These are difficult days even for the most fortunate of us. Death, hardship and uncertainty surround us. Kind and thoughtful words and gestures are more important now than ever. Instead what we see too often are cruel, thoughtless, and vindictive comments on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and pretty much every other media outlet.
Republicans and Democrats alike are guilty of making these heartless comments. Trump, on Memorial Day weekend, found time to comment or retweet on Speaker Pelosi’s dentures and need for Polygrip, Hillary’s skankiness, Stacey Abrams’ weight, and Biden’s senility. Democrats spewed forth about Eric Trump’s intellectual prowess (or lack of it), Trump’s morbid obesity, and previously called him “Con Don,” a clown and an S.O.B.
What have we come to? I am far from a social media maven, but when I land on a Tweet or Facebook comment, I often am horrified by the number of mean-spirited comments. The rank and file comment on singers’ appearance, talent, or lack of it, and taunt those who relapsed and re-entered rehab facilities. Gun-lovers and gun-haters spar with mean and often crude attacks. What has happened to civil discourse? To truly seek to understand another point of view?
These days people are being shamed and taunted for wearing masks or not wearing masks; for going to bars or for staying home. You name it. Whatever avenue you choose to pursue, you can bet there’s abuse waiting for you. It’s a sad situation. We seem to bring out the worst in each other. Tolerance and understanding have left the building. And my mom’s adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” no longer is in play.
So, what’s to be done about this name-calling and cruelty? Good examples start at the top. Presidents, governors, mayors, CEOs, teachers, leaders of all walks of life must set good examples and take the high road whenever possible. When they don’t, it seems everyone takes free license to follow their lead. On the other hand, when we perform or bear witness to acts of kindness and forgiveness, we set good examples for all. And such acts of kindness have surfaced during this pandemic. People have contributed to food banks, packed boxes of goods to distribute, fed healthcare workers, clapped at 7 pm every night to thank first responders and essential workers, raised funds through concerts, charity golf outings, etc.
However, when our leaders don’t exhibit thoughtful acts of kindness, we must take matters into our own hands and make every effort to be as kind and open-minded to others as we can. Also, to those most vulnerable, who suffer from mental illness, disabilities, addictions, weight or other appearance issues, we must be especially kind. In many ways, these vulnerable people are the bravest among us. It’s difficult for anyone to speak in public. But to speak in public when you have a disability—a stutter, for example—is especially brave. To re-enter rehab after failing once or twice before is brave. To keep trying when you have failed in the past at anything is brave. Let’s applaud and encourage such perseverance–not resurrect previous failures.
Also let’s give people a break. We all make mistakes. We use the wrong word, misspell, say the wrong thing, speak before we think, etc. When we apologize, please forgive.
In Jane Austen’s Emma, when Emma goes on a picnic with a group including Miss Bates who is of a poor station and somewhat simple, one picnic member decides to have a contest and challenge others to say “two things moderately clever or three things very dull indeed.” Emma makes a mean comment to Miss Bates and says, “you will be limited in number—only three at once.” Miss Bates realizes this is a major put down, blushes, stutters and Mr. Knightly takes her away to pick strawberries. Later Knightly admonishes Emma, telling her that her words were cruel and said to a woman pretty much incapable of defending herself. It’s unseemly and she knows better. Emma is mortified, feels instant remorse, realizes she was wrong, and eventually asks forgiveness, from both Miss Bates and Mr. Knightly. In time she is forgiven and redeemed. She evolves and becomes a better person. Perhaps that is what we all must do. Take stock and try to become better people. Hold our tongues. Refrain from making those cruel comments—much easier said than done. But most things worth doing are.
To quote Emily Dickinson: “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching or cool one pain; or help one fainting robin unto his nest again; I shall not live in vain.”
Maria Grant served as Principal-in-Charge of the Federal Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting. Since her retirement from Deloitte, she has focused on writing, music, reading, travel, gardening, and nature.