “bless you’s”, it is now “be healthy” a European thing, or “you are so beautiful” a Seinfeld thing

  • Kaylya

    I think the phrasing sounds weird. And it may well be an attempt to “get away with” religion in this case. But that’s hard to prove, and I’m ok with someone wishing me a “Blissfully happy and contented New Year!”, or a “Fortunate New Year” as in some of the definitions of the word.

  • Steve

    That’s clearly promoting Christianity, but I think it’s important to pick one’s battles. It’s counterproductive and needlessly antagonizing to make a stink over every little thing. Better wait until they do something more substantial.

  • The Other Tom

    What you do is you stop in at the school and ask them, “blessed by who?” and when they tell you god or jesus, you report it to the Freedom From Religion Foundation so they can have a staff lawyer send the school a letter telling them to stop it.

  • Bertram Cabot, Jr.

    My, how friendly all you atheists are!

    And you still don’t have a clue as to why you are the most unpopular group in the US! LOL!

  • Kevin

    I’d let it slide; in fact I do – a religious work colleague always wishes me a blessed weekend. These days the word is used often enough in other non-religious contexts for me to let it slide. I think the wikipedia entry is missing the more secular meaning of bringing happiness and good fortune.

    But – I rather like the ‘dark’ meaning described in wikipedia: “a Blood (street gang) initiation rite will involve getting blessed, a process by which a inductee is punched as hard as possible in the forehead”. My blessings will be upon those who say “God bless you this weekend”.

  • andrew

    no big deal

  • Meg

    Other Tom, I might just do that.

    As for Kevin, there is a big difference between a person wishing someone a blessed whatever and a government entity saying it.

  • Clint

    Isn’t there a quote about “never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by stupidity and thoughtlessness…”? My suspicion would be that the person who wrote this meant it as “May you have a great 2011!” not “I’m pushing my Christian agenda on the heathen.” Take it in the spirit it was probably intended.

    The two hardest things I’ve had to learn as an adult are “how to pick my battles” and “how to keep my mouth shut.” (See http://xkcd.com/386/) As an econ major, I try to look at things using cost-benefit analysis.

    CONS: Fighting this one will alienate people and will reinforce negative stereotypes of atheists and other non-Christians.

    PROS: The sign will get taken down and a few people might realize they’re not alone and a few others might think about things.

    RESULTS: Fail

    If it said “God Bless” it would be a different story.

  • taxman

    You have to pick our battles. If we can’t even get God off our money we certainly won’t get blessed off a school sign.

  • Ryan

    Getting upset over this is like the people who get upset over “Happy Holidays.” Sure, it’s some Christian pushing the envelope, but it’s really not worth raising a fuss.

  • TychaBrahe

    @Clint – It’s Indiana. Of course they are pushing their Christian agenda.

  • ofmany

    I am ambivalent about the sign even though I agree with those that view the display as an attempt to wink-wink, nod-nod the Christian message to the other faithful. I find it more interesting and humorous that one voice above sees this rather benign discussion as demonstration of “how (un) friendly all of you atheists are”, and that we “still don’t have a clue as to why you are the most unpopular group in the US!” I guess in order to be more friendly we need to keep our opinions to ourselves and not make waves. By the way, is it not somewhat oxymoronic for a minority position to be popular?

  • littlejohn

    People already consider us annoying because we object to “In God We Trust” on our money. No question about the First Amendment violation there.
    “Blessed” is a pointless fight, if only because they can say (and they are technically correct) that “blessed” has no necessary religious connotations. We all know what they mean, of course, but they can be coy and we will look silly. Choose your fights wisely.

  • OhThatStevie

    Personally I can’t take “blessings” seriously, regardless of context. In high school, my friends and I mocked religion mercilessly. Blessings were what we considered each other’s farts. (Or “eternal damnation”, depending on severity.) I was dating this guy and he took my friend and I out to dinner. He left us in the car and my friend farted. When he came back, she said to him, “I just blessed your car!” To which I “translated”, “She, uh, sneezed.”

