Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why are we enemies until proven otherwise?

In my short 30 years on this earth, I have discovered a few things about the way people tend to treat each other. Not all people, mind you, but a good number of people I've encountered.

1) They expect you to think just like they do, and they often get angry when you aren't a mental carbon copy of them and/or their friends.
2) They make lots of assumptions about you based on what little glimpse they get into who you are. These assumptions are usually more about who they are than who you are, when all is said and done.
3) Once they've put they're assumptions about you out there, they will usually defend those positions vigorously even past the point when they realize they might have jumped to conclusions. Backing off of the original position is seen as indicating weakness.

Let me start by saying that I can, at times, be as bad about this as the next guy. I'm having a bad day, feeling that someone thinks Southerners are stupid and ignorant; I've heard a few too many redneck jokes for the day, and then someone says something that rubs me the wrong way, and all the sudden they're an idiot, a bigot, and certainly not a real Southerner. And because I've got my mother's sharp tongue, I'm more than happy to launch one sarcastic attack after another until I feel I've cut them down to size (or until I feel better, whichever happens first). Usually, in real life, this attack takes place either in my head or when I debrief my husband (poor thing) before bedtime. Online, however, it's easier to do it "out loud."

Then, after the attack is over and the frustration is out on the table, I start to feel this tiny twinge of guilt that creeps into my being and gnaws at my heart. I realize that perhaps I may have been projecting a bit of my own feelings-- that maybe I overreacted a bit, and that perhaps the other person isn't the ignorant, raving loon I first thought them to be. That's an awkward place in which I sometimes find myself. But I do find myself there-- meaning that there' s a level of self-awareness involved. I may have allowed one ignorant, raving loon to temporarily turn me into an ignorant raving loon, but I generally realize when I've gone down that path, and do my best to turn it around as well as could be expected.

Those of you who have known me in real life know that I'm highly sensitive, deeply compassionate, and that I really love people-- talking with them, being with them, learning from them. I love discussion, especially with people who are equally well-intentioned in presenting arguments and beliefs that differ from my own. You know that I come with my share of baggage (as does everyone), but that I'm honestly and openly working through my junk. You know that I can self-absorbed at times, lacking self at others, and that I think most people are genuinely just doing the best that they can with what they've been given, even though it's hard to see it sometimes.

Those of you I have only met online-- you have no idea who I am any more than I know who you are. I do believe that friendships can develop without face-to-face contact, but in any kind of relationship, there is a period during which you hold your judgments while simply getting to know one another better. You read my blog and post thoughtfully from time to time; I read yours and post thoughtfully from time to time. Like a fox being tamed by a Little Prince, we develop a familiarity with each other, and a trust, and over a period of months, we each come to an understanding of who the other is. It becomes a real relationship, with real concern for each other, and we have earned the right to speak frankly to and about each other. It is not a right granted freely. And once we reach that point, it is still not granted with free reign to say whatever we want without regard for the others' feelings or beliefs. That is how relationships are, when they're allowed to develop in a healthy way. Mutual respect. Mutual compassion. Mutual honor.

And the lack of these kinds of sensitivity in interactions, while more prevalent and noticeable online, is not relegated only to our anonymous postings, in which we allow the unhealthy feelings and thoughts we usually mitigate to flow freely and recklessly. We do it in real life, too. Someone inadvertently cuts us off in traffic, and we react as if it was an intentional behavior, meant to hurt or harm. Someone in front of us at the grocery store has lost his or her credit card, and we feel the anxiety welling up within us, clearly drawing the line between who is and isn't like us, or on our side, or whatever.

What has happened to us, really? When we can't even give someone we don't even know the benefit of the doubt, what hope do we really have to grow as individuals and as a society?

I'm not perfect. Far from it. But I'm working on being a better human, so that I can be a part of a better society. I pray, meditate, exercise, study, and reach for what I know will lift me up and allow me to become a better vessel for God's love. And hopefully, with God's help, over time my life will more and more closely reflect the ideals about which I feel so passionately.


Stacey said...

Man oh man, did that ever step on my toes. Just this past few days, I would say I have been guilty of that online, and more so over the past week in real life.

I really appreciate this post though. As I was reading, I was feeling more and more guilty and the many things I have said and/or written the past few days come back to mind, and oh how I wish I could take some of it back. NOt all of it mind you. Some of it was my opinion I was expressing. The part that gets me is my assumptions of others.

Just today, for instance, I posted a comment where I said, I bet that you think such and such. I thought quite a bit today about not posting, but the argumentative side in me comes out, and I let it go.

Now, I'm not hurtful in my posts online at least I don't mean to be, though I am sure to some I might come across that way sometimes. But teh assumptions made are what I need to work on. I need to not do that.

For the little time I have known you, I have really come to enjoy reading your posts and comments... tehy really brighten my day, and as this one has done, make me think.

Thanks so much, and I only hope that you will add me to your list of folks to pray for, and I'll try and return the favor.

Again, great post! It really hits home!

The Thinking Southerner said...

Yeah-- this is a tricky one. I posted yesterday from a foul mood inspired by being on the receiving end of someone else's online hissyfit, but believe me, I've been on the giving end a few more times than I like to admit.