Since I have left Facebook, I want to do more to create conversation that is productive and civil, so I’m hoping to have more discussion posts like this where I post a little bit of info that I hope leads to more expansive dialogue.
Part of the reason that I left Facebook was how angry I was often getting. One could argue that I wasn’t strong enough to resist the trappings of Facebook but it should be noted that this is part of the design of social media – to manufacture outrage. I strongly recommend reading this article on the topic, and I think reading the link to Dr. Molly Crockett’s Nature article on the topic is also an excellent read. From the CSM article:
“Moral outrage plays an essential role in human society. It drives people to expose and rise against injustice. At its best, social media can channel moral outrage into action, as seen in the success of petition drives, boycott campaigns, and protest planning.
But under the attention-driven model that underpins social media, there is little incentive to steer users toward action offscreen. Instead, it is in the interest of the social media companies to encourage sharing of moral outrage in a way that fosters amplification rather than action. Decoupling user attention from profit could break that cycle, say observers.”
On Facebook I would often see people expressing the same level of vitriol for those who might commit minor offenses against societal norms, to those who were truly monsters causing great levels of harm against other humans. As an example the amount of outrage towards comments from Matt Damon in regards to the #MeToo movement at times seemed indistinguishable from things said about Harvey Weinstein. Some questions come to mind and you can feel to address some or all of them:
Are there times when you have felt yourself feeling equal levels of anger for different levels of offensive behavior? Or do you think that equal levels of moral outrage are justified even for the full gamut of what might be considered microaggressions to serious offenses against societal norms. This seems very much like the “broken windows” approach to moral outrage. Is this valid?
Is social media causing us to lose our way in really addressing the big problems by diminishing our ability to detect nuance among the “bad actors” in our society? And as a byproduct of this do we risk pushing those who might just be slightly on the wrong side of some reasonable set of moral behaviors, further away from where we would like them to be? It seems like we so easily ostracize and shame even small offenses on social media.
Perhaps the net effect of social media is still positive, but even so how can we use social media to be more positive, given that the current model, as it stands, is designed to exacerbate outrage, and not promote productive conversation?
Yoga. It sounds like a friendly word. Sounds a little like yogurt. Smooth and creamy. Maybe a little like a low mobility shriveled old alien spouting words of wisdom in Star Wars. Or Maybe it reminds you a little of Yogi Bear: that lovable cartoon animal that really just wanted picnic baskets. He didn’t want to ravage people, he was just hungry for a sandwich. So what harm could come from doing yoga? Plenty. It’s a horrible practice that should have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention. The non-threatening name only exacerbates the horror and trauma it causes. I shall now attempt to explain how this system of abuse works.
It begins by a suggestion from your wife that yoga will be beneficial to you and that it’s something you can do together. While I don’t blame my wife for the suffering endured, she is responsible for tending to my injuries afterwards. Anyway, what husband wouldn’t agree with that suggestion – so off to yoga I go. Keep in mind this suggestion has been made for a couple years before I finally relented. This is a great way to spend a Saturday morning if you aren’t a fan of sleeping or taking it easy on the weekend. I am not sure what every yoga studio looks like but the ones I have seen can be best described as follows. A big open space and as you walk in you feel comforted by its openness. It’s similar to one of those big empty warehouses the mob might ask you a few questions in with just a chair sitting at the center. Except there are no chairs. Off to the side the room is stocked with many implements of your future torture. Unlike in typical torture situations where the torturer has to at least expend some effort to get the equipment, you have to get it yourself. There is the razor thin mat, which gives you little protection from the floor, but prevents your feet and hands from sliding on the floor into a comfortable position which might save you from the pain you will have to experience. There are straps which you use to bind yourself with, there are blocks and pillows that you use to prop yourself up with (more will be explained later about how these will be used to weaken you psychologically).
The class is largely full of women. If you are a single man interested in women, you might think this is the place for you, but you’d be mistaken. The only way you can impress a woman here is through your ability to take pain. Some women might be impressed by that, but probably only the kind that want a man they can inflict pain on. Others might feel sorry for you and take pity. I submit that nothing helpful in that room, that can be used for the basis of building a meaningful romantic relationship. My suggestion is that you hone other skills and impress women elsewhere. And as I’ll soon explain, it’s unclear how many people here aren’t part of the grift that is yoga.