    Years later, I still think of that when I hear anything having to do with “blessing”.

  • Alex

    It seems to me that blessing is a verb and you then need to have something thats the blessor and something thats the blessee. In this case I would think the school district is referring to a god doing the blessing.

  • Nordog

    Yeah, I say make as big a stink about it as you can.

  • Manly Bowler

    Please. I’m all for keeping religion out of public institutions, but it’s not like “blessed” is a hidden code for Jesus. In the context of the message on the board it simply conveys the hope one will have a good year; not “May Jesus/Allah/Buddah/FSM make your year good”, or even “Only my personal saviour can make that your year will be good, so you better repent!”.

    Getting worked up about stuff like this will only dilute our own message and ressources.

  • Richard P.

    It is at all possible the person who set up the sign did it intentionally to not have god or some other offending word in it.
    Maybe they thought blessed was okay? Seeing that it it open to interpretation.

    Although it could have been some sly attempt to pass it off that way while meaning blessing from god.
    I say kill them all and let their god sort it out.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    Choosing one’s battles aside, it’s a blatant bitch slap, and by no means ok.

    Blessed-
    adjective

    1. having divine aid, or protection, or other blessing.
    2. *’1611:’ King James Bible (Matthew 5:5) – Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
    3. In Catholicism, a title indicating the beatification of a person, thus allowing public veneration of those who have lived in sanctity or died as martyrs.
    4. Held in veneration; revered.
    5. Worthy of worship; holy.

    verb

    1. A past tense and a past participle of bless.

    Bertram Cabot, Jr.,
    My how friendly you are, perhaps you’d like to hear chapter and verse how so.

    I do think the current damage religion does to the world currently needs to be laid out specifically and completely. That should include it’s damage to physical and mental healthcare, education, alcohol and drug laws, end of life care, hate crimes, political pandering to praise the lord and line some pockets, the whole nine yards. Atheists and god talkers deserve to know the costs to evaluate who’s being friendly and the costs of those crocodile smiles.

  • Stephen P

    I wouldn’t make a big issue of it, no. However if my children went to the school, so that I had a reason to talk to people there anyway, I would enquire whether it was intended as a religious message. If the answer was ‘no’, I’d gently point out that some people were taking it that way. And if the answer was ‘yes’, or evasive, I’d politely remind them that it wasn’t really on.

  • @Bertram Cabot, Jr.

    “My, how friendly all you atheists are!

    And you still don’t have a clue as to why you are the most unpopular group in the US! LOL!”

    The majority of the atheists in this thread up to this point have been in favor of letting it slide, including the ones before you made your stupid comment.
    Your ignorant statement is further proof that morons such as yourself cannot acknowledge reality, even when it’s staring you in the face.
    Go back to your alphabet blocks and finger paints you idiot troll.

  • Mr Z

    @KKBundy, while I generally agree with you I stumble on a couple of points:

    I’m not here to convert people nor win a war of any kind. Battle plans do not affect how I feel about the world.

    The word ‘blessed’ IS overtly religious. They have 26 letters, college graduates, teachers, and all the resources they could need to come up with a non-religious message. That they did not tells me they are either not competent to be making signs or they covertly want to relay a religious message that is not written in a way that will get attention from FFRF et al.

    If I lived in that location, I’d watch them carefully to see how the rest of their behavior is before doing anything. That sign is definitely not secular in its reading.

    If you want to win a war, you need to push back, hard, fast, and often. You can not train them to behave correctly if you don’t punish even the innocent infringements.

  • Random Excess

    Worth lodging a complaint to keep them on their toes.

  • I agree with what Manly Bowler said God damn it.
    I meant God bless it. 🙂

  • We need to win the war here people, and the only way to do so is by winning the hearts and minds of the general public, not by slapping them whenever they even approach the line. We need to rely more on the carrot than the stick we have currently employed. Although in it’s strictest interpretation, this may be viewed as a endorsement of religion, fighting the word blessed in the public areas will be interpreted as being a dick.

    Let’s not be a dick.

