We are living in tumultuous times in our country. Everyone is fighting. With each other, with themselves, with the four-leggeds and the winged ones. People are at war and we don’t even always understand why. The level of dissent and controversy feels like an epidemic rampant in American society.
Where is the love?
This morning, I was sad and disheartened, for I had shared a story of a tragic mistake a hunter made when he fatally shot a moose instead of an elk, claiming that he didn’t know it was a moose. I posted it on a local nature website, one I believed suitable for lovers of, well, nature.
Most people were saddened and felt the same as me about it. A hunter shot the wrong animal. A few others, however, took it as a platform to spew hatred and venom for the local wildlife. Kill the pests, they are ruining our vegetation, some said. They are dangerous and aggressive, they don’t belong here, we should kill more of them, others replied.
What, I offered, of the fact their natural range was in North America, that they were hunted out of many areas, that although they were reintroduced in 1979, they had belonged here way before then? (I didn’t even dare to raise the issue of reintroducing the wolf as a natural predator. I wasn’t up for the challenge without my morning coffee.)
I was called uneducated, told to inform myself, to stop taking an emotional position. Despite my degrees in ecopsychology and anthropology and twenty-five years in law, the ad hominen attacks kept coming.
I remember a few months back, I suggested to a local community watch group, that the frequent changing of the status of fire bans in our area should be made permanent to avoid confusion. Some responded that we were espousing fear in the community, and that no one would agree.
On another occasion, a piece I shared on whether we should have campfires in light of our new threats prompted an angry response from an older gentleman, who replied, people live on top of tinder boxes waiting to blow up. Let ’em burn, they’ll recover in a hundred years or more…
Speaking up for anything you care about in this world is never an easy undertaking. It is getting worse with social media. There are days I don’t dare check my Twitter account. (I say this with the complete awareness of the ironic fact that I am using social media to share this post and indeed, many on my website.)
Still in all, why are we consistently arguing with each other on the internet? And often very nastily. Are we so tragically unaware of our emotional lives that we are willing to knife each other in cyberspace?
I am all for respectful dialogue. I enjoy a spirited, well-informed exchange of ideas. But the new age of controversy we are now in is dispiriting to even the most optimistic among us. I say this as a woman with 25 years in law, a profession steeped in controversy.
I recall a couple of months back, when I read a post by one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott. She shared a particular political nightmare she had had the night before. As is usual with her pieces, it was well written and honest. It takes vulnerability for any writer to put herself out there, and Anne Lamott is deft and humorous about it.
Despite all this, there was no shortage of nasty comments on her blog about the nature of her political views. People disagreed with her and lambasted her vehemently. I remember thinking that if Anne Lamott can invite such negative feedback, what of the rest of us?
People like to dismiss such base behavior as trolls, chalking it up to the anonymity of the internet. I readily admit that I am not so quick to do so. When people are nasty to me on the internet, it takes a while for me to recover. Perhaps that’s because I consider there is a human being behind every name on my screen and I give them the same consideration I’d want them to give me. Perhaps it’s because behind every writer lurks a fear of rejection — and nasty comments and trolls are our worst nightmares come to life. Or maybe, just maybe, it reduces our hope for a better world and hope in the goodness of humanity.
The next time someone sends me back a nasty or controversial comment when I am simply sharing information, I should perhaps ask about the nature of their unhappiness. Perhaps people feel free to express their dismay in this manner because no one has asked them, Honey, how was your day? and they are existing in the world all alone. Or perhaps, there are just people just born to argue and make other peoples’ lives unhappy. Either way, taking a break from the social media interaction isn’t the worst thing we can do, if only to preserve the invisible, innocent hope for a better humanity that lives inside ourselves, that can only exist in the quiet of our own minds…