The Age of Outrage
I didn't really follow the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp bloodbath. I mostly just heard in passing that they were in court. But the other day, I did read a short article detailing how Amber was viciously vilified by the Twitter mob and other online platforms. And I thought: "Well, there's an apt description of our times: "vilified by the Twitter mob". On the surface, it sounds ridiculous. Who are these people who have all this time to sit around Tweet-bullying? And since when did we decide that human beings can no longer make mistakes?
Newsflash: as long as we're here on this earthly plane, in this physical body, as human beings, we will be flawed. We will stumble, say or do the wrong thing, upset and disappoint others. It will inevitably happen. And yet, we seem to have lost the capacity for empathy, understanding and forgiveness. Most of us may be aware by now that social media and online platforms thrive on outrage. The more upset people are, the more they tend to use social media to let others know just how angry they are, however misguided, as if it's some kind of social virtue, and the more they use these platforms, the more money is made by the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.
We've gotten to the point of scouring the background and past posts of anyone and everyone, drudging up whatever we can find to muddy the reputation of the chosen target, choosing to forgo contextualization, which is key to understanding anything that's happened in the past. You know those really sexist ads from the 1950's that we gasp at now? Back then, it was considered completely normal - those were the social mores of the times (cue Mad Men episode - a brilliant series, by the way). Ad men weren't evil misogynists (ok, maybe the odd one was) but overall, they were simply the product of their time. The same goes for tweets or Facebook posts from 10 years ago that we now deem "offensive". Well, even 10 years ago, things were different, and we need to understand that.
I'm not saying sexism or racism or discrimination of any kind is ok, but we can't publicly shame people for things that occurred years ago, in a different time. That person we've chosen to target may also have changed, as we all do. We're not static - we're constantly changing. This kind of Stasi-esque monitoring of each other creates an environment of fear and loathing (shout out to Hunter S. Thompson - the ultimate renegade and humanist). And the mob feels all-powerful until it starts to turn on its own members, as it ultimately will.
If we want to stop ourselves from sliding down the slippery slope of being judge, jury and executioner of anyone we don't like or find offensive or who has, God forbid, "slipped up" and made a mistake, it would be wise to ask ourselves: "How would I feel if that public outrage was directed at me?" Would I wish for some empathy, understanding, kindness, forgiveness? Treat others as you would like to be treated; let he (or she or they) who has not sinned cast the first stone - a few things I learned from my Catholic school education, and I don't consider myself a religious person. However, these words resonate with me to this day.
I remember when Marianne Williamson, an American author and, I would say, spiritual teacher, ran for the Democratic Party nomination for presidential candidate in the US, she was mocked as the "crystal lady" or a "new-age type" for stating that we need to bring more love into the political arena and public policy. This is an intelligent woman who backed up those words with ideas and a solid understanding of current issues, not some airhead off the pie in the sky bus, and yet, very few could take her seriously. If the idea of fostering an environment that brings out our highest qualities instead of our worst is seen as laughable, I'd say that, as a species, we're in trouble.
The irony is that we seem hellbent on tearing each other apart in the name of creating a better world, seeing everything that's ever happened in the past through a negative lens, as if nothing good has ever occurred, and we're living in the worst possible world. (You'll be a fan of Voltaire's Candide if that's your worldview.) If that were the case, we wouldn't be around to complain about everything on our fancy handheld devices.
I feel it's only fitting to conclude with Marianne Williamson's words from her book A Return to Love: "The world changes when we change. The world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world. [...] To let go, to just love, is not to fade into the wallpaper. Quite the contrary, it's when we truly become bright. We're letting our own light shine."