A Renaissance

I had a moment earlier this week when the world caught up to me, overwhelmed me, and left me wanting to cry. This happens from time to time…news about terrorism or the other ways we use violence against each other, the way people turn inward, giving into fear and ignoring compassion (as seen in the response to the refugee crisis)…the worst of us that gets brought out in elections and media and any time we give in to the easier path of labeling and isolating other people.

This wasn’t a bad thing…honestly, I’m glad to have such moments. It reminds me that I still feel deeply and that the world hasn’t jaded me. It reminds me that I’m still an idealist, that I still have hope for the world, that I haven’t turned toward simply protecting mine and ignoring others, even though the battle is hard some times.

Nope, it wasn’t all bad. I ranted to Kristin, she gave me a huge hug, and then we went back to trying to figure out whatever tiny ways we can help better the world.

At work, I saw a guy risk reprimand from his boss so he could bring in a very sick kitten, an animal that wasn’t even his, because he cared that much. I do some work at a local food pantry and I realized this week that the director has been working there full time for no pay, volunteering her free time for nearly a decade and never asks for recognition. I remembered that even though a lot of people surrender to fear and scarcity, there are people who keep on fighting for a better world. It’s because of those people and the people they work to help that I shouldn’t give in.

I was listening to the Jon Ronson interview on the Nerdist. He’s the author of “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” and he is trying to spread a message of calming the Internet outrage machine, encouraging people to converse and understand instead of vilifying each other. He was arguing that the instant attack mode we fall into hurts the social justice movement, because there’s never any space for discussions, because it just sends everyone to their respective corners to prepare for the next battle. It’s a pretty fascinating discussion: http://nerdist.com/nerdist-podcast-jon-ronson/

It makes sense to me. When someone says or does something insensitive, we can attack them and digitally exile them, but what does that accomplish? Do they learn anything or grow from that? Maybe we should ask them why, try to understand, figure out a way to lead people toward compassion and sensitivity.

I mention the Ronson interview because that plays hugely into my recent moment of despair. All I seem to see are people playing politics for sport, picking their teams and attacking the other without any real discourse. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve stumbled into a discussion with someone who is “on the other side”, only to find that the images represented by news and social media are poor representations of the nuanced, thoughtful human being in front of me. I’ve found that most people really are much closer to “the middle” than you’d expect. (And it seems I’m correct: NPR- Americans Don’t Disagree On Politics As Much As You Might Think). We’re just allowing the tools of the Web and the machinations of corporate media to boil us all down.

The Web, social media in particular, inspired me when it started, because it put power and information into the hands of those who didn’t have it before. It opened the door for discourse like we’ve never seen. It saddens me now that these tools are now used to accomplish the exact opposite, creating profits for Google and the rest of the media corporations in the process (make no mistake, they are getting rich while we battle each other in the comments section).

So let’s stop it. Let’s stop the outrage, the attacks. Let’s remember all of the ways that we can use these tools for us, for the people, for the better. Look at #BlackLivesMatter. Look at the attention finally being placed on police brutality. Look at the online feminist movement. Forget attacking the person who made a poor choice in an attempt at humor. Stop thinking of everyone who votes for the other guy or attacks your movement as the enemy. Let’s think of them as a challenge. Let’s ask them about why they said what they said or think like they do and then show them the same for us. I’ve seen far more people adjust course through understanding and discussion then from attack.

I’m tired. I’m tired of being angry. I’m tired of vilifying.

A Renaissance Of Fear? Or a Renaissance Of Compassion?

We choose.