Your instructor is the true deceiver here and you will look at her and really think everything will be alright. She is friendly and welcoming. She doesn’t look overly imposing although a careful glance will see strong muscles safely tucked into her yoga pants. Of course, she need not be too formidable in appearance as the method of torture comes from what she tells you to do to yourself, not what she does to you directly. This is the brilliance of it all.
As the session begins the trap is sprung. Why? Because this is the beginning of the psychological manipulation to follow. You start by sitting and breathing. Her voice is calming as she tries to relax you so you become more pliable later. Often there is some music in the background played at the exact right volume to make you more compliant and ensure complete submission to her orders. So there I am sitting and breathing. Pretty easy stuff. I’m getting relaxed. I look around the room…I feel a sense of unity as we are all sitting and breathing and I am on par with the rest of the class at this activity so I’m feeling good about myself. But this peaceful feeling doesn’t last. It’s not long before you have to start doing poses. This by the way is also the beginning of many Hindi words that I’m pretty sure mean rather insidious things, but sound spiritual.
I got to do a cow. That was easy. I pretended like I had a really heavy udder. Then there was the cat. That was also not bad, except cats are ready to pounce and flee at a moment’s notice. This was only making me more stationary. Then there was the cobra. All I know is that if a mongoose found me it would be over quick. Then I am doing something called “a child”, which is not like my child at all who is energetic and obstinate. In this position you are more like a worshipper praising the teacher for the pleasure of being tortured. Then I’m told to take the strap and put it around my foot to hold my leg straight up in the air. I quickly notice how my leg doesn’t go straight up in the air. It is roughly at a 20 degree angle above the floor in order to remain straight. Everybody else in the room is like a fucking submarine and I begin to feel shame. I begin to wonder, is yoga really just part of the feminist agenda so we know what it feels like to constantly feel shame over our own bodies in a patriarchal system? As a feminist I quickly agree that yoga is for the betterment of society and continue. My hamstring already feels angry as the teacher calmly has me moving my leg to the left and right. Her language becomes a maze of confusion. “Turn to the right, but open your shoulders. Pin your hips to the floor as if you are breathing through your thigh.” I quickly notice that my thigh is completely without the requisite respiratory system and begin to worry. That worry is quickly forgotten as I am told to lose the strap and do a cobra again. Now it’s downward facing dog. You will, in this moment, realize that no dog would ever pose like this. My arms quiver under the weight of my body. “No”, she says, “the weight is supposed to mostly on your legs.” I quickly try to work out how this is humanly possible because hard as I try I can only make my hamstrings scream. I collapse on to my knees and look around as everyone looks like statues and my complete incompetence becomes glaring. I’m sweating as I glance up at the clock. Only 15 minutes have passed. Also why does my sweat smell worse in this environment?
As I alluded to earlier the extreme shame you experience is what makes you go along with the instructor. Every move you try to follow her on reminds you that you aren’t worthy. All the while she will say things like, “Lift your arm up straight so that it brushes your ear. Now drop your shoulder.” What? How do I drop my shoulder while lifting up my arm? And on and on it goes, “Open your shoulders, stretch your spine, drop your tailbone, turn your pinkies inward to work your triceps, reach out with your ring finger to feel it in your armpit, bend down to the left while lowering your right hip.” Basically the rule of thumb is that whatever direction they want you to move, you are supposed to, somehow, at the same time also move in the other direction. And I begin to realize that yoga is simply the art of tearing your own body apart as slowly and painfully as possible.
I am on the ground, left leg over right and told “turn to the left, but not to move my neck, and to keep my buttocks on the ground, and to reach behind me, turn my hand, open my shoulders, but now look back in the other direction, without using my neck, only my shoulders, also open up the sides of your body, push your ribs against your tailbone.” Somehow no time has passed since my last excruciating look at the clock. As I look around, illegally, using my neck, I am reminded once again that I am surrounded by flexible supple women who look like dancers and begin to realize that they are all part of the plan to torture you. The teacher beforehand selected them to make you look as pathetic as possible. And as you look over at the teacher, you can’t even feel aggression, which would be the normal way to get out of this situation, but shame weakens you. You are ready to tell her where the bomb is located, what the encryption code is, turn over your family to the authorities, but your tormentor doesn’t want any information and only wants you to experience pain. A 5’1″ sadist who somehow manages to say “namaste” with a smile on her face from the well of darkness that must be her soul. You want to run out of the room, but this would only add to the humiliation. Peppered throughout her tormenting instruction is “Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.” Even though, minus the sitting and breathing, everything she’s asked you to do since makes you uncomfortable. If my comfort was her concern she would ask me to leave.
