Hatred and anger rarely dissipate. More often than not, these two rabid emotions find dark places in our souls to hibernate until they can be unleashed upon the unsuspecting.
I tell my children that anger is a lot like money. You rarely spend it where you earned it, and you often inherit it from your parents.
So I haven’t been surprised to discover pockets of rage as I overturned a few rocks and stones here and there.
There are a great many folks who have made their peace with the election. “My guy didn’t win. I disagree with the guy who did win. I hope the people who serve in Congress will balance out the policies with which I don’t agree.”
But there are still people who are unleashing their anger on the internet, an often faceless place that allows for vitriol to flow and burn. Studies continue to show that diatribes tend to be more rage-filled when there is no face — eyes, nose, mouth, etc. — in view.
Communication, the scholars say, is really about taking someone else’s perspective, understanding it, and responding. “Tone of voice and gesture can have a large influence on your ability to understand what someone is saying,” [Art] Markman [, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin] said. “The further away from face-to-face, real-time dialogue you get, the harder it is to communicate.” [Scientific American]
Despite the advent of fact-finding services online such as snopes.com, politifact.org, and factcheck.org, there are growing numbers of people in my circles of friends who prefer to provide their own facts based on their pre-existing opinions.
We Don’t Like You Because You’re Different
I recently corrected a friend’s perspective on Islam. Her assertion, based on a cartoonish graphic that outlined a slate of radical Islamic views, was that all Muslims believed these radical ideas. My response was that there are more moderates than radicals. The problem is that the radicals have better networks and are more prominent in the media. My basis in fact for this was a study by the Rand organization.
Amazingly, the answer was a single video from YouTube depicting an atrocity that I will not share. Suffice it to say that it did not depict every Muslim in the world. While it was a clear example of the evils of radical Muslim factions, to say that it represents all Muslims is a stereotype of the worst sort.
But it told a clear story. So compelling was the story, that I found myself wondering (again) if there were tenets to this faith that encouraged violence.
When this online conversation ended, I was pitied for being dilusional [sic] and beyond helping. But this was only after the “facts” that our President a) is a Muslim because of his name, b) wears a Muslim wedding band and c) represents Muslim hatred of our country because of his policies.
I’m hiding behind love and forgiveness, they said. I’m a weak Christian, they said. Don’t I know that there is only one God, they asked. How can I defend Muslims of any stripe, they asked. Don’t I know that they are all evil, they asked.
The stereotypes finally got to be too much, and I left the conversation. For the record, I deleted everything I posted after the link to the Rand material. I had failed to make a compelling case. I had failed to relate to the folks with whom I was speaking. I had become a distant, cardboard cutout at which to take potshots. I had become a stereotype of their hatred for everything not-like-them.
Lazy Brain Shortcuts
Sadly, stereotypes are a product of our sheer inability to factor in every variable, to take in every moment, to deal with the world in macrocosm. So we shortcut things. We miss things.
Our eyes have a blind spot, yet there is no blackness to indicate blindness. Instead, our brain fills in the gap with information already on hand. So you don’t see the minivan hurtling towards you. You see a pastiche of shrubs, mailbox, and empty highway. Our ears have limits to the range of sounds we can hear and process. And upon hearing a new sound, we tend to associate it with something we’ve heard before. Our sense of touch can be fooled easily, as anyone who has been through a backyard haunted house can tell you. a few peeled grapes in cooking oil, and you have a bowl of eyeballs for your squeamish guests.
Our senses require cooperation to gain a full range of understanding. And our minds require a broad understanding of a situation before we can draw logical conclusions.
Taste and See
I find it interesting that our sense of taste is so hard to fool. Aside from a few folks who will bite an apple and a potato while holding their nose, and the ubiquitous folks taking the Pepsi Challenge back in the 80s, most people can tell the difference between apples and onions, potatoes and celery, and I can for danged sure tell you when someone has slipped a Pepsi into my Coca-Cola glass.
Is it any wonder that Scripture encourages us to “taste and see that the Lord is good?”
I can see you from a mile away. I can hear you down the block. I can smell you from halfway across the room. I can touch you at arm’s length. But to get a taste of something, that’s more intimate than most of us are willing to get.
Oddly enough, Sandler and Nicholson are close enough to say that they are that intimate in the movie poster at the beginning of the article. Guess how the movie ends.
Hatred blooms in situations where we distance and dehumanize people. There’s a reason Mom made us kiss and make up. There’s a reason why the Carters and the Wakefields feud on the Andy Griffith Show was bloodless — they were just far enough away to dislike, but too close not to love, especially the two kids who wanted to run off and get married. But I digress…
You can’t taste over the internet. You can’t even smell or feel. You can merely hear and see (at this point), and those are the least intimate of our senses.
Is it any wonder that we fail to relate to each other as human beings online? We must make a concerted effort to live in the presence of one another, to relate to one another, and to share our stories face to face more often.
We’ve all seen conspiracy theories and hateful stereotypes. What are the worst ones you’ve seen? How did you respond? Be sure to comment below.
Author: Joey Reed
Joey is married to his best friend. Together, they have two children and live in Jackson, Tennessee. Joey serves Grace United Methodist Church, the Jackson District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.