Have you felt the satisfaction of putting someone in their place? Have you ever felt the rush of power that comes with delivering a cutting set-down? Have you ever felt a glow of pride after making fun of a horrible person or group, and having the people around you laugh appreciatively?
I sure have. In high school, the bully-types in my classes learned not to pick on me to my face, and not to pick on my sister when I was in the room. I got damned good at snide, witty comebacks, and so people stopped messing with me. That kind of success was incredibly rewarding. It was a useful skill I honed over the years, so I could trot it out whenever needed. Rare these days, but my sister still occasionally says, “I’m just glad Trelawney’s in my corner.”
Oh, it feels good to WIN, to experience verbal conquest, and to know I’m justified in using my tongue as a sword, because that person SO deserved it! Ah, the adrenaline, the afterglow, the notch in my belt!
Our culture is great at promoting this sort of skill. Every sit-com I’ve ever seen is based almost entirely on clever meanness. Action movies have the heroes deliver pithy phrases before killing or defeating their foes. We eat it all right up! Then we spit it back out on social media, which gets more violent, polarizing, and destructive by the year.
Speaking as an administrator of several huge progressive Facebook groups, I can assure you that the Left loves to eat its own. No one is more eager than “good” progressives to heap contempt on “bad” progressives. Just try being a progressive Christian in atheist or feminist circles. And conservative or progressive, no one is more eager than “good” Christians to heap contempt on “bad” Christians. One very sweet young woman, raised in Trump country, mentioned that she had voted for Trump in 2016 because her entire family and community had taught and guided her to do so… and it didn’t matter that she wasn’t defending Trump or excusing herself, she had since changed her views, branched out from her background, and embraced progressive ethics and politics. Progressive Christians immediately started swarming to attack and criticize her. Why? She had the audacity to say that the people she grew up with would be more likely to change their views, too, if they were talked to like human beings, rather than summarily rejected as deplorables.
But it’s sooooo much more FUN and more satisfying to call people out! Isn’t it? And social media makes it so easy! We can “have our say” from the distant, anonymous safety of our own desks, and (on Facebook, anyway) quickly block anyone who tries to fight back. That’s one reason Facebook groups chew through moderators and admins… getting a close firsthand look at just how nasty people are can be terribly depressing. It’s easy to burn out. Getting children to play nicely when I worked in daycare centers was a cake walk compared to moderating adult Facebook groups!
But I’ve yet to encounter anyone who enjoyed being called out. Some people are better able than others to handle criticism. Even those people have their limits, though. What tends to work much, much better than piling on to someone who slips up and says something that the overall group thinks is “wrong”… is if one person, or maybe two, engages with the wrongdoer as though s/he is a well-intentioned, good-hearted friend. If someone tries to mentor the wrongdoer, the way we would all want to be mentored ourselves, the likelihood of changing h/er mind… sometimes right away, more often over time… is far, far higher.
There’s that Golden Rule, again…. gets me every blessed time.
So I’ve worked hard, in the years since becoming a Facebook admin, to resist my impulse to call people out in aggressive, cutting, clever, snide, or mocking ways. Oh, I might occasionally give in to the impulse when my target is especially powerful and damaging public figures or organizations. But when I’m responding to another average Jane/Joe like myself, I have gotten much better about trying to replace call-out culture with mentor-culture.
I don’t want to talk to Trump supporters. As I have said, it pains me, as a woman, to engage people who would support such an unrepentant misogynist. I would rather dump that duty onto male allies. But there’s a planet that’s being destroyed. And it’s my planet. My children’s planet. There are superstorms worsening every year. There are starving children and millions without water security. There are rising seas and burning forests. And there is almost no time left.
So, as a parent, as a Christian, I can’t blink on this one. I have to put aside my need to feel superior to others, and figure out exactly what strategies have the best chance of preventing the coming tsunami of suffering for my children, all children everywhere, and so many other species as well. I can’t afford to win battles. I need to win the war.
Join me, I beg you. Find ways to bring people along. All people. Anyone who shows the slightest bit of willingness to fight to save our future. We are in the last, desperate moment when we still can make a significant difference. Only just a moment is left to us, in which to rescue our collapsing existence. We know what must be done. We need only enough people to join and demand it. It is a terrifying, terrifying time to be alive. But…. we can do this. Together.
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.