The final mockery comes with the warrior poses. As a man my instinct is to think that this is finally something I can sink my teeth in, but again she exposes the patriarchy for what it is. I look around and I see women who could very well be Amazonian soldiers ready to strike me with a deadly blow. I on the other hand feel like a Chihuahua who has less than confidently stood in front of Doberman Pincher, only to realize that not only do I have a sprained ankle, but I’ve also got spinach between my teeth when I try to growl. I listen to Yanni playing now. I hate Yanni. That bastard plays a note for 30 seconds while sipping a coffee, making millions and leads a pleasurable life, while his new age feeble “compositions” are now a soundtrack for my pain.
The best part of it all is that this was called “gentle yoga”. Imagine lying on the ground while a crane slowly in small increments lowers a 1 ton weight on to you. At first you are like it’s just touching me, now it’s a bit of a massage, and then “Oh my bones are being crushed and I will soon be flat as a pancake”. This is really the only way I can make sense of the use of the word “gentle”. Gentle and continuous pressure will still ruin your day.
After a length of time which can only be measured on the geologic time scale, the barefoot punisher allows you to relax and asks for you to reflect on what you did today. Afraid to relive the trauma I decide to think of the bagels I have at home and which flavor cream cheese I want. I do some more very competent breathing. She wishes us all happiness, and that we cause no harm, remorseless for the harm she caused me. I get up and put my torture implements away obediently, wipe down my mat, smelling the residue of my fear. As I leave, hips wobbling, the teacher smiles at me and I say “See you next week!”
Woman approaches Adam with fruit in hand. Adam is bent over next to a rock outcrop.
“Adam, I have returned. I have something for you.”
“I have something for you too. Check this out. There is this creature that seems to have been preserved in this rock over here. I don’t even know what it is. I named every animal, and this wasn’t one of them.”
“Hmmm…that is weird. But listen I have something more important. Here let’s eat this fruit.”
“Oh okay. I guess I am a bit hungry…er…wait. Where did you get this fruit?”
Woman gives a little smirk, “Where do you think? The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
“Oh no…no. We can’t eat this. Our Father, He had one rule. That’s it. Seems pretty clear cut and not a whole lot to ask.”
“Don’t worry Adam. A talking snake explained it all to me. We have to eat this fruit.”
“Wait…what!? Talking snake? Are there any of those hallucinogenic frogs I named hopping around? How can there be a talking snake?”
“How can you make a person out of a rib? Listen we wondered before why He would have put the tree here, and you said He probably knew we weren’t going to touch and so He didn’t think it was important where he put it. Well what if He put it here, because He wanted us to eat it?”
“Well why would He want us to eat it, but tell us not to eat it?”
“You said you had a lot of questions. So do I. Curiosity. We have loads of it. These questions burn within us and we want to find the answers to those questions. That’s how He made us.”
“That’s some pretty good reasoning. But why can’t we just ask Him and He can explain it to us.”
“Weren’t you listening Adam about making children. Children grow into adults. At some point children have to leave the guidance of their parents and make decisions for themselves. Every home feels like paradise when you’re a child, but this can’t be our home forever. We have to grow up.” Woman does her best God impression, “Symbolism!”
Adam’s eyes narrow and his expression hardens, “Alright, let’s do it. By doing this together we’ll be husband and wife, right?!”
“Oh shut up, and eat the fruit!”
Adam takes a fruit from woman and they both take bites. Chewing slowly and swallowing.
“Adam, do you feel anything?”
“No nothing. What about you?”
“I don’t feel anything either. I thought, for some reason, that I would suddenly understand everything so much better.”
“Yeah, me too. This is kind of disappointing.”
“You don’t think he just put the tree there as a test to see if we would obey him, and that the tree had no special powers at all do you?”
“No. That would be kind of cruel. God wouldn’t do something like that.” The fossil Adam was holding slips out of his hand making a cracking noise as it hits the ground.
The winds begin to shift northerly and pick up speed.
“It’s getting a bit colder Adam.”