    What war are you talking about? The war of separation of church and state? “Blessed” is a very clear statement of Christian intent and if secularists are not willing to stand up for the little points, where does that leave them for the big points? What battle are you possibly reserving your strengths for? What carrot have you been using?

    And, btw, telling someone that standing up for something important is “being a dick,” is being a dick. Cut it out.

  • Too picky here, folks. Let’s start with a definition:

    blessed: blissfully happy or contented.

    (Definition #4, which is the one that makes most sense within context.)

    Let’s not go looking for boogiemen under every rock.

  • Revyloution

    This post really hits home for me. My daughters 2nd grade teacher signs his letters home with ‘Blessings’.

    After some thought, I’ve decided to accept his salutation as a shot across my bow. Ive raised my alert level, and I’m watching his every move for signs of proselytizing to my daughter.

    Of course, it’s tempered by the fact that he’s a great teacher.

  • mingfrommongo

    When an individual tells me to have a blessed day, I say thanks and chuckle to myself over that person’s belief that I can make their deity bless me and my day. I am more powerful than their god and they know it.

    The school administration is a different matter; I’d address the issue with them. I’d probably be less militant about the sign than a teacher in my child’s class using ‘bless’ so casually.

  • “Blessings” is a wiggle word. Although, they probably meant “God’s blessings,” it is too vague to raise a stink about it. And who knows, maybe they really didn’t mean ‘bless’ as in ‘God bless you.’ I still say ‘Bless you’ out have a habit, when a person sneezes. Maybe they didn’t have enough letters for ‘good tidings to you.’ or ‘have a year filled with good luck and prosperity.’

    However, my guess is that is that if you watch this district, they probably will cross the line in other ways.

  • Blak Thundar

    Ah, Vigo County in good ol’ Terre Haute, Indiana. This doesn’t really surprise me. On the one hand, I think it should be let go as it seems relatively minor. On the other hand, it’s a public school and they just should have stayed out of that mess and said “Best wishes for a happy new year”, as it avoids the religious bit and goes along with “Happy New Year!”. Now if it said “Best wishes for a New Year blessed by Jesus Christ/Allah/Vishnu/God/Whoever”, I could see really getting irate.

  • MP

    Let it slide. You’ve gotta pick your battles. Let them have moments of silence and wishes for “blessed” days. The “under God” in the pledge is a bigger issue.

  • Rabid

    Raising an issue over something this generic and vague is pointless.

    Yes it could mean blessed by the Christian Deity. It could even been intended that way.
    However, you can interpret it as blessed by any other deity, FSM, fate, good fortune or just about anything else you can think of. Like it or not the word blessed DOES have considerable usage beyond a purely religious one, etymology be damned.

    So I’m sorry to all of you who honestly think this is an issue worth fighting, it’s not. At best you just reinforce negative stereotypes, at worst you’d be acting like an arsehole.

  • I think this was almost certainly intended to convey a religious message, but since “blessed” can be interpreted another way, they probably felt sure that no one could challenge it. The phrase doesn’t seem appropriate to me, but I would probably just keep a close eye on the school system. Sooner or later, they might try to sneak in more overt religiosity.

  • Meg

    This has been interesting and while it irritates me, I probably won’t fight it…yet. OTH, I did take them to task about their Veterans’ Day program last year and got it changed – http://getinhangon.wordpress.com/2009/11/07/respecting-our-veterans-a-few-days-early/

  • umkomsia

    I typically let this one slide and file it under the “choose your battles carefully” category.

  • Bob Carlson

    “Have a blessed” whatever seems pretty meaningless. Is it too much to expect a school sign to say something meaningful? I have the same problem with Obama’s now rote “God bless America” at the end of almost every speech. What is this even supposed to mean? Same for the idiotic song that, since 9/11, has been played instead of Take Me Out to the Ball Game in the 7th inning of every major league baseball game.

