How Did This Happen?

It seems like in the past few weeks, there has been so much attention in the media, both social and mainstream, given to negative energy, negative vibes, negative comments, negative everything. Members of Congress hate each other with a passion insurmountable and will do anything to bring down the government in the name if their principles, paychecks be damned. Bill Maher spotlights instances of people casting about willy nilly hateful remarks about Betty White, of all people. A friend posted something today on Facebook about how some, in his words, “fuck muppet” (Oh how I wish I could take credit for that one)  prescribed how best to emasculate and degrade an anti-war activist. An author and public figure I follow referred to how he only gets negative correspondence from people who used to love his work but swear off anything he does in the future because of a comment he made on his blog. What’s worse is so many of these haters want YOU to know they don’t like something YOU said and now think YOU’RE the anti-Christ. And so it goes.

How did this happen?  Possible culprits:

Social media: The utter availability for one’s opinion to be spewed out into the world via a nominal graphic design tool or a comment on a FB thread. I can only project here, but it seems to provide a person with some sense of accomplishment or validation if somehow, someway, their cherished opinion is vomited out into the ether. But really, that was invented when the first guy stuck his middle finger out at a fellow motorist.

The fast-paced nature of our society: Now, you can post something on a blog or a thread or a message board and receive the instant gratification of that and proceed to go about your day. No one at the parent-teacher conference or in your golf foursome or your own neighbor has to know how much animosity, hate and fear bubbles up in your heart, but by god, everybody who you will never meet that commented in the thread sponsored by the comic you “follow” will know exactly how you feel.

Disjointedness: We are so busy putting on the hat we wear in all these situations, we lose track of our fundamental selves and who we truly are. Do I think most people are the persona that they put forth in all these venues in our lives? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. Tommy Lee Jones said it best: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, reactive creatures and you know it (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what he meant).

What compounds the problem, or maybe this is just a symptom, is the complete lack of respect we show anyone other than our immediate friends and family. “I have to encounter you face-to-face and therefore wouldn’t even think of insulting you the way I went after that bone-head on that message board today. But you may very well be that bone-head under a username, so watch your back.”

Maybe people have always been this way and I am just now realizing it as a jaded adult, but again, I seriously doubt it. Or maybe it’s the availability of so many different avenues that masks the fact that people have always been like this and it’s just that now we have to know about it. I seriously, vehemently hope not, or Rand Paul is right, the empire is doomed.

But given all of this, I offer one tactic that will change someone’s opinion today. I have posited this idea before, but today, I’m altering it a bit. I used to recommend doing one thing for another person even if they know it or not. Forget that.  Do one thing for another person and make sure they know about it. If you have some money, pay for the order of the car behind you at the drive-thru and tell the employee to make sure that that car knows about it. If you are at the DMV or somewhere else you have to “take a number”, find the person who looks the most disgruntled about the situation or looks like they’re in a hurry (look for the guy checking his watch more than once) and give him your number (that is, if you are ahead of him, otherwise that would be mean). If you are at the grocery store, and you somehow get the last of something and the woman next to you makes a motion like she wanted it too, give it to her.

I can tell you how this worked for me to make you a believer: When I was in college, I forced my parents to drive all over creation searching for a couple bean bag chairs for my dorm room. Do not ask me why, but at the time, getting those bean bag chairs was REALLY important to me. The next weekend, a few guys that lived on my floor that I had gone to high school with had a few other guys from their crowd come visit them in Chicago. One particular guy who was an arch-nemesis of mine from back in grade school got drunk and jumped on one of the chairs and popped it, sending the stuffing all over the room and ruining the chair. 10 years later, I was bartending at a restaurant and the same guy came in. I exchanged pleasantries with him. having long ago gotten over what a jerk he was (okay, I hadn’t  exactly “gotten over” it, but I accepted it for what it was). At the end of the night, the woman who had been his server came up to me and handed me two $20 bills and said “This is from that guy you were talking to earlier. He said to tell you it’s for the bean bags.” My mother and father would probably not be this forgiving of this guy, but for me, at that moment, I forgave him all the hurtful things he ever did to me.

That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.  It doesn’t have to be today or tomorrow or by the end of the week. This isn’t a homework assignment. But do something for someone else you don’t know at all or very well or, and this is the one that takes more heart than I at least am able to muster on a regular basis, for someone you don’t  like at all, and make sure they know you did it. If nothing else, do it because it will reaffirm your belief that there are people like that out there, because you are one of those people.

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