“Yeah, well I have noticed the daylight hours gradually getting shorter, so I expect weather patterns will start shift, but also you seem to be naked.”
“What!? I’m naked?! Clearly you’re the world’s first crack detective too. No shit I’m naked. So are you!”
“Ack…you’re right…I am naked too. I guess I knew that…but I don’t think I want to be naked anymore. It doesn’t feel right. How do we get less naked?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should cover up our…um…naughty areas. I don’t feel like we should just be exposing them for everyone to see.”
“Who’s everyone? We are the only two people on this planet.”
“I don’t know, let’s just cover up. I’m going to go find some big leaves. Maybe from that fig tree over there.”
“Fig tree? What’s a fig tree?”
“That tree over there. You got the animals…I decided I’m naming the plants. Let’s go.”
Woman and Adam walk over to the fig tree to find some suitable leaves.
“Adam, I’m feeling a lot of shame right now…like I need a big leaf to cover my behind, and I feel upset that the leaf has to be so big.”
“I feel shame too. Like I need a big leaf to compensate for what seems to be a sub-par dangling appendage.”
“So thus far eating that fruit has only led to feelings of shame associated with a negative self-image. I don’t know about you, but I’m also feeling regret.”
“Yeah me too. Being an adult sucks. I don’t even know who I want to impress. My motivations are so unclear to me right now, I….wait…do you hear something?”
Woman and Adam stop what they are doing and they hear the sound of rustling leaves and the voice of God humming a merry tune.
Adam whispers, “He’s here! How come he doesn’t know we already broke the rule?”
“I don’t know. Inflated sense of self-confidence?”
“Hide? What good is that going to do if He’s omniscient? He’ll know where we are.”
“Just do it! Quick over here among those trees!”
God stops in His tracks and tilts his head listening.
“Adam. Is that you? Where are you Adam?”
Adam whispers to woman, “See, told you hiding was a good idea!”
“Adam! I have divine hearing. I know you’re in the garden somewhere.”
Woman whispers to Adam, “He placed us in the garden, and He knows we’re in the garden somewhere? I see where you got your detective skills from.”
“I think I should answer Him. He’ll find us eventually.”
“Fine…but he should have found us immediately as an omniscient creator.”
Adam steps out from behind the trees. “Oh hey, God. We’re over here.”
“Aaah…Adam. Woman. How are things been going? Getting along? Make any babies yet? Um…wait…why are you holding fig leaves over your naughty areas?”
“Well…er…we weren’t sure who it was in the garden and well we were naked and so we hid. You know…I didn’t want anybody pointing and laughing at me.” Adam blushes.
“Wait! Who told you, you were naked? Those are precisely the lust-filled concepts I didn’t want floating around your heads!” God’s eyes glance towards the Tree of Knowledge. “Have you been eating from the Tree of Knowledge?! There are two less fruits there than there should be. I am very good at counting. The book I’m writing right now even has a chapter called Numbers. Out with it children. No lies!”
“Well Father, I was just taking a look, and well this snake came along and really explained it all quite clearly and you know, it just seemed to make sense.”
“Snake?! I think I know the culprit. Hold on.” God vanishes in a puff of awesomeness and returns holding the snake with its stubby little legs waving in the air.
“Alright everyone. It’s punishment time!”
Adam asks, “Why do You look so gleeful Father?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never done it before. New experiences are hard to come by. Okay now….snake! You have deceived my creation and for that I am removing your legs and forcing you to crawl on your belly!!”
Snake begins to slither around rather impressively climbing up and down trees and curling around woman’s legs.
“I rather like this…”
“I mean punish me no further!”
“Yes…well I curse you to eat dust!”
“Well that would actually make my work easier since dust is everywhere, but I still feel rather hungry for small rodents.”
“And you will now be enemies with mankind. You will bite at their heel and they will stomp you on the ground!”
Snake slithers up woman and speaks in her ear, “Well we’ll just stay out of each other’s way then yeah? Seems simple enough?”
Woman responds, “Sounds reasonable to me.”
“Excuse me. Woman’s voice will not be silenced.”
“It will. To punish you for what you’ve done, giving birth will now be of the greatest pain! And pitocin will not be invented for many years to come!”
“What?! You want me to populate the human species but are making giving birth the most painful experience in my life. You’re a sadist you are. Whatever happened to forgiveness? Isn’t that a better way to treat your children?”
