Immigration. Education. Gun rights. Abortion. Religion. Racism. Sexual orientation…these are some of the topics that can bring out the trolls and haters in our internet culture…and life.

Since I’ve recently written on immigration and education, I feel it’s a “fresh” time to talk about our culture’s growing comfort with spewing intolerance and nastiness.

It’s becoming more and more prevalent…and personal…and cancerous.

Spewers have existed since the beginning of time, but their forums were much smaller. I imagine our ancient ancestors gossiped about Og stealing Korg’s goat jerky. Then when people could write, words could live on in print—but in no way did it have an iota of the reach that the internet does. People can now sit down at a keyboard and be hateful towards whomever they consider “them” at lightning pace.

loser

In my two latest forays into controversial topics, I personally experienced just how comfortable people are in sharing their intolerance along with their opinions. Since my post on immigration ran on The Huffington Post, it had a MUCH wider audience who was ready to throw tomatoes at me and my words, and while that was disturbing, I would have to say that my experience writing about education—and a local teachers’ strike—was even more so.

The post actually received a very positive overall response, but the negative comments (particularly in Facebook shares) were local, personal…and very disappointing. People who knew one another were being hateful. It wasn’t just that they had dissenting opinions about the strike, but that their opinions illustrated their disrespect and disdain for those who thought differently.

Since when did disagreement = the right to denigrate anyone who doesn’t agree?

moron

It is representative of the sea change in our society that draws a line and points a finger at the opposition rather than striving for progress. Our politicians are infamous for it. No longer are the days when republicans and democrats would oppose one another during the day but then go out for drinks at night and see if there was any common ground to be had. Now what we have is maneuvering—maneuvering that damages the very people (of the people, by the people, for the people…remember??) who they are supposed to be serving—in order to score a win against the other side.

If our “leaders” choose to lead in this way, must we follow?

If we close ourselves to anything but our own beliefs and opinions, then how can we truly function as a healthy society? We don’t have to embrace or even accept other people’s stances, but we should be able to listen and then respectfully disagree if necessary.

Instead, there were comments about “lazy” and “ignorant” teachers who are being “greedy” (and much worse)…comfortably said by people in the community who know the very people they are disparaging. Since when did we lose the ability to share frustration or opposition without name-calling?

Has the “right” to say whatever the hell you want on the internet become the norm for all kinds of communication—even real relationships? Has the filter of civility that was torn to shreds by the trolls and haters of the internet disintegrated everywhere?

God…I hope not.

But evidence is proving otherwise.

go kill yourself

Take the example of the 19-year-old young woman who blogged about her depression and was encouraged in comments left on her blog to kill herself.

And she did.

I cannot for the life of me understand people who would make such horrible statements to anyone—let alone a person who has already shared her vulnerability. It is absolutely sickening.

But it gets worse.

While the blogger dealt with comments from the internet, a young man contemplating suicide was encouraged to do so by his “girlfriend” via text. Someone he knew and cared for told him “you just have to do it.”

And he did.

I can’t even wrap my brain around even the outer edges of that reality.

What is happening??

It’s not okay!

Just because someone believes that there should be tougher gun laws does not give those who disagree the right to threaten and name-call.

Just because someone believes that they deserve a raise and better benefits doesn’t mean that those who disagree can not only disrespect but vilify them.

Many might respond, “but we DO have the right! Free speech!” But I’m not talking about the legalistic realities (though the “girlfriend” is facing involuntary manslaughter charges, thankfully).

I am talking about keeping the “civil” in civilization. The “human” in humankind…the kind in humankind.

We certainly do not all have to agree with one another—we know that that is impossible. But how we choose to disagree makes all the difference. We are not living in a boxing ring of life waiting to be punched senseless.

I would love to see the return of those whom we have elected to represent us choose to keep the focus on what is best for the very people they are representing rather than try to amass victories against “them.”

In our opposition, we can’t lose sight of our humanity…and I sadly see that it is already slipping away.

We’ve got to lead by example and stand up for what we believe in in a way that doesn’t throw low blows and take cheap shots. It’s that simple.

If we don’t…we all lose.

All photos are my own.
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