In 2013, when the Bow Valley experienced severe flooding, we had to evacuate our home. Unable to take personal vehicles, my wife and I left with a backpack and suitcase each, our cat in a carrier, and we walked down the street to the yellow school bus that would take us to the other side of the floodwaters.
We didn’t know the extent of the threat, but authorities said the water might reach our home or cause a landslide above us. When the firefighters showed up and told us to go, we went.
We didn’t know if it was necessary but didn’t want to be the people you see on the news, sitting on the roof of their house, pleading for rescue.
Three days later, we came back to our home just as we’d left it, with gratitude and relief.
In the days following, this community rallied to support friends and neighbours whose homes hadn’t fared so well. Plenty of folks helped with the clean-up, businesses supplied food for volunteers, and valley residents proudly proclaimed that we were all in this together. The crisis brought out the best in people.
These days, we’re fighting about face masks, arguing about conspiracy theories, pretending we’re righteous and justified, and treating frontline workers like shit.
Same people, different circumstances.
When all of this is over, there will be many relationships that don’t survive it. I’ve got a few friends and family members whose company I won’t be seeking. It’s not that I don’t support their right to a difference in perspective. I make a good chunk of my living drawing my own opinion in editorial cartoons. In some countries, my job might land me in jail or blindfolded up against a wall.
Freedom to express opposing views is important.
What I’m no longer willing to tolerate, however, is the name-calling, the shouting, the unnecessary conflict, the seizing of every opportunity for many to call their friends and family stupid.
Few were comfortable with the strict isolation measures we had to endure, and the restrictions under which we’re still living. Many have fed that discomfort by going online each day, looking for a fight, spending their precious limited time desperately trying to prove their superiority. They do this by sharing real and fake news stories, passive-aggressive memes, and ‘share if you agree’ posts, all designed to widen the divisions between us.
Many of us are afraid, even if we don’t want to admit it. I get that, too.
But taking it out on the people around you will only ensure that when we can see each other freely again, you might end up lonelier than the time spent in isolation.
When was the last time you changed your mind about an issue because somebody called you an idiot? Kicking somebody repeatedly when they’re already down makes you a bully. Expecting them to thank you for it is delusional.
Ironically, some will spend hours online blaming the government for being manipulative, controlling, and stealing our rights. Meanwhile, they’re complaining on Facebook and Twitter, companies that have openly admitted to using our private information against us for profit.
It’s hypocrisy to log on to social media to call someone else a sheep.
People are scrambling to find any information online to back up their preconceived notions and beliefs, giving little pause to consider the sources, despite their assertions that they’ve done their research. We ignore anything that contradicts our bias and post whatever we can find that supports it. The right accuses the left of cherry-picking information, while the left accuses the right of the same.
Your politician is a crook; mine will save us all. Your facts are fake; mine are truth. I’m a critical thinker; you’re a sheeple.
It doesn’t mean you give up fighting for important issues. But maybe it means you stop to consider that you’re complaining to people who either already agree with you or are alienating and browbeating people who don’t deserve it.
There are three little words that most people avoid saying because it makes them feel vulnerable.
I don’t know.
Do masks make a difference? Are we being given accurate information? Will there be a safe vaccine anytime soon? Will the economy recover this year or next? Will my business survive? Will I lose my job?
I don’t know.
Does arguing about it all day online get me any closer to answers? Will posting bad news articles over and over and over again change anything for the better? Will antagonizing memes and confrontational posts make my friends and family feel better about their already difficult situation?
There’s a lot of anger. I feel it, too.
Over the years, when frustrated and feeling helpless, I’ve tried venting, ranting and raging online. I even convinced myself that it made me feel better, but all it did was make me cynical and bitter. Anger begets anger.
I’ve also tried bottling it up. All that did was give me psychosomatic physical problems. Back pain, neck pain, jaw pain, headaches, stomach issues, insomnia. And eventually, I’d reach a breaking point and explode anyway.
I don’t know what the answers are. I’m still looking for them. A wise man once said, “Being human is a complicated gig.”
(Fine, it was a character on Northern Exposure, but I’m going with it.)
As I get older, I realize that things I was certain of yesterday, I’m less sure of today.
The answer to a lot more questions is, “I don’t know.”
But I do know that throwing shit at your friends, family and neighbours, just so you feel safer and more certain, does more damage to yourself than to anyone else.