God thinks about it for a few seconds….”Nope. Also, I’m not done. I’m also turning the civilization into a patriarchy. I wanted everything to be equal, but because of what you’ve done I am making women beholden to their men.”
“What?! Are you kidding me?” Woman gives an exasperate look and turns red with anger. “Well considering you made me a nameless helper for Adam over there, it probably wasn’t going to get much better anyway.”
Adam woman turns and says with a comforting smile, “I promise to use my power over you responsibly.” Woman gives him a dirty look, killing the grin instantly.
“Adam! Don’t think I am done! You also ate the fruit against my command. I curse you to become a farmer. You will till the earth and eat from it. It will be hard work and much that grows will have thorns and thistle requiring you to wear thick clothing so that you get very hot and sweaty while you work. Your diet will mostly be vegetarian in nature due to it providing the maximum amount of calories and nutrition per square foot, and you will eat until you die returning to the earth enriching it with organic material for new plants to grow and continuing a never ending cycle of death and life.”
“Actually that doesn’t sound too bad. Makes you really appreciate each moment and strive for a better life while you have it.”
“Yeah Adam, I like this part.”
Adam turns to woman and smiles. “I shall name you Eve as you will be mother of all. And though large amounts of toil and incest lie before us, we’re going to make it.”
“So finally I get a name. Not bad actually. But I reserve the right to come up with one of my own if I find something better!”
Adam capitulates, “Fair enough.”
“I just want you to know children that this hurt me more than it hurts you. I really didn’t want to do all of that, but you forced me hand.”
“I am sending you out from paradise and you will be cut off from the Tree of Life forever. But before you do that I am going kill a few animals and make you some clothing. It’s cold out there East of Eden and I don’t want you to get sick. Besides people will start dropping like flies once you domesticate large mammals.”
Adam and Even watch incredulously as God slaughters a few animals and skins them. Using a little bit of omnipotence to speed the tanning process.”
“There you go, and I put in an extra set so you have something to wear while washing the first set. Now here’s a pack of seeds to start off with as well. They’re all labeled. I put them in this little pouch I made from that dead deer over there.”
God snaps His fingers and they are magically transported next to a large river. “Well good luck. I’ll make a few appearances again just to make sure everybody is aware of my awesomeness. Byeeee!”
“Well Eve, I guess we got some seeds to sow.”
“Yeah.” Eve looks around. “We’ll probably need something to dig with, let’s see if we can find some tools of some sort over by those trees.”
Adam starts to remove his clothing. “Those weren’t the seeds I was talking about.”
Shame is the topic today. I’ve decided though that I want practice being more creative with my writing. While I enjoy writing out my thoughts in essay form, and many of you have been kind of enough to appreciate it as well, variety is the spice of life, and I need to practice more variety of expression. Especially I still have this dream of one day writing some sort of work of fiction, and so I need to practice wordcraft and storytelling more. And I venture it to such an area, I risk making myself more vulnerable as I express a part of myself I am less confidence in my ability to express. The connection between vulnerability and shame was brought to my attention this week through a wonderful TED talk. This culture of shaming,
especially through social media has been on my mind a lot over the past year or so, since I saw an excellent interview on the Daily Show with Jon Ronson. An article on the book he has published is here. So I shall let the talk and the article do the intellectual speaking for me, and I will instead put forth this poem on the subject. In my head this poetry would be expressed as a rap, or rather a dialogue between two rappers. In my head are a lot of the songs from the musical Hamilton which I am sure had somewhat of influence on my mode of expression. lol Also, fear not, in my head I also know I have the least amount of street cred to be rapping. 🙂
I’m not a lynch mob, I’m just here all alone, Reading about things that I don’t condone, Concerning people I’ve never really known, And shaming them from behind my telephone
You’re fat, you’re ugly, and you’re a fool, You’re so fucking dumb, didn’t you go to school? Are you even dimly aware of the newest rule? Exposing what you are, makes me look cool.
You see, I’ve made the world a better place, By showing you don’t belong in the human race I got no time to check the facts of your case, You can try to efface, but mistakes won’t erase
Each like I get invigorates me, And helps me hide my vulnerability, I don’t make mistakes, you want civility? It’s curt, but your hurt’s not my responsibility.
