This isn’t a new topic but it’s been fresh on my mind– why are we so mean on the Internet, and why don’t we stop it?
There are pockets of niceness online and there are pockets of hate and all sorts of things in between. And I know this is the case all over the world, and I suppose it begins with ourselves. I might be mean to people sometimes. I try my best not to be, and I try to apologize and reconcile as quickly as possible.
We are punished BY our meanness, not for it.
Where does meanness begin? Why are we so bad at treating each other with kindness and respect, and how do we accelerate that?
I’m very fortunate to work in an environment where the default setting/culture is to be kind and thoughtful towards one another. Sometimes that means some discussions happen a little slower than we might like, but honestly I think the cost is worth it because it allows you to open up topics and tackle things that you might not otherwise be able to tackle. I realize that I’ve told my boss more about myself than anybody else- probably more than I’ve written about in this blog. The only person who knows me as well or better is my wife. I think even my parents and siblings don’t know me that well, and I think the reason is because I never quite opened up to them so deeply- and that was always a function of our context, of our environment.
I think Life is incredibly short and precious and we should be able to be vulnerable with one another, we should be able to open up to each other about what we want, what we live for, what we care about, what we hope to do and see and feel within our time.
So it’s strange and sad when we get all defensive and offensive and we start drawing battle lines and think about how to win arguments, how to respond, how to react. As I write this I’m thinking about how I used to do that on Facebook all the time- get into lengthy arguments with people. I might be remembering it in a worse light than it actually was– I think I made the effort to avoid personal attacks.
Meanness holds us back. It makes people clam up, nervous, uncertain and unwilling to share. It makes people trust us less. They feel like they can’t be honest with us. They feel worried and afraid of backlash.
Never be mean. Never be mean. I regret all the times I’ve ever been mean to anybody, be it for laughs or be it for general amusement. I guess I was doing it hoping to gain solidarity with in-groups, or doing it to defend myself, to feel better about myself, to raise my own status by stomping on others.
Why else are people mean? Perhaps having some sort of enemy to attack and trample on makes us feel like we’re making progress, we’re contributing in some way. I can imagine being mean towards people who are prejudiced, people who are racist or sexist… but again, being mean really never helps. I know there’s all this rhetoric about how you can’t police people’s tone, especially if they’re marginalized and oppressed and stuff… and I don’t want to do any oppression. So I don’t want to tell other people how they can or cannot act. But I am reinforcing my commitment to myself to not be mean.
When have I been mean? How can I identify when I’m being mean? I’m mean when I’m insecure, when I’m nervous, when I feel threatened. Why do I feel threatened? We’re all going to die. What does it matter if people laugh at me about something? It doesn’t matter. What does it matter if some internet stranger said nasty things about me? It doesn’t matter. He’s not attacking me. He doesn’t actually know me. He’s attacking his idea of me, which must be informed by his environment. It’s informed by his perspective. Maybe he’s had a hard life, a hard day, maybe people don’t respect him. Maybe he’s scared and confused and lost and he needs to feel better about himself by calling other people names.
Maybe. Maybe not. But I can’t imagine or understand why a well-adjusted person who feels happy and comfortable would want to call other people names.
I’d like to examine this further. Because I think of all the things I punish myself with, being mean is one of the most unnecessary, and one of the most important to drop.
I had a conversation on Hacker News I think where I asked somebody why he was being mean to somebody ELSE, and the response was a sort of straw man– that if you can’t take the heat you should stay out of the kitchen, and that being overly politically-correct is boring. But the thing is- the discussion stopped there.
I don’t know about fragile- I don’t think it’s fragile to say “I’m not interested in having a conversation where I am belittled as a person”. Life is too short and we ought to spend it around people who are kind and gracious. “Stay out of the kitchen” is a total bullshit when people need to cook food to feed themselves, but the kitchen is swarming with assholes. We need a different kitchen, one that we can actually enjoy.
Political correctness isn’t nearly as boring as the fact that conversations END when name-calling begins. They dry up, the territory gets scorched. The learning stops. The progress stops. The whole thing is just really wasteful.
It feels like al of my life is really this endless pursuit of finding someone I can really, really, REALLY talk to. And on one hand it seems likely that there will never be a single person that you can share everything with, simply because the mind contains so many multitudes, such incredible breadth of experience- there will always be some areas of overlap and some areas of failed grasping.
And yet… there are 7 billion people in the world. Maybe we can figure out a way to be a little less alone and scared before we die. As Celine said to Jesse- we may never succeed, but surely it’s worth the attempt?
So let’s try, let’s keep trying, because to give up would be death (or just really boring… same thing.)
“I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” – Celine, Before Sunrise