Wednesday, November 18, 2015

No shame

Last Saturday, I watched as scores of people changed their Facebook profile pictures to blue, white and red in response to the attacks that took place in Paris the night before. I saw someone who didn't do it ask what the point was and someone else replied, "it's better than nothing". My initial response, which, thankfully, I didn't post was, "No, it isn't. It's the exact same as nothing. Because it is nothing." I was proud of myself initially for thinking that. Why? Because, like everyone else, sometimes I'm a dick.
Hard to believe, I know. But here's proof.
I'm not a fan of "slacktivism", which is what happened when everybody decided they were sick of the Confederate flag. Remember? People made a lot of noise about taking the flag down in places where it was still displayed, acting as though the removal of a visible symbol associated with racism was the same thing as eliminating racism itself, which is obviously not the case.

I mistakenly applied that filter to people changing their profile pictures, with the belief that these people weren't doing anything that would actually help the people of France, but just doing something to make themselves feel better.

Don't get me wrong; I still believe that's the case - because it is - but I now understand that that's okay.

What happened was horrific and has made people really sad and really scared. They feel like they have to do something, even if they have no idea what. If making this small, symbolic gesture does nothing but help them feel like they reached out and expressed some empathy, then that's enough. It's fine. There are other people out there, and I was this close to being one of them, who want to jump down their throats for not really doing anything but selfishly making themselves feel better. You can identify them by the way they say things like "Yeah, but what about..." and "Where were you when..." Those people aren't doing anything either. In fact, the only thing they're accomplishing is also selfishly making themselves feel better, only they're doing it by trying to shame people and make them feel bad. At least the first group, even if they're being totally self-indulgent, isn't being shitty to other people.

The sheer volume of so many awful things coming at us at the same time is frightening and causing us to be overly sensitive and defensive while simultaneously making us more predatory and aggressive. We're causing each other harm over the most ridiculous things. A prey-or-be-prey mindset seems to be taking hold among a number of us. Certain politicians are running for office with that as the primary plank in their platform. That's the opposite of what's needed right now. We're regressing when we should be evolving. This has to stop and the only way to make that happen is individual human beings, not faceless groups of whomever it is you consider your adversaries, changing their behavior. If not right here and right now, then at least sooner than later.

Some of us - most of us probably - might need to force ourselves to apply some reason to our thought process from time to time. We are capable of compassion and empathy on more than one level at a time. Just because Cecil the Lion makes somebody sad doesn't mean they don't care about kids being abused. Just because someone says Black Lives Matter doesn't mean they hate cops. Just because somebody thinks that a person who works at Burger King deserves to make more money doesn't mean they think paramedics should live in poverty. Just because someone puts a French flag on their Facebook profile doesn't mean they don't care about people in Kenya. It's not a competition, and Thank God, because how truly horrible would we be if it was?

It's simply impossible to devote equal amounts of attention to every single awful thing that deserves it. Some people put coins in a donation bucket. Some put dollar bills. Some might put nothing at all but might actually donate their time in service to a cause. You don't know their situation so don't act like you do. If you don't feel like putting any money in the donation bucket, that's all right. Just don't squat over it and take a shit in it.

People are sad and scared and struggling to feel good. They're doing the best they can. And even if they aren't, it's not your job to police them. If throwing up a French flag helps them feel better about themselves and lets them get through something that's stressing them out, just leave them alone and let them have that.

If nothing else, if you find yourself in a situation like this (or any situation, really) and you think you might be on the verge of being a dick, err on the side of caution and just keep your mouth shut. That alone will be an act of positive change.

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