A million views, the shares have swirled, Filled with mocking laughter, insults hurled, I’m a link in this chain of shame that’s unfurled, A virtual crowd that’s crushing your world
Do you like what I said, do you feel remorse, Do you feel bad enough to correct your course? I scream and scream until my voice is hoarse, Shame is my game, I’m a dangerous force.
But what if you’ve not made anything better?
Addicted to shaming, bound by a fetter,
You’re just another follower, not a jet-setter,
Passing judgment on others letter by letter
Shame never informs, has little to tell,
Gives you nothing to build, and nothing to sell,
There’s no way it will ever serve you well,
Don’t be a part of that shaming carousel.
Was that 8 second verdict more than it seemed?
Shame them to goodness, is that what you schemed?
They’d learn their lesson, is this what you dreamed?
Do you think that’s how souls are really redeemed?
Instead you put a hole in the soul of those that you shame,
Anger, isolation, depression just fan the flame,
Of violence and hurt, now you’re partly to blame,
Should you make a mistake, do you deserve the same?
We need to focus on things that make us whole,
Don’t stride to divide, and stop being a troll,
Kindness and charity, let that be your goal,
Be a model of compassion, let that be your role
So you see with such ease we’re blind to the pain,
That we cause for momentary emotional gain,
In a world filled with hurt it’s so hard to stay sane,
Shaming doesn’t help, we’ve got to refrain
I speak from experience, I know how you feel,
To stare at the screen and think it’s all real,
But what part of the heart do your actions reveal?
Forsaking personal growth for mass appeal.
Oppose what is wrong, but don’t dehumanize,
Know your own imperfections, try to empathize,
Keep on yearning for learning and you’ll grow to be wise,
Add joy to the world and watch your spirit rise
The posts in this series so far have all been about valuable qualities for a human to have. I have tried to stress the importance of each quality, that none should be forgotten, and that we should work to exemplify them in our daily lives. As a passive reader, perhaps you have taken it all in, perhaps you have thought to yourself, this blogger has some good things to say and I agree with him. While it is great to keep wise thoughts and words in your head, as long as they remain just in your head they are useless. They must be actionable. This is the importance of courage. Courage is all about “doing”. Nobody goes around saying “I’m courageous”. You would simply be seen as a boaster and probably a liar if you went around saying this everywhere. People expect you to show it. It is something that cannot be proven by words alone. As a result courage is as important as any other quality in a good human, and because it is about doing some might consider it to be the most important.
So what is courage? For many courage is about physical courage. They apply it to soldiers, police, firefighters, etc. These are people who still do their duty or job at great physical risk to themselves. And I have no doubt that many of the men and woman exemplify courage that do these jobs, but there are other moments when many other people may show physical courage. Trying to finish a marathon when your body feels like it can’t move another muscle could be considered courageous. Courage is not only defined by overcoming physical threats, there is also moral courage; a courage to act rightly, do as your principles guide you, and being true to who you are, despite what opposition, shame, or discouragement you may face. In either case we can see that courage is about overcoming the fear that prevents us from acting on what we think is right. Whether we value doing our job and duty putting out a dangerous fire and trying to save lives, or whether it is fighting unfair laws, coming out to your family and friends as gay, coming out to your family and friends as atheist, making yourself vulnerable to someone you love deeply, forgiving someone who has hurt you, or ending a relationship that you know isn’t right for you. And in many cases displaying moral courage can incur physical harm also, as I am sure many LGBT people can tell you once they came out of the closet. It is important to remember also that while courage is a matter of degrees it is often difficult to judge how much courage one has for any particular action. Someone who is afraid of the water may exhibit just as much courage taking that first step into the pool as a soldier takes taking his or her first step on to the battlefield.
