When I was in junior high, a group of my friends told me I never smiled. Considering some of them were among those who said I spoiled a class picture with my too-wide grin, I was wary, but it still bugged me. We were never that close after that.
Looking back now, that should have been a huge flashing sign of how they would later behave on social media.
My mom, whose 79th birthday would have been Tuesday, was an extroverted kid, but that extroversion didn’t pass to me. You won’t find me holding court in the middle of the room with a bunch of strangers; with them, I’m painfully shy. But with people I know … oh, do I laugh (sometimes cackle … and snort) and smile, because I feel comfortable. So I couldn’t really understand why friends I was around all the time suddenly decided I wasn’t happy enough for them.
Sure, I’ve had depression most of my life, but until about 15 years ago I was a fully functioning depressive who had no problem shoving my feelings aside for school, work or friends.
I’ve lived in two realities all my life, informed by my depression and introversion, but those realities are real and interconnected. What we’re seeing now isn’t real, which is why so many of us are finding it difficult to communicate with those who subscribe to different political ideologies. The main two parties, especially the closer members are to the fringes, see the world in different ways, none of which is fully reality.
Those of us in the middle wonder what some of these people are smoking.
Political ideology is not and never will be a determinant of reality, but our political and other biases color how we view reality. Remember, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.
While those on the right may see the actions of Jan. 6 as righteous patriotic protest, those on the left may view it as only a little short of treason. Too many accept the conspiracy theories that no one on the right was involved in the riot that led to five deaths, including that of a police officer, the later suicide of two other officers, hundreds of injuries and widespread destruction of property, claiming it was Antifa and Black Lives Matter activists.
Others of you have probably fought the same battle I have with friends and family, pointing to public records of those involved, raw video of the attack, arrest reports (before you say no one’s paying attention to liberals, Prosecution Project has been tracking arrests related to the 2020 George Floyd et al. protests), and fact-checks with links to original sources, but to no avail with those disinclined to believe “the MSM.” There have always been those people, but in the past several years, more have given in to the rage and hostility spoonfed to them. Once something like that is let out of the box, it can be next to impossible to get it back in.
There comes a point for many of us where we have to make the decision, for our sanity, to cut those people out of our lives, or to simply stop taking their bait. You can only hit your head against the wall so many times before it starts to affect you.
We have to get back to dealing with each other in a civil manner again, and part of that involves sharing the same objective reality, which means getting your information from actual media sources (preferably newspapers) that put a premium on truth (which is why fact-checkers who show their work are important) and draw clear lines between news and opinion. Facebook and Twitter aren’t reliable sources, nor are those that make no effort to separate news and opinion (cable networks and Internet sites that cater to specific audiences are the worst at that).
Yeah, I work for a newspaper, but that’s not the only reason I advocate for people to trust local newspapers (in print or online). With the closure of so many local newspapers, news deserts are created that not only are ripe for unscrupulous Internet companies to exploit the information void, but corruption also grows because no one is watching local officials. From Neiman Labs’ Sarah Scire:
Local newspapers are, as Nieman Lab’s own Joshua Benton likes to say, basically little machines that spit out healthier democracies. Without a local news organization, you can expect to see fewer candidates run for local office, fewer people vote, and — as The Charleston Post and Courier points out in a new watchdog project — more corruption. …
Uncovered launched with an article that connects the dots for readers wondering what “news deserts” have to do with officials indulging in zip lines, glass-blowing lessons, first-class flights, luxury resorts, season tickets, golf, and wine (a lot of wine) using taxpayer money:
Corruption is flourishing in the rural corners of South Carolina as newspapers fold or shrink coverage amid a financially crippling pandemic.
Seven of our state’s newspapers closed their doors in the past year, joining more than 60 that shuttered across the nation as the coronavirus strangled an industry already battered by shrinking revenue and draining job cuts. This only exacerbated a trend that has created so-called “news deserts” in hundreds of U.S. communities, depriving them of vital watchdogs of government and democracy.
In other words, “Sunlight can disinfect, but South Carolina has lost some light.”Neiman Lab, The Charleston Post and Courier launches a watchdog project to combat corruption and “news deserts,” by Sarah Scire, Feb. 22, 2021.
Local newspapers not only keep you updated on events in your area, but are also usually locally owned and staffed. They may also run wire copy (because local newspapers can’t afford to have a reporter everywhere there might be news), but it’s generally from trusted sources and has been fact-checked. If there’s a error, they’ll correct it, as responsible media companies do; those that don’t correct errors aren’t responsible.
Even more than just plain being civil, we all need to calm down. Every little thing you don’t like isn’t a reason to hold a grudge, nor is it reason to blast everyone who doesn’t agree with you, ignore facts, or create worry about nonexistent problems. There are good reasons, such as unequal justice, to protest and/or raise a stink (using legal means and no violence), but invading a state capitol building while armed because you have to wear a mask is a pretty stupid hill to die on. Then again, some people apparently need to be angry and unhappy (while loudly claiming they’re happy) or they’ll die.
You can seethe about Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and others kneeling during the national anthem, but that won’t change the fact that it was a peaceful protest, not against the flag or the anthem, but was meant to draw attention to racial injustice. There are people who are angrier about kneeling (a sign of reverence as well as resistance, and which was used by Martin Luther King Jr. as well) than about the assault on the Capitol, and that worries me. It’s OK to be angry, but make sure your anger isn’t because of political differences; peaceful protests like kneeling hurt no one. Violence just begets violence.
I see people blaming D.C. for what’s happened in Texas, when much of it was the result of Texas being averse to federal regulations. By keeping its electrical grid separate from everyone else, and by putting off maintenance and not making recommended changes to winterize after its big winter storm just over 10 years ago, the state was bound to be adversely affected during this year’s polar vortex. Luckily, there are a lot of people helping Texans battle back, including in D.C., because that’s what neighbors do. (And hey, Texas experienced one of its worst heat waves ever in summer 2011, the same year as the big storm, so it’s very possible it could happen again, and worse this time.)
The point is that we need to have perspective. Should you tag local politicians with the beliefs of their national parties without listening to them, or reflexively believe anything your party tells you about them? Chances are, though your party affiliation may differ, you’re not that different and probably believe a lot of the same things, so screaming about all Democrats being baby-killers or all Republicans being totalitarians is getting off on the wrong foot.
I wasn’t the dour person my friends thought I was back in junior high (nor the radical some of them think I am now). I was the same shy, goofy, introspective ball of weirdness I am now, but younger. I’m pretty sure most of you aren’t like those in your national party. You can give in to the rage you’ve been conditioned to feel by politicians and pundits, or you can sit back and take a look at reality with the blinders off.
It might even make you smile a little bit, if just because those blinders chafe after a while.