I wasn’t going to write anything “political” today (unless you count my tribute to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which I guess could be political, or nationalistic, or some other horrible thing), but this one just popped into my head.
You may or may not recognize the above posted figure of Ron Swanson (played brilliantly by Nick Offerman) from the television series Parks and Recreation (2009-2015). I’ve only watched certain portions of the series, but Offerman’s performance is always one of the highlights.
Swanson is a “dyed-in-the-wool” libertarian, almost (but not quite) to the point of caricature, which allows him to say and do the most outrageous things, get away with it, and be hysterically funny. It also allows him to say certain “truths” that people might otherwise balk at. One excellent example is when Ron explains what government is (and isn’t) good for to a little girl using her lunch (Vimeo video). He’s actually very sweet with her and it’s an endearing transaction (not so much with her mother later on).
However, the point he makes above is the point I’m trying to make. Even leaving Nike and Colin Kaepernick out of it completely, the internet and particularly social media is constantly trying to grab your attention and convince you of this or that (and failing that, accuse you of being evil such that there’s no way to “win” short of surrendering your free speech rights if not your free will).
It’s pretty easy to get caught up with “someone on the internet is wrong” and engaged in these endless virtual knife fights. I periodically have to remind myself that I don’t have to show up, even when called out. In fact, going back to what I wrote in How Listening to Negative Voices Destroys Our Peace, I keep re-reminding myself that I possess the ultimate “OFF” switch. If I feel like I’m being lectured to or even (virtually) bullied online, all I have to do is close the browser tab or window and go read a book.
It’s a barrier that no one online can break through. You can’t be harassed on the web if you pull the plug, so to speak.
But that’s a problem for people who really, really need to convince you of the righteousness of their cause, and why you should join, and why you should listen, and why you’re bad and terrible if you don’t listen, and especially if you (gasp) disagree.
In fact, the shriller the arguments become, and the greater the social justice outrage gets, the less likely I am to listen, let alone comply to the will of “the Collective.”
Okay, that last part was kind of snarky, but I can be lambasted online only so long before I choose to either strike back in some fashion, or tune out. If you want me or people like me to be your audience, because, after all, the people who already agree with you accept your argument, so who do you have left to talk to, then pushing me and people like me too far is not the answer.
In the end, a lot of us end up talking to ourselves (the groups who agree with us), and one of the reasons I listen to people and groups with differing perspectives is to understand where they’re coming from. After all, they might have a point to make. I consider myself more or less a reasonable person. I might actually learn something (and sometimes I do). So I’m willing to listen…up to a point. The point where I press your (“your” in the generic sense) mute button is where I lose any hope that (generic) you will consider me even remotely good as the person I already am. If someone tells me repeatedly that I’m a racist, sexist, misogynistic, something-phobic, Neanderthal, etc…etc…, because I was born in a systemically bad nation, and there’s no hope for me in any sense unless I repent of my evil white male ways and put on a pink hat, I’m probably going to metaphorically hang up the phone.
I’m writing this as much for me (because I need to hear/read it) as well as for anyone else, but I just wanted to let certain of my critics know that I don’t always have to respond or even read your message once it crosses the line within me and trips my internal editor.
Or in the words of Ron Swanson, “Don’t tell me what to do.”