For most of us, including myself, there are many things that we think are important and yet we’ve done very little to show they are important. I think we’ve all had times where we knew something was important and right, but didn’t act on it. This is a surefire way to build regrets in your life. So it’s one thing to agree and say “yes play is important, I need to incorporate more of that into my life”, but if you aren’t putting that idea into something actionable it isn’t going to be much help to you or anybody else. Gandhi famously said “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. If you can’t exemplify the things you think are important, this, in my opinion, is due to a lack of courage. I know this sounds critical, but I am probably far more critical of my own lack of courage than anyone else. While I think I am a decent person, I want to always grow and become better, and I know that part of the reason why I wrote this series and put it out there is because I want to make sure I hold myself to the standard I am setting. I also understand fear, and how paralyzing it can be. There are very real reasons to be afraid of the consequences of our actions even if they are the right ones. What if a good friend of yours committed a crime? Would you report them knowing that what they did is wrong? Would it depend on the severity of the crime? Would it depend on how much history you have with that person? How much you loved them? What about the repercussions of other friends or family in the circle? It may also be your principle to protect the people you love no matter what, and for you keeping them out of jail might be what you consider protection. Therefore doesn’t it also require some courageous to fight that inner conflict and stick by your decision though it may be hard to forgive that person for the crime they committed? Our morality is often fraught with conflict and so doing what is right is often difficult. Courage isn’t always about doing the right thing in an absolute sense, but may also be just doing what you think is right. Of course at times we can be not just wrong, but very wrong.
But even if we do have it wrong, acting on what we think is right is in most cases not a bad thing, because courage also implies taking a risk. As I’ve blogged about before taking risks whether a success or failure, teaches us something about ourselves. It gives us new information which we can build on moving forward. If you never left your country and were nervous about doing so it takes courage to overcome that hesitation and have that brand new experience of travel and being somewhere totally foreign. You may find that you love it and find something new and exciting to add to your life. Or you might have gotten robbed and had a horrible experience and decide that maybe travel isn’t for you. Either way you’ve learned and you can focus what new experiences you seek elsewhere. Courage asks us to put aside our instinct to simply stay safe. At times staying safe is sensible, but dwell there for too long and we let fears rule our lives, we fail to grow, learn and become stagnant.
Just like it takes courage to act on the qualities I’ve discussed in this series, so do those qualities help our courage. Since we often fear what we don’t understand curiosity can help us make acts of courage not so daunting. But no amount of knowledge can ever really erase our fears. Even if what we learn is 100% correct it is human nature to experience something to really overcome our fears. I am sure the person who is hydrophobic would gain little from reading books about the safety of water. Our curious nature can also help us learn so that when we would do show courage we are acting not just what is right for us, but is also right for others and causes the least amount of harm. Courage, by itself, is largely a matter of perspective. Those who are more nationalistic put the courage of soldiers above all others. Terrorists in Al Qaeda probably think that those who died crashing their planes into their targets during 9/11 were also courageous. I am sure those who are strongly racist think that Roof was courageous for striking a blow against African-Americans. Except in an extreme crisis it important to think before we act. Courage being an action word implies that we must also think deeply about our principles. But without courage just thinking is not enough either. If this post or any other in this series so far has made you think then you are ready for the 8th and final quality to be posted in the not to distant future.
As I have immersed myself more into the world of social media, commenting on articles, the blogosphere there’s a very real attraction to it for me. I like putting ideas out there, I like being social, meeting people I never would have met. Overall I’m very positive about the way we communicate. Douglas Adams in a wonderful speech he gave (transcript here) talked about how humanity has made enormous leaps via, what he calls, the four ages of sand. Sand being made of silicon he outlines the 4 ages as:
1) Using silicon to make glass for the telescope
2) Using silicon to make glass for the microscope
These two allowed us to see the macro and micro universe around us.
3) The silicon chip. Computers with their ability to do many calculations quickly allowed us to model the process of how things work.
4) Silicon for fiber optics in the communication age.
Although of course at the time of the speech we didn’t use satellite as much as we do today, but there are still a lot of computer chips involved in those! The point is that Douglas Adams saw the power of being able to communicate with people remotely as a powerful tool.
Yet when we look at this great age where the world is being connected we tend to get overwhelmed by stories of social media addiction, the loss of time spent in the physical world, face to face communication, and some often harmful interaction.
It is this last one that is on my mind right now. I watched the interview recently with Jon Ronson on The Daily Show and he has a new book where he talks about internet shaming. One of the people he focuses on in his book is Justine Sacco. You may remember her, she was the one who made a joke tweet on her way to South Africa from Heathrow and from only having 170 followers to a landslide of people waiting to lambaste her at the end of her flight. His book looks at the history of shaming and what it means in todays day and age. He wrote a good piece in the New York Times if you don’t want to read the book. It’s a great article, long, but most definitely worth a read.