  • thanks for this post; it reminds me why i’m “militant” in my atheism.

    the comment by the person mocking atheists tells me all i need to know.

    let’s contrast and compare: a bunch of mostly atheists, on an atheist blog that one must choose to visit in order to view, politely debating a public sign using public resources and representing the government and authority possibly or seemingly supporting religious belief in direct contradiction to the Constitution. and the believers? why, they come here and insult us, even though the majority of people here are mostly saying “meh, no big deal” and even though the likelihood of meaningful action to remove it is very unlikely.

    everyone here knows the adage “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile?” well, it’s right here in black and white. i doubt a lot of people here troll believer sites and i know i never do; mostly they are too boring to be bother with. but the believers don’t want us to have ANY safe space. they ALWAYS want to silence us, and for us to silence ourselves. we’re supposedly offensive for simply putting up a billboard saying “don’t believe? you’re not alone.” legions of them run screaming and shouting and it’s on the news and in all the papers and OMG the world will end if those mean, rude, hateful atheists are ever allowed to express themselves in the tiniest way. but when they shove their crap not only on us in the form of private billboards, but also ones that our taxdollars pay for? we’re supposed to turn the other cheek, so to speak.

    it is a War, people, and this is why we’re not winning yet. we’re advancing, but we’ve got to hold the line. our secular Constitution is very, very clear. there is a clear line that separates government and religion, even “vague” religious notions, and it is up to US to maintain it, because the believers never will and would love it if no one ever made that point in public ever again. 4/5 definitions of the word imply religion; in a court of law that’s more than enough to meet the standard.

    yes: say something. no: don’t be ashamed or worry about the poor little believers’ feelings when you do. i like the above suggestion: ask them “blessed by whom?” and when they answer some wishy washy way that you just know they will, “oh, we’re trying to be inclusive of all faiths and we don’t really mean xtianity (which of course they do in this part of IN)” bring down the FFRF on them. it’s *never* ok to use my tax dollars to support, promote or legitimate faith. nor yours, nor anyone’s. Never. the people who will be offended by such an action? well, most of them think i should be stoned to death. so i don’t give a f*ck about what they think and i’ll never change their minds anyway. the “moderates” who will cluck and clutch pearls and say, “well, those atheists are so rude sometimes, where’s the harm?” they are a HUGE part of the problem and making them uncomfortable? that’s exactly what we need to do more often. the civil, women’s and gay rights movements didn’t win by being polite. we won’t either.

  • Cortex

    Because this is basically an attempt to wish people well, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. Anybody can give their blessing to anybody else, after all.

    Even if their intent is darker, I don’t think there’s a chance of winning a fight like this one. The way everyone will see it is that some school administrator said something nice, and the mean ol’ atheists attacked them for it.

  • Never mind the definition of “Blessed”, what about the etymology of it.

    “Soaked in blood” is not a aspiration you should be promoting for a school.

  • I would just like the people who say “Choose your battles and don’t be seen as a mean person” to just tell us which battles you are saving yourselves up to fight.

    It seems easy to cow you into submission because of your need to be “liked.” “Oh, those nice atheists let us have this little victory. We owe them one, so when there is an argument over a nice prayer to start the school board meetings, we will give in a little sooner.”

    At some point, you have to be stand up. There is no wishy-washy generic meaning for “blessed” that isn’t related to “God Blessed.”

    Whoever lives in this town should give Dan Barker or Annie Laurie Gaylor a heads up.

  • Thegoodman

    I asked for my father-in-law’s “blessing” before I asked his daughter to marry me. There were no religious implications in my request, I was simply asking him to wish us well in our life together.

    This is not a fight worth fighting since the meaning of the phrase is ambiguous. “to bless” is just an arbitrary verb.

    Now, if it said “May God Bless your New Year”…that would be a different story.

  • Having grown up in the next county south of Vigo County, IN, my strong suspicion is that this is a Christian “dog whistle” intended to wink at believers while staying just this side of using overtly religious language. And yet, it’s probably not worth getting worked up over. It’s just vague enough to give them plausible deniability about its religious intent. And if we’re forcing them into bland statements like this, it’s a good sign progress is being made.

