Every day I scroll through my social media feeds: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and most days I enjoy the posts that people add. I enjoy seeing things like clouds, scenery, food, and life events. Since the last Presidential election, however, it has been a non-stop litany of vitriol that we would be washing our children’s mouths out for. My friends and neighbors fill their pages with slurs, derogatory comments, and crude words that are worse than the fabled smog of the Inland Empire. Daily I see comments attacking physical appearance, intelligence, faith, and family. We attack our friends for posting something we do not agree with. We are all about sensationalism, and no one is exempt from our anger, frustration, and fear.
We would not accept this from our children. Schools have zero tolerance for bullying. If a child came home and said that the slimy red head from down the road was dumb, we would sit that child down and talk to them about treating others as they would be treated. Why is it appropriate for us to do this as grown ups? Why do we not focus on the issues and not on the person? What happened to “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all”?
None of us is perfect. We all have flaws and blemishes. Why do we feel it is appropriate to throw careless words around, tempt with emotionally-charged headlines (when we know that people will not read all the way through) and post incomplete or inaccurate stories to make ourselves feel better? Why are we not acting as adults who espouse Christian morality and taking a look at the real issues? We have become the arm chair yellow journalists of the past. We are all about sensationalism; we attack everyone, even our family for posting views that oppose our own. What happened to “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all”?
We practice a political racism on both sides of the aisle; we categorize everyone associated with the opposing political party as evil while glorifying ourselves as the saviors. It is not new, but it has escalated in the past 6 years reaching a zenith in the past 18 months. We have tunnel vision; our way is the only way. How wrong we can be and how much damage we do when we refuse to listen, really listen to the other side and decide what is right and wrong for ourselves, to be able to rationally come to the middle way and avoid the extremes. We have become armchair protestors. We post and repost without a single original idea. We no longer write to our elected officials, we post on Facebook and attack on Twitter. We “throw shade”, we mock, we belittle, but we do not act. Our vocabulary has become limited and ugly. Why are we not out petitioning, going to town hall meetings, writing letters to the editor? Because it is easier to lash out and feel more righteous by remaining at our desks and practicing non interaction through social media.
Where is your righteous indignation when you see the homeless on your street corners and under the overpasses? Where is your compassion and largess when, as a business owner, you are content to pay your employees minimum wage and restrict hours to avoid providing benefits. Where is that indignation when you are at an amusement park and the person picking up trash is on food stamps so you can have a clean park? It amazes me that people will patronize a company if it pays lower wages but will boycott companies because they are exercising the same right that you have to support causes they believe are in their best interest. Try to remember, the people promoting and reporting these stories on both sides are in it for the money. Don’t kid yourself, they are not altruistic and need to sell newspapers and magazines and air time. And those they quote want that permanent government pension and health insurance as much as their counterparts. There is no black and white.
I believe the real reason we are in such a state is that we have for too long left our responsibilities for rearing responsible children and stable government up to others and have failed to actively participate. We pull a lever and walk away trusting that that person will actually carry out our wishes when they don’t even know what those wishes are. We drop our children at school and expect they will learn everything there. We blame educators for the lack of morals, and empathy, responsibility and the understanding of consequences. Our obsession with ourselves and our electronics have caused us to become complacent with the status quo and have allowed ourselves to believe that we don’t have to participate.
We need to put away Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Give up a day at the spa or the mall. Close the laptop and put down the phones. We need to eat dinner together, and talk to each other. We need to follow our children to bed, talk to them, pray with them. Teach them their worth and value. We need to teach responsibility and consequences. We need to start with our spouses and children, they are starving for conversation and a moral compass. We need to teach our children what we ourselves have forgotten. We need to find our compassion and replace the fear we have created of those who are trying to find a place at this enormous table we call America.
Try walking to your mailbox and talking to your neighbors. Engage the people you come in contact with each day. Listen, really listen to the checkout person whose job you will save by not going to the self checkout. What is it they really are worried about? What do they need? Yield to the person entering the freeway, have patience with the older driver. If we stop and listen, responding in love instead of fear and anger, we might find that kinder, gentler nation again under the anger, mudslinging, and trash of recent years. Then, and only then, will we live into our Baptismal Covenant of loving our neighbors as ourselves and respecting the dignity of every human being.