When talking about something as pervasive and broad as a concept like negativity, it’s difficult to cover everything about it in one post (unless I plan to make this some sort of dissertation, which I am not), and I am not going to pretend for a moment that I have all of the answers to this vast problem.
I am instead going to focus on an aspect of negativity that I see in my day to day life, one that we have direct control of, and one that, I should hope, would help mitigate the larger problems that exist in our toxic modern culture.
I am as guilty of it as the next person. Have you ever in your life called someone: stupid, idiot, moron, retard, asshole, or some other term meant to represent how little you think of their intelligence or worth as a human being? I’m sure you have. Someone cut you off on the highway? What an asshole. Someone misread an e-mail you sent? They must be stupid. They don’t like the same movie that you and your click does? They must have shite taste in film.
Hopefully you see where I’m going with this.
Why does this matter? I mean, if you’re in your car alone and no one else can hear you scream obscenities about someone who pissed you off, what’s the harm? You’re relieving stress, right? Maybe. But consider this: if your first reaction to a unfavorable action is to make a blanket statement about the other person, do you really think it’s any different inside your brain? And what if you aren’t alone when you judge the merit of another? Do you think kids, especially, aren’t going to absorb and emulate the behavior their parents and mentors follow?
When you catch yourself about to make a sweeping judgment or generalization, and step back to refine your thought process, you may be surprised. Instead of, “what a stupid person,” what if instead we go back to “that was a dumb move, but I can see how that would’ve happened.” Someone who is stupid is going to consistently, irrefutably make stupid choices and perform unintelligent actions. However, even the brightest of us have sometimes done something awkward, bumbling, or less than ideal. “We all make mistakes,” as the common phrase goes. Maybe someone driving like a bit of an ass on the road just found out they were being laid off, or that there’s been a death in the family. Maybe a person stammering like a fool or unable to focus is excited that they’ve been accepted to college, or that they’re going to be a parent. Perhaps the colleague responding to you tersely by e-mail or text is suffering from depression, or they have a million things on their to-do list and your request is but one on the list and they are stressed the hell out.
I’m not suggesting that we all of a sudden switch to handling everyone and everything with kid gloves. But we do control how we react to things we find unfavorable. The internet is an incredible example of this. How much of the festering pile of toxicity in our culture today is the direct result of people letting loose with thoughtless drivel and rampant negativity online? I don’t have numbers and data to correlate the statement, but one does not need to go far on any given site that provides any sort of open forum, to find people generally being assholes to one another. Oh, you didn’t like what that person posted? Better trash them or it or both. Saw something reposted that has been done before and maybe the OP didn’t know? Better jump in there and make the poster feel stupid for it. See someone either like or dislike something, say, a movie? Oh, of course, you need to take time out of your day to bash it, or to tell them they are wrong for having an opinion that does coalesce with yours. *
*I experienced recently an online encounter with a fellow who insisted that any dislike of the J.J. Abrams Trek films was wrong by virtue of that opinion’s very existence. Putting aside whether you like those films or not, liking or disliking a film cannot be right or wrong as it is a matter of opinion.
You, and I mean that to include everyone as well as me, do realize you have complete control over everything you share with the world, right? There is no one compelling you to tweet, to post on Facebook, to share on Instagram, or anywhere online, right? You’re not held at gunpoint and told to post or your brain gets it. Yes, there is an oft-unspoken social expectation to maintain an online presence lest you be considered a pariah, but that is not something useful as an excuse to act like a twat online.
Here’s a novel concept: if you don’t like something you see online, how about keeping your words to yourself and moving on? Holy shit.
Yes, I realize I am channeling the old adage, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And again, I’m not suggesting we should all blow sunshine up each others’ bums and pretend that everything is all sugar plums. Sometimes you do have to call bullshit when you see it. But what are you really accomplishing when you spend your time and energy bashing everything that offends your sensibilities? For one thing, you are damaging your immune system. You’re also likely making someone’s day worse. The insensitive and those of you generally lacking in empathy may shrug or ask, “so what?” to that last point. My counter to that is that you’ve probably never experienced what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a negative backlash, or you are so locked in to your own point of view that you are unable to see the world any way but yours, and I probably can’t help you.
