Actions & Consequences

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my own actions I deeply regret. Things I’ve done that have hurt others, mistakes, and missteps. I’ve also taken time to grow from these mistakes. Online, however, where emotions run high, despite always wanting to do better and be better, I’ve become caught up in the anger machine. More specifically, the attack mobs that swarm people with not much clarity on the truth of anything. Sometimes, however, it’s deserved and a genuinely harmful person can be brought forth to be responsible for their actions, but that is rarely the case. Celebrities and big names rarely suffer from cancel culture due to their wealth and vast fan bases.

Most of the people I see as victims of dog-piles and hate mobs aren’t the villains. They’re the small business, budding artists, or average people, many times marginalized, who had a bad day, misspoke, or poorly worded a character-limited Tweet. If the wrong person sees it and makes any number of assumptions without asking for clarity, someone’s entire livelihood and life can be ruined.

Seeing this happen in real time is sobering, especially since it’s often people ‘eating their own’. It’s a reality I think many of us never saw coming — those of us who were around when the internet began. Granted, I’m sure we never imagined things would get this big and out of control, and while the internet as it is today is a wonderful, miraculous, vast array of knowledge and entertainment and good, it also carries with it the possibility to create utter chaos.

Social media. It’s equally a blessing and a curse. I’m no stranger to getting wrapped up in mass anger, and I remember last year when many on Twitter gaslit and guilted everyone into expending more energy than they had to join the outrage. If you dared to mention your mental health was failing and you mentally could not take anymore of the negative media, you were considered privileged and part of the problem. You were attacked like the enemy for not having the spoons, which many disabled people do not have.

I have seen over the course of this year average people, with no power to do much of anything, being attacked by a mob big enough to ruin them across the website. Even tonight I watched on sadly as a small business made one mistake, and there was no chance for them to correct it or clarify. A mob was gathered by the person who happened to catch the misstep, and it bloomed into nothing more than a gathering of people who piled on, and they all had one name on their lips — the name of the initial person who was offended. These people weren’t raising the issue of the original problem, nor were they asking what started it. They blindly followed someone they felt was a good person. And that’s how it starts. One’s opinion, with enough of a following, can color many more opinions and sway the meaning of any thing.

Actions have consequences. This sort of thing ruins a business, causes people to fall into crisis, and has caused people to consider suicide to escape the onslaught. It’s bullying. It’s harassment. It’s cruel and toxic in this culture that’s evolved. The victim has no way to crawl out of the quicksand. No apology, no matter how professionally or intricately worded, no matter how sincere, will work. It can only end in blood, because in the end, the attackers expect you to be perfect, read their minds, and know what apologies they will accept.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I was bullied heavily. It’s extremely difficult and triggering to see this behavior, especially from people who are disabled, traumatized, or who are otherwise also in the same situation — they’d dealt with bullies and harassment, and discrimination. And they turn around and become the bullies themselves, not realizing that’s what they’re doing. They truly feel they’re fighting for some greater good, that they’re saving others from a menace, but what happens when the person they’re bullying isn’t really a menace at all, but a victim of a misunderstanding. What if the person on the other side of the screen is a genuinely good and kind person who just made a mistake? Do they deserve to have their livelihoods taken from them for that?

Think of someone in your life you know better than most others. Someone you love dearly. If they made a mistake, would you allow them to speak? Would you ask them for clarification? Would you develop a seething hatred instantly and work to ruin their life?

But there are people who say hurtful things blatantly. There are people who mean harm, who want to hurt others. There are racists, homophobes, transphobes, and any other hate group you can imagine causing real harm. They enjoy it. They do it loudly. They are the ones who deserve our rage.

Someone who misspoke and poorly worded an opinion, who otherwise causes no trouble? This isn’t the same, and the crime doesn’t equal the punishment they often receive.

There are real villains in this world. People who hurt others because they like it. People who have no remorse, who don’t even have a want to create a fake apology let alone a real one. People who refuse to change because they are genuinely bad people. They deserve your rage. They deserve your vitriol because they are the ones doing harm.

Information is valuable and easily obtained. So are facts if you go searching or asking for them. We need to stop this culture of knee-jerk hatred that ruins otherwise good people. Look into who you’re thinking of creating a cancel campaign against. What’s in their bio? Do they have a website? Scroll through their feed, what are their values? Do they interact well with others? Is the post they made just one that seemed off among others? How truly bad was the post, and was it said with bad intent? If you don’t know, have you asked what they meant by their statement?

If you’ve done none of this, maybe it’s best to take a deep breath, pause until the anger subsides, and look at who you were about to ruin. What if you discovered they really weren’t a bad person at all after the fact, and you’d just sent harassment their way? That would feel pretty awful, if you were any kind of empathic human.

At the end of the day, humans are imperfect. Even the ones who claim they are perfect and demand it from others. Not one person is without a flaw of any kind, and I think we need to realize we can make mistakes. As long as we learn from them and grow, that’s where change happens. When someone takes the time to apologize and mention wanting to do better, no matter the way it’s worded — because let’s be honest, as an autistic person, I have no idea how communication works most of the time, nor am I a mind-reader — it truly means change is taking place. But if one shuts that down and refuses to allow the person to do better, or one damns them no matter what they say, then in reality, one didn’t want to truly change anything. In that case, all one wanted was to see someone suffer and burn. And that’s sadistic and toxic behavior, which in turn, makes the aggressor the person they once thought the other person was. Ironic that.

Kindness hurts no one and it costs nothing. Even if you’re angry, if you respond with calmness and ask questions respectfully, I think we’ll find that many people are actually genuinely good at heart. Of course, there are many people, like I said, who genuinely mean harm to others and they do not deserve anyone’s kindness. They don’t want it to begin with.

In cases of uncertainty, be certain. Be calm. It only takes about five minutes to change an urge or an emotion into something more productive, so sit back and breathe for five minutes. Then, look at the situation again. If only we could all do this, the world of social media would be less toxic and frightening.

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Disclaimer: All is mentioned vaguely for the purpose of conversation, as well as past vague observances for the sake of exploring the overall theme and thought. No defamation of any entity was meant by this writing.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

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