I see this on social media a lot these days. It is impatient and arrogant and meant to cut. It’s meant to shame someone who should know better—meaning, they should see things the same way a self-appointed authority says is the correct way. The “better” way. I’ve seen this in discussions of highly sensitive, rapidly-evolving issues that most of society is still wrestling with: rape culture, gender identity, and, of course, how to respond to the disaster unfolding in our White House. I understand the heightened emotion. I feel it too. We want everyone to “get it,” right now. We want everyone to pay attention and DO SOMETHING, FIX THIS. But America is 320 million different people, and our perspectives are influenced by our individual backgrounds and experiences. It’s influenced by whatever we’re dealing with in our real lives, far more complicated than social media.
Rather than using tactics of persuasion, active listening and dialogue, I see too many people—too many writers, capable of the best, deepest communication—shutting down questions and differing perspectives with little more than a furious “Do better!” It is not helpful to shame, scold, or shun those still turning issues over in their minds. We do not get to set the deadline for another person’s evolution. Questions and even disagreement do not (necessarily) equal hate.
I want more compassion, more understanding that we’re on individual journeys. If the goal truly is progress, there is no triumph in ganging up to ridicule, unfriend, or block—screen-grabbing to publicly shame someone because they do not immediately accept “what is” without question. Do we really want progress? Or just praise and agreement?
“Fight.” “Take action.” “Resist.” The internet is a cacophony of panicky commands these days. Trump won and he’s doing everything he said he would and more. We could have resisted the Trump agenda by voting unanimously for Hillary Rodham Clinton but we did not. (Our first woman president. We were told over and over that it wasn’t important, because she was imperfect. But it did matter. Losing that opportunity hurt us terribly. I know we are hurting. I know it is pain behind much of this rage.) The worst happened, although we saw it coming for a year or more. Now even those progressives who lazily criticized Hillary because they assumed she had it in the bag have snapped to attention. Now no one is doing enough, if they’re doing less than us.
The squeaky wheels always get their grease. As always, I’m more interested in the ones waving, trying not to drown. The pressure to DO SOMETHING, FIX THIS has made some people shy about sharing their moments of happiness: love, kids, dogs, food, books. As if happiness equals privilege equals apathy equals you’re part of the problem.
This isn’t how we change the world. It’s certainly not how we make it a happier, kinder place, as we all seem to agree it should be. This is how we alienate, stagnate, even push our allies further from where we wish they were. It is an aggressive, dictatorial approach, and I see it coming from feminists, progressives. People quick to identify themselves as “kind.” This does not feel kind.
Breathe, and remind me to breathe too. Listen. Engage, discuss. Let’s listen more than we speak. Assume the best of those who are trying. This is how we can do better.