My community has a Facebook page, as most communities do.
It’s filled with drama, as most community pages are.
“To the jerk in the black Chevy truck who cut me off today…” snap, post, rant…
“To the house who put the mannequins hanging from trees…how could you! That’s not Halloween decor! That’s cruel! Don’t you know some of us have lived through suicide!” Snap, post, rant…
“To the boys who stole the pumpkin from my front porch, I have you on camera, you little *#@*@!” Snap, post, rant…
“To the red Impala who was speeding down the school zone…asshole!” snap, post, rant…
Notice a trend?
I sure have.
I see posts like this on almost a daily basis on my community page. And I live in a nice, safe, family-oriented suburban town.
We, and I mean the universal we here, we as human beings in the technologically inundated 21st century, take our negativity, we post it for the world to see, and we grow it.
We dwell on it. We find people who feel the same way we feel, who think the same way we think, and what should have been a blip on the radar of our day, becomes a mountain, a pattern, a habit.
And if anyone should dare dissent, well then things will really devolve.
We want only people who agree with us, only people who look at life the same way we do, only those whose perception matches our own. Anyone else…well, they will get attacked.
But, I’ll talk more about that particular aspect later.
Today, I want to address this inclination we seem to have to take a small moment, blow it up into something much larger, post it on our social media venue of choice, and watch it grow into something as large as one of the big floaties we see in the Thanksgiving parade.
We feel validated when we vent our frustrations and they are affirmed by others. On the surface, it seems harmless, but let’s think about this a little bit. It might not seem like such a big deal, but the Psychologist in me shudders. There is so very much wrong with it!
The ease with which we confront, attack, and demean others through social media is appalling. The damage it does, both to ourselves and others, is easily missed if we’re not looking for it. Things are said through the screen that we would never think of saying in person–and the consequences of this are worth examining.
The screen impersonalizes the confrontation. We can forget that there is an actual person on the other end of that glowing screen. A real person with feelings, problems, and a life that is just as chaotic, stressful, and overwhelming as our own. And because we forget, because we aren’t looking into their eyes, we too often become the worst version of ourselves, saying whatever we want to say, feeling almost empowered by it. We get to win the fight, uncontested, because we are the only one swinging punches, but at the end of the day, we get the high of the win, without seeing a bruised and beaten body at our feet. We feel that there are no consequences to our hateful, angry words, because we can’t see them.
But there are consequences.
There are consequences to the person on the other side of that screen when they see that post. Just because you can’t see them, just because you don’t see those bruises, or the split lip, or the blood running from the cut to the head, doesn’t mean that your throws didn’t connect. Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean that they don’t feel them.
There are consequences to you too.
Negativity is a mindset, and it becomes a habit. It colors our day, which colors our world, and what could have been a positive day, descends into a day filled with angst, irritation, and spite. All because we took one moment of frustration, and decided to nurture it. The blip becomes a mountain, and that mountain blocks the sun.
And there are consequences to everyone who jumps on the bandwagon with you as well. You have just colored their world in shades of gray. You have transferred you angst, your irritation, and your spite to the people around you…
Congratulations! If you wanted to make a difference in this world, you have…just not in the way you may have hoped.
And let’s look at this on a purely common decency level. Whatever happened to giving people the benefit of the doubt?
Don’t get me wrong, when I get cut off in traffic, I can swear like a sailor, but I draw the line at publicly shaming someone.
Posting a picture of the car with their license plate? Seriously, let’s call that what it is–it’s bullying.
Are you free of mistakes? Bad days? Stupidity? Distraction?
I’m sure not. I have accidentally cut people off a time or two. I’ve been distracted, even careless, on occasion. In those moments, could someone call me out just like I see these people being called out?
Yep. But we don’t know their story. Remember that, because they do have one. A story. A life. And very real things that might be happening to cause that lapse that you have censored them for.
It pays to give them the benefit of the doubt. Less angst for you, and patience and compassion for others. It does wonders for the soul!
It puts me in mind of an incident that happened to me many years ago.
It was literally just a couple of days before my daughter would die. I was a wreck. My days were filled with trying to get a lifetime worth of hugs and snuggles with my darling girl, and my nights were a miserable haze of half sleep as I kept one ear tuned to the beeping of the monitors that were literally keeping my daughter alive at that point. One fluctuation of the monitors and I had mere moments to get to Serena before she stopped breathing. If I slept, my daughter could die. I was pulled taut as a wire from the stress of it all.
One particular day, I decided I needed to get away, just for an hour or so. I felt overwhelmed by everything that was happening. I just needed a minute to feel normal.
As I have a bad habit of doing, I decided some retail therapy would do just the trick. I got into my car, and drove to Kohl’s.
After a bit of wandering and trying to be normal, an impossibility at that point in my life, I left with a couple of bags feeling a little less horrible, but sort of dazed and zombie-ish.
That was about to change.
As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I swung just a little wide, and somehow scraped the car next to me. I was horrified, I’d never done anything like that before, and I certainly haven’t since. My mind was just swallowed with agony and wasn’t functioning properly.
The owner of the car happened to be there, and as soon as I stepped out of my car, they let me have it. They called me several nasty names. They told me I was an idiot who shouldn’t be allowed to drive. And they went on and on, until I, finally, burst into tears, sobbing, spilling the story of my dying daughter.
On the outside, to the undiscerning eye, I looked fine. But a smile can hide a million hurts, and in my case, how I looked, and what I actually was in that moment were very different. I was raw and bleeding. And they had attacked an already incredibly wounded human being.
It was their turn to be horrified.
Yeah, what I did was stupid. But in the world of problems, a scratch on a car is pretty small when compared to a dying infant. They had reacted, and they had further wounded an already deeply suffering human being.
That day taught me a lesson that I have thought back on many times since.
Give the benefit of the doubt before you attack. You have no idea what is going on in the life of the person you just thoughtlessly attacked. Most of the time, their daughter isn’t going to be dying, granted, but it could be something equally large.
A mother fighting cancer.
A cheating husband.
A dying grandparent.
The list is endless in this world filled with difficulty and grief.
So, what if we help our fellow humans out, and help ourselves out in the process? Let’s let the blips be what they are…blips. Let’s post things that are supportive and uplifting. Let’s offer patience and compassion to those around us.
Let’s start a pattern that affects the world around us in the way that we want it to be affected. When you do, I strongly suspect you’ll start seeing a domino effect.