In discussing the bombings at the Boston Marathon, a friend of long standing made an interesting point. I’m paraphrasing, but she said, “I often say ‘I hate people’. I don’t always mean it. Sometimes I say it to be funny, or I say it about someone I disagree with. But when I see people do good things, it gives me hope.”
I’ve been thinking about this all day. It’s one of the main reasons I’ve largely disengaged from Facebook. The guiding principle of Facebook seems to be, “Say mean things to be funny, or to gain the approval of like-minded friends.” Maybe I read more into things than is really there. I’ve made the comment before that communicating via social media or IMs is a lot like having Asperger’s. There’s a ton of social clues that can’t be conveyed with the written word. Emoticons are a poor substitute for facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture, etc. I once had an online argument with a girl I was seeing because she typed the wrong emoticon, accidentally conveying anger instead of amusement. Not my finest hour.
Nowadays, I use a different analogy for Facebook. I liken it to an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Buffy is accidentally given telepathy, and can hear the dark thoughts of her friends, the ones no one ever speaks out loud. The difference is that people now trumpet their dark thoughts to the world, expecting (and often receiving) approval for things they should be ashamed of.
Not that I’m any better. My style is not really vitriolic, but I have a temper I don’t always keep under control, and that side of me isn’t always nice. When I was younger, I loved arguing for its own sake, like a competitive game, and I wasn’t above provoking an argument just because I didn’t like their stupid idea. I’d be a mean drunk, if I drank.
I had a bit of an awakening two years ago. After years of the perpetual election season bringing out the worst in a lot of people I knew, I started pulling away from a lot of people, so I could still like them. I eventually took an early vacation to Las Vegas. I told a friend the day before I left that I needed to “get away from the human race, because I don’t really like them very much”. And by the human race, I pretty much meant most of the people I know.
Two months later, I had a stroke, and the human race (pretty much most of the people I know) came out of the woodwork and rushed to my side. For three weeks, I had visitors every day. People were going out of their way to help me, bring me things, check up on me, offer me bland platitudes like “be careful” and “don’t fall”. Humanity didn’t redeem itself. I did.
That experience changed me a little. I’m a little more sensitive now to casual cruelty, and a little faster to challenge it. I’ve stopped having serious conversations on Facebook, because one or the other person eventually seems to descend into anger. I don’t care as much whether people agree with me. I’m more interested in how they come to different conclusions, and once I know that, I’m basically done.
A great philosopher (OK, Captain Kirk) once said referring to war, “We can admit that we’re killers … but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes! Knowing that we’re not going to kill – today!” That’s always stuck with me, but now in a different way. We’re complicated, flawed people, who get stressed out and cranky and sleep-deprived and frustrated. But just this once, just today, I’m not going to say the mean thing in my head. I’m not going to impute the most hateful unfair motives to people I disagree with, just to get applause. I admit I’m angry, but I’m not going to lash out — today!
I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I don’t care if it gets a laugh. I don’t care if he did it first. (Go ask your parents when they stopped accepting that argument — mine stopped about the time I started using it.) I don’t care if I’m right, and she totally deserves it. And I don’t care if my best friend does it too, and wants me to “like” it. Just today, I’m going to be better than I am, just because I can.
And tomorrow can take care of itself.