After years of using digital media for communication there are many challenges to overcome. I think that ultimately when you write things that people are going to read, you have to be a great writer. Without our physical gestures and voice intonation it’s easy for meaning to get lost. It’s easy for a joke to sound serious. It’s easy for well meaning advice or information to sound condescending. It’s easy for sincerity to be taken as sarcasm. But I was thinking that good writers are not so unambiguous and we pick up things like sarcasm and sincerity better. Maybe when we communicate through writing we need to think about how we say it more deeply before we do so. I think part of the illusion lies in the fact that we think we are actually having a conversation and try to type out things like we are, but in fact communicating through writing is not very much like a face to face conversation at all. Justine Sacco’s life was destroyed for making a joke to her few twitter followers, poking fun at white privilege and walked out of a plane into an absolute hellscape of a virtual mob who wanted her to hang. Someone on twitter was even there to take her picture as she walked off the plane.
This story also reminded me of recent events concerning the pizzeria owners who said they wouldn’t cater a gay wedding. A friend of mine linked me an article about how we really don’t benefit from publicly shaming those owners regardless of how discriminatory and prejudiced their views might be. Seeing that those bigots had over $800,000 raised in their name infuriated me and I could feel the anger rise in me and wanted to join the mob of people shaming the for their views. Luckily it occurred to me that being upset and shaming bigots doesn’t really change anything and that it would be better to put goodness into the world instead and decided to set up a fundraising account for an LGBT youth group in Indiana that does a lot of good work in schools and for young members of the LGBT community.
It’s amazing how easily we can succumb to being part of “the mob” through digital media. I’ve been caught up in it and I am sure many who read this have as well. When you reflect on it, it’s an empty feeling though. You get to feel bold for being part of
a righteous fight, and yet remain anonymous in that sea of virtual people calling out for someone’s blood. This is the other facet of the age of the internet is that posting comments behind the veil of a computer screen, or smart phone screen is that we feel protected and thus we say and do things we wouldn’t normally do. Everybody is familiar with “trolls” and the divisiveness they cause with their comments. In the end best advice really is “don’t feed the trolls”, but someone always does and arguments ensue. I know for me the internet allows me to be bolder than I am perhaps in real life and while sometimes I think it helps me gain some additional confidence in myself, more often I just use the internet as a shield to give compliments and say things I am too shy to say in person. Too often I also find myself assuming a more negative intention in the comments of others because the internet is full of people saying things that I don’t think they would say to your face. It’s kind of like how drinking affects people. Some people become open and honest in a kind way, others become belligerent and mean. For me I feel that it’s something I have improved on and need to keep improving to be the man on the internet that I am in real life.
I am not down on the communication age, I just feel like we’ve invented an important bit of technology that we haven’t figured
out how to use to the best of its ability yet. I think that there are a lot of important ways that the internet can be used that our too valuable to ignore. We can learn about issues all over the world that can foster our love of humanity and can help us see that we do truly live in a global community. Social media was used to organize a revolution in Egypt to overthrow a terrible dictator (sorry Egypt it hasn’t gotten much better), when in the past there would have been no easy way to send the message to everybody simply through a land line. Social media has been used to bring things to the light that would have caused more harm. A video of cop shooting a man in the back, racist chants from a sorority in Oklahoma, a video of a NFL football player knocking out his wife (not really about exposing the football player, but how it helped exposed how the NFL organization tried to cover up evidence they had about the incident) are examples of how the sharing of certain information has value. But I think we owe it to ourselves to try and take ourselves away from the mob mentality. What if Justine Sacco had made her joke to your face. Even if you weren’t clear that it was a joke would have you ran down the halls calling her a racist? You probably would have just removed yourself from her social circle, but you could have also taken her aside and turned it into a teachable moment about why her joke might not be found as funny, or asked follow up questions to understand her intention. Shaming is a terrible thing and how many of us have made jokes or comments we regret? How many times have we been wrong in our attitude or thinking and needed a chance to learn from our mistakes to come out better on the other side? Doesn’t everybody deserve that chance? Is it necessary to traumatize somebody for a few thoughtless words? Let’s instead try turn negatives into positives. Let’s try to teach instead of shame. Let’s try to understand instead of judge. I am no saint in this area, but I’m going to keep trying, because the benefits of this communication age I think are enormous. It is our disconnection from each other that leads to fear and mistrust I believe, and we can know and understand so many more people and issues today than we could 30 years ago and I truly believe that the power of the internet can lead to a new golden age for humanity.