I re-read this with a sense of awe because back then I had no idea what was going to happen in election 2016. Oh, we could go lower. And wow, did we ever! But I still, always, believe in Kind.
“I watched the State of the Union address last week with half an ear. I was multitasking. I was reading Twitter. I was surfing Facebook. I was texting a friend and talking with my son. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything new, but I think it’s an important civics lessons for children to see their parents learning about government and supporting it and being civil about it.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the outbreak of utter incivility amongst my friends on Facebook. Unlike many, I actually know all of my 150 social contacts on Facebook. I’ve known a lot of them for most of my life. And my goodness, folks. What happened to discretion? to dignity? to respect? It seems there isn’t anything off-limits when it comes to sharing opinions about politics. People are so angry and mean and just so…righteous. It’s like we’ve forgotten completely that it’s all about WE the people. What happened to the WE?
Approval ratings for our elected officials are abysmal, and they seem caught in a perpetual gridlock. They’re happy not to talk to one another, and they seem content to not do the work they were sent to Washington to do. I could write for days about their need to talk to each other and work together and just work it out. But this post isn’t about them.
It’s about US. WE the people
We can’t expect better from our representatives when we turn to social media and behave worse than they do. We grasp onto any posting and vent our spleens without a care for who might read it and be hurt. We post our opinions as though each one has value or is worthy of consideration. I don’t think that Survivor or American Idol did us any favors when they suggested that everything that we think matters. Or that being cruel, in public ways, was okay. And entertaining.
On the night of the State of the Union address, many of my friends, some of whom I’ve know for more than 30 years, posted their thoughts about the government and the President and Congress. They were doing real-time live commentary, as if they know anything. “People on food stamps need to be drug tested because they’re slimy takers and use my tax money to buy drugs,” posted one woman with whom I went to high school. And some part of me wanted to write, “I am on food stamps, and I need them to feed the little boy you so enjoy. I’ve never done drugs, but bad things happened, and I need some help right now. Do I need a drug test?” She would have said, “Oh, but I didn’t mean YOU. I meant THEM.” But I didn’t want to shame her. And so I felt ashamed. The thing is that she’s not a bad person, and she’s very kind if you speak to her. She goes to church. She has nice children. She has a big heart. But she also, apparently, has a big keyboard.
And it made me think long and hard about whatever happened to WE the people. The government is dysfunctional, and I don’t know how to fix it. But WE are a community and WE cannot do this to one another and expect the world to be a place where we want to be. It has to start with how WE the people treat one another. Are we so worried about protecting what we have that we can’t conceive of sharing it? Are we so frightened of “others” who might be “different”? Why do we listen so hard to commentators who tell us exactly what we want to hear to justify our own actions and not to those who might differ and make us challenge them? Why are WE the people so unkind and unforgiving of one another?
There are posts like that everywhere, and worse, still are the comments that you read when things are posted. Like many, my Facebook feed is filled with connections to news – real and funny, to movies and tv shows I watch, to groups I like, etc. But watching what is posted makes my heart hurt for the world and the pain and anger and frustration and powerlessness that the people making those posts must feel. I wonder if being so cruel helps them or if it feeds those negative feelings. I can’t imagine how it could make anyone feel better to belittle others.
When a family was found after being missing and stuck in a car for days, people wrote “idiots should have died” or “wish the herd had been thinned.” On Amanda Knox, “you can look in her eyes and see the guilt” and some other really inappropriately sexually-referenced things. People don’t respectfully disagree. Hiding being computer and phone screens, they say whatever they want as if there was no consequence, as if no one will feel hurt. They say things that they’d never say to another person if they were together. They say things that should not ever be said.
I don’t think I’m going to be able to survive another election cycle on Facebook. The verbal violence is a little bit too much for me. I believe in not so much walking a mile in someone else’s shoes as knowing that their mile is pretty hard, too, and not making it harder. I believe in helping out or being quiet so others can when I cannot. I believe that I know a lot about some things but I don’t know anything about a lot more, and I believe that when I don’t, I don’t need to speak so much as listen to hear and to learn. I believe in listening, a lot. I don’t think that every opinion I have, or anyone has, really matters much and lots don’t need to be verbalized. Mostly, though, I believe in Kind.”