  • I should clarify that I don’t think fighting this would be wrong b/c of bad PR or hurting believers’ feelings. I actually think it would probably lose legally, if it came to that. Now, a letter from FFRF’s legal dept., that might be worth a few minutes of drafting just to fire a shot across the bow…

  • L

    It all depends on the intent – and I assume for the most part the intent is God-backed. I have a coworker who tells me I’m “blessed” all the time and fwiw, it really gets on my nerves..

  • Daniel Miles

    I think this comes down to how tall Jefferson’s “wall of separation” is. If you believe, as the courts do, that the constitution forbids the government from endorsing any specific religion over another and, therefore, that the government is permitted to be religious either in a generic sort of way or in an all-inclusive sort of way, then this is probably fine, as most religions (even non-theism, as some of the comments above have shown) have a “blessing” analogue.

    But if you believe as I do and as Jefferson did, that the constitutional language creates a “wall of separation between church and state,” that means the government is not permitted to engage in spiritualism of any sort and that this should come down. In other words, I’d fight it.

  • Peter Mahoney

    I agree with Random Excess that it is “Worth lodging a complaint to keep them on their toes.”

    You want to let the believers KNOW that there ARE non-believers in their community, or at least that there are persons who believe in strict separation of church and state.

    This can help “nip in the bud” some future idea that may come up next month or next year when they are planning to endorse/sponsor/advertise some religious event. Someone on the inside may say “no way, we couldn’t even wish people a Blessed New Year without getting a complaint, so there’s no way we’ll get away with doing _____.”

    Far better to take a minor stand now (a simple letter of complaint may do the job) and thus establish a line in the sand that keeps church-state issues cleanly OFF the slippery slope.

    Far better to inhibit the more blatant violation of church-state even before it ever occurs, rather than waiting for it to occur and asking “How did things go so far?”

  • Xena

    I slipped and used the old “blessed be” today. Sometimes talking to a new mom makes me homesick for my old goddess worship. Not that I still believe in Santa or anything. Wicca was just a comforting phase that came at a wonderful time in my life. I know I’ll never see things in quite the same way again, but sometimes reaching for a favourite food item, blankie, or teddy bear just feels good. I don’t have to believe the resurrection hype to listen to my long dead buddy’s favourite Elvis tune and fondly remember our last dance.

    So as somebody with plenty of experience with the phrases “blessed be”, “bright blessings” and “merry meet and merry part and merry meet again”, I’m telling you, the folks at Vigo County school board are definitely NOT Wiccans. They’re Xtians who tolerate, just like they probably tolerate gays and single mothers. They say “bless you” and what they really mean is “we’re going to make you in our image, or we’re going to make you suffer for not wanting to be like us.” Some blessing! If they really wanted to put a universal message on the board, it would be something like “joyous” or “warm” or “safe”, NOT blessed!

    I’m with chicago dyke and Peter Mahoney and the rest. Fight them now so they don’t start flying down that slippery slope into trying to teach creationism as science later on.

  • Snottyboy

    In the bigger picture of it all I would have to leave this one alone. I agree that ‘blessed’ and ‘blessing’ does imply religion and christianists in particular but I’d rather pick my battles and leave this one as-is.

  • cde

    What about damn? Do atheist use damn as a curse? Damn you? Damn it all to hell? Get your hands off me your damn dirty ape? Its very meaning is the opposite of blessed, yet it is rarely used or even thought of in a religious manner. What about “Curse”? Lucky? Or the Gregorian calendar? Do you fight to make Easter and Christmas non-bank/gov holidays or do you enjoy the paid days off?

    Cause this is just annoying. Really. Wtf is wrong with you if this gets you riled up. This is the very definition of being pedantic. Not just letting it slide or choosing your battles, the idea that alot of you even think this is an issue regardless that you think its not big enough to fight, well, lets just say you need help. Secular, professional help.

    This is the equivalent of being short changed a penny, and complaining about it for days.

  • Jebidaiah

    NO, leave them alone, they’re not hurting anyone. You’d just be annoying people and acting quite unfriendly.