What a difference a week makes

Okay, I’ll admit it. I, unfortunately, love social media. Facebook and Twitter, to me, are great resources to help us connect and see what people we know are up to. Without social media, I would never know what is happening with my high school classmate who lives in Chicago, or my college teammates who are scattered all over. I love social media for that connectedness it gives.

Alas though, for all those good feelings, social media probably has an equally, if not more frustrating effect on me. Before social media, I think we used to put ourselves in little cocoons almost, thinking that everyone outside our circle also thought like us and had the same values. Today, people put their political opinions all over their pages, and other people attack those opinions. Back in college, god I loved a good argument. We would stay up all hours debating the problems of the world. The thing is, with social media, we have those arguments without the personal relationships to go with them, so deep down, instead of thinking “this is my friend Brett, he has an idiotic opinion about George Bush, but I know he’s a good guy and would be there in heartbeat if I needed him,” with social media, we think “this Linda lady has an idiotic opinion about Trump.” Arguments no longer seem to be about the big ideas, but about who can provide the bigger zinger. I’ve actually felt physically angry reading political posts on Facebook. To me, the absolute best thing Facebook could do for their business model is put in filters that cut out posting any political content. Keep it cat pictures and stories about the grandkids.

That long introduction brings me to something that’s been marinating in my mind for three or four days. This stems from Facebook again, but also real life. I have rarely, if ever, seen such displays of callousness and utter lack of human sympathy as I have seen this week. From the beginning, I’ve said that I do not want this to be a political thing, and I’m going to stick to that, but we are going to walk right up to the line here. Deep breath everyone, here goes.

Since Kelley’s death, I’ve seen an absolute outpouring of love and compassion from friends, family, co-workers and people in the community. Thinking about this post, I went back and counted how many cards I received, and it was 219. People donated nearly 500 items to CALL in Kelley’s name, and raised nearly $500 for SART. Support and compassion have been beyond description. I have felt truly humbled and loved.

What I guess is a major disappointment for me is seeing this outpouring of love from individuals, then this week, witnessing the utter lack of basic human compassion people have presented on social media. As I am sure you have figured out, I’m talking about the debate over the children at the border. I am proud to be a teacher, and part of that is a natural passion and care for kids, it’s par for this course. Though I do not have kids of my own, those 100 sweaty little hormonal humans are and will always be “my kids,” and I will make no apologies for that passion. Those images and the idea of these scared children in a foreign place being taken from their parents is very upsetting. When the fact that this was happened was exposed, my thought was this is horrible, and I wished and hoped that the compassionate in our country would respond and cry out against it.

Instead, in millions of social media threads across the country, people first doubted and worked to debunk or prove the story, then people argued that other administrations had done similar things, then the topping on the cake, “if you didn’t want your kids taken away and held in a detention center, you shouldn’t have come to America.” I’m not going to argue those statements here; that’s not the point. The point is these kids were completely terrified. It should not have mattered one iota who reported the story, what other presidents did, or the parents’ motives. What should have mattered was the scared children. We seem to lack the ability to show simple human compassion.

Personally, I have always thought of America, probably through red, white and blue tinted glasses, as “the good guys.” We are the ones who are supposed stop the bad guys doing awful things to people worldwide. In Miss Saigon, the lead male sings “Christ, I am American, how can I fail to do good” when he tries to explain the horrors of Vietnam to his wife. I’ve always thought that too. We are the global white hats. Sadly, I think more and more, our hats are turning gray.

This immigration issue is just one example. When the hurricane hit Puerto Rico, people blamed the damage on their left leaning government’s economic problems, while others made hay on the president’s wonky optics of throwing paper towels, in the meantime, we ignored or forgot about the hurting people on the ground. When school shootings happen, we worry more about attacking or protecting our gun rights than showing compassion to those who are reeling from seeing their friends and teachers murdered. The list goes on and on.

I think it stems from the way we view people. We tend to take human beings and collectivize then into an issue. It’s a lot harder to compassionate towards an idea than towards another person. We think of “illegal immigration” instead of thinking about Lupe and Juan and their beautiful children fleeing oppression and hunger in Guatemala and walking north for 4 weeks to get to the US border. We think of “the poor” instead of Margaret who lives in an illegal apartment without water and goes without dinner so her kids can eat. We think of “those with a pre-existing condition,” instead of Kelley who lived in constant fear that the law would change and insurance would drop her, leaving her widower on the hook for $10,000 a week in dialysis bills. (Too close to home?)

We need to stop doing that and go back to thinking and caring about individual people. Don’t let the narrative both sides are spinning change who you are. Show Lupe, and Juan, and Margaret, and Kelley the same compassion we show when someone we know is hurting. In the end, it’s not the economy, or tax cuts or environmental policies that make a country, it’s the people. I think the best way to Make America Great Again is to go back to compassion for one another.


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