Aside from the (primitive) thrill you get from affecting your environment (look! I did something, and you can see it!), what the hell do you have to gain from being an ass, especially online? Great, you didn’t like that book. Now, are you going to leave a review that has a bit of constructive criticism and reasons why you didn’t like it, but how those same reasons may endear a different reader? Or are you going to focus solely on bashing the author, his or her tastes, on throwing something under the bus because you didn’t understand it? Or perhaps because you feel a sense of entitlement and are lashing out at those who aren’t even responsible for your grievances (case in point: fan reaction to the Mass Effect: Annihilation novel. Seriously? Death and rape threats? Are some of these internet denizens less civilized than a rabid dog?).
None of this accomplishes anything except to make someone else’s life miserable, or at least more negative than it was before. Congratulations. You could have spent that energy focusing on what you do like, or to make someone’s day a little better, or to maybe try your hand at the creative process and realize that it’s not as simple as it seems from your grandstanding armchair. When you rip into someone for having an opinion divergent from yours, whether online or off, remember that you are effectively no different from a teacher scorning a child’s art in kindergarten, a bully beating the shit out of you in school for being different, or a troll making absurd threats in a comment section. All you are accomplishing is fostering negativity and toxicity into the world, and you know what? That shit spreads. You make one person’s day a living hell, and odds are, at their job, their commute, and at home, it rubs off on someone else, and around the cycle of shit goes until before long you have an environment filled with people who are stressed out, feeling bad about themselves, afraid to be creative, to get excited for things they like for fear of castigation. Maybe they internalize it and start to beat themselves up. Maybe they take that negativity and fling it back toward someone else in an attempt to purge it.
(The surging of popularity in comic books and movies based off of them has pushed back against the stigma geeks face for being who they are, but it has also by the same token spawned a new generation of entitled whiners who spend more time flinging shit at each other than doing anything constructive. Take a few moments to look at the DC vs. Marvel shitshow if you don’t believe me)
Seriously, people. The universe and the rock we’re on are already dark enough. Complete and utter cosmic obliteration are not all that unlikely for us at any given moment. We already have corruption, pollution, war, poverty, disease, and famine to deal with on a global scale. Is it really that much to ask for you to stop for a few seconds and check yourself before you post something that is going to accomplish, what, exactly? Making you feel like you’re right? That you know something more than the other person? If you have a post in front of you claiming that the Sun is in fact purple and to say otherwise is a conspiracy, sure, have yourself a chuckle and feel contented that in all likelihood, your head is in a saner spot than that person’s. But you still have a choice: feed the trolls, add drops to the bucket of negativity, or move on. If you’re looking at a hot-button topic and think that your thoughts might give someone a new angle from which to approach the problem, sure, share it, but maybe consider stepping away if it devolves from civilized discussion into argument. Because, really, when was the last time someone’s mind was changed by having an argument with a complete stranger on the internet? What you’re really doing is stressing each other out, yeah, maybe you’re getting a little high on the conflict (adrenaline tends to spike when thrown into conflict, even a verbal one), maybe you think you’re righting some great injustice by speaking out, but all you’re doing is contributing to the larger problem.
“And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.” – Morpheus
You have a choice with every single interaction you have. You can choose to be a dick, to be nice, or you can, wow, whodathunkit, move on. What an incredible notion, eh, that you don’t have to respond to every little thing in your news feed that puts a little twist in your undergarments? If there was a point to this diatribe, that was it. I can’t claim that I won’t slip up, but I will try to live up to this.
The image in the beginning of the post is pulled from https://xkcd.com/archive/
Their work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License. If you like web comics with a streak of dark humor, I recommend hopping over and checking it out.