Definition: Obliviate

In Harry Potter, the obliviate spell is used to erase memories. In the eighth movie, Hermione uses it to erase her parents’ memory of her and all traces of her having been born. While magic does not exist in our world, people often behave as though they are under the influence of this spell, a disheartening trend I find more common in social media, which is why I would like to propose a new term,

Obliviate: (v) To act or behave towards a thing or person as though that thing or person does not exist.  

For example, “I gave him a copy of the book, but he seems to have obliviated it.” Or, “I called her last night, but she seems to be obliviating me.”

The word may be used as a synonym for “ignore” or “neglect” but has a more specific meaning. When someone neglects something, they acknowledge that thing exists in some way. You might say, “I neglected to do my homework,” but you could never say, “I obliviated my homework,” because that would be an oxymoron. When you obliviate something, that thing ceases to exist for you. So, you not only don’t do your homework, you act as though you never had homework.

Why do we need this word? Quite simply, it is a growing frustration of mine trying to express my struggle to get noticed. I did not have a word for how I felt. Being neglected or ignored was inadequate. Rather, I am obliviated. But I am not entirely surprised that this should be the case. After all, this blog is one of millions, and my novel is lost in a sea of others. The flood of information competing for eyeballs makes it difficult if not impossible to give attention to any one person, even friends and family, and the relative anonymity of the Internet makes it that much easier to treat these individuals as if they do not exist. But as someone who depends on feedback to do his job and sell books, this is especially frustrating.

Recently, a close friend and coworker asked to read my book. My response, “Sorry, I’d rather not risk our friendship.” He said, “What’s the worst I could say about it?” and I told him, “It’s not what you would say, but what you wouldn’t say.” I gave my book to a woman who, after loving the first four chapters, completely disappeared. After six months chatting, she never once mentioned it. My nephew, who is now attending FSU, did exactly the same thing. After sending him a copy, it was erased from his mind, which leaves me wondering what the fuck happened. Did he even start it? Did he get bored and stop? Where did he stop?

The obvious answer is that they don’t want to hurt my feelings, which is bullshit. Obliviating someone can only hurt. If, after giving you a story, you pretend as though that exchange never took place, I will assume the worst. Plus, without knowing why you got bored, or why you hated it, or why it was confusing, how can I ever improve? If you are guilty of obliviating someone, don’t! It’s cruel. The best policy is always honesty. Hated Ages of Aenya? No problem. You can write to me saying,

“Dear Nick, I tried to read your book but lost interest after the second chapter. Thanks, anyway.”

It’s as simple as that.

Of course, the term can be used for many situations. Those in the LGBT community, or those who prefer a controversial lifestyle, get obliviated all the time. People who are sick, handicapped or have lost loved ones also suffer this treatment. And it is wrong. I am not saying you should make everything an issue and bring it up all the time, but don’t be afraid to talk to gays about being gay, or to people in wheelchairs about their wheelchairs. It may be easier to pretend someone or something isn’t there, that their problem doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t make it go way and it doesn’t make it any easier on them. Sometimes, all a person needs to feel better is a little bit of acknowledgement.

Yes, I see you. You exist. I care. 

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