I really have to get over my habit of reading the comment sections of internet news stories. It’s sort of like driving by the scene of a car accident: I know I’m going to be upset by what I see, but I look anyway. Maybe I’m hoping that for once I will see mostly reasonable comments by people who are expressing their opinion in a civil way, or maybe I’m just morbidly interested in how quickly people turn on anyone who expresses a different point of view. (I like to think it’s the former.)
Usually, there are three distinct groups of people on any comment feed. The first, and smallest, group consists of a few twisted souls who seem to be posting the most offensive comments they can think of, just to pick a fight. They’re easy to ignore, because it’s so obvious that their only goal is to upset other people, and the less attention they get, the better. The other group is only slightly larger, and those are the people who are the voice of reason, always expressing their views in a civil and respectful way, often trying to find common ground to reconcile the opposing sides. Their comments are few and far between, but always a welcome reprieve from the vitriol surrounding them.
Sadly, the largest group of comments are from the angry, self-righteous people who are absolutely incensed that anyone, anywhere, does not see the world exactly the same way they do. They know, without a doubt, that they are absolutely right, on any subject that is being discussed. This group includes both liberals and conservatives, religious people and atheists, etc. They aren’t trying to be mean, but in their zeal to prove their point, they are still rather brutal. Many tend to use a lot of CAPS when typing their comments, just to be sure to drive their point home.
It bothers me to see so many comments from people who truly seem to have lost the ability to listen to, or even tolerate, people who disagree with them. Every day, it seems to be more socially acceptable to choose to interact only with those who think and act just like us. The internet may have given us access to people all over the world, but most of us seem to prefer to stay in our tight little circles, populated by our “own kind.” We are careful to watch only the news shows that reflect our opinions back at us, join groups consisting only of people who think just like us, and in general make sure we don’t ever have to be challenged to acknowledge the basic worth and dignity of anyone whose views we find offensive.
I get that for most of us, our natural reaction to someone who challenges our basic values is to lash out in self-defense. I’m guilty of that more than I’d care to admit. But the reality is that the world is getting smaller, the internet does bring us into regular contact with people who are very different from us, and if we are not all going to drown in a sea of anger, hate and fear, we have got to get our act together.
We need to remember that when we are lashing out or putting someone down, we are only making ourselves ugly. If you don’t believe that, say something mean and hurtful while looking in a mirror. No matter how good-looking you usually are, all you will see looking back at you is ugliness. Then, still looking in that mirror, say something kind and compassionate, and I guarantee you will see nothing but beauty. I know none of us are, or will ever be, perfect or even nearly as good as we want to be. But I also know that the time has come when we all need to try our best to be more beautiful, as often as humanly possible.