Want to know something that depresses me? (There’s a lot, but how about just one thing?) I wrote two opinion pieces in the last week or so. The first was one I thought about for hours in advance. I spent a long time pondering what I would say, and I put in a ton of effort into getting my thoughts down on the page. It turned into my post on racism. The second I rattled off in about ten minutes. It’s my now infamous post vilifying Grape Nuts.
Guess which one generated more discussion, debate, and ultimate more views.
Yup. Grape Nuts.
I’ve been thinking about why that is over the last few days, and there are a few reasons I’ve come up with. I imagine it’s a mixture of these, but I’ll take them one at a time.
First, my blog posts primarily generate views through Facebook. As much as I would love to one day foster a forum where people not associated with Facebook will come and interact with each other in the comments section of my blog, that just isn’t in the cards for now. Facebook promotes posts that people will interact with. The more people interact with one, the more it includes that post in other people’s feeds. The Grape Nuts post generated a lot of discussion, probably because people felt pretty safe expressing their opinion about the topic. There was a lot of banter back and forth, and it was a fun post. Very low risk of feelings getting hurt or of someone saying the wrong thing.
The racism post just couldn’t compete in that arena. There were a few comments and a few likes, but the post appeared and then sunk into the abyss without making enough ripples to get pushed by any algorithm. So why wouldn’t people want to comment and talk about something that many, many people have strong feelings about?
One reason might be they’re just tired of the topic. They’re drained about the debate on both sides, and they’re just not up to defending an opinion for the umpteenth time. While my Facebook posts generally remain civil, you never know when someone’s going to crawl out of the woodwork and say something mean or spiteful or ignorant, and who wants that?
But I tend to think a bigger reason is that people are worried about saying the wrong thing. About being judged by the internet masses, one way or the other. And that’s an area that’s really concerning to me. It’s an area where I believe both sides of the political spectrum could really be helped by changing.
Case in point: JK Rowling. She has said some callous, poorly-thought-out things on trans rights in the past, and she doubled down yesterday by penning a huge long essay saying just where she stands on the matter. I read it, and there are problematic things throughout the post. I’m not going to derail my post today by analyzing it. (I’m both not nearly well informed enough to do so, nor am I remotely qualified to do so.) However, one thing I feel comfortable saying about her post is that the appropriate response is not to pepper her with name calling and death threats. I’d like to think the instances of that are the exception, not the rule, but from what she says, there have been many many instances of that.
Granted, perhaps she’s already had multiple instances of people explaining to her how she’s being harmful in her continued approach to discussing these issues in public, but at this point she also clearly feels like she’s under attack, and that’s causing her to dig in even further.
This isn’t something unique to her situation. The YA scene can be a really thorny one to wade into these days, with a very heavy groupthink mentality. Say something that’s slightly out of line, or inadvertently off base, and the repercussions can be swift and fierce. I’ve spoken to multiple authors who have decided to just never say anything about anything other than writing, out of fear of making a blunder.
That’s certainly their right, but is that a helpful environment to foster? By ruthlessly crushing thought on both sides of the aisle, we perpetuate an arms race of sorts, where the only people speaking are the die hards who have their caps lock key permanently engaged.
I have waded into more a few treacherous waters, discussing religion, gay rights, gun control, abortion, and more. I have yet to have any real repercussions from those posts. Why is that? One reason (likely the biggest) is that I’m relatively obscure. It’s not as if my posts get spread to the winds and reach enough eyeballs to get anywhere near a critical mass of mob mentality going. Another could be that I’m a white male, so that squelches many of the racist or sexist attacks that might be aimed at me otherwise.
What I’d like to think is at least partly due to that is that I’m as open and honest about my thought process as I can be. My posts are almost never written in absolutes. (Except for Grape Nuts. Blech.) I explain what I think and why, but I leave room for others to disagree with me, and for me to be wrong. Ironically, I believe this is also a reason why my posts are not more widely read. People who are more willing to make strong stands end up getting more views. (Which probably explains why that Grape Nuts post resonated . . .) If all I cared about were eyeballs, then I ought to either become an arch conservative or an arch liberal.
But that’s not what I want. I’d much rather encourage people to think about an issue. To maybe see the other side of it, or to help me see why what I already believe might be misguided. I believe that’s the sort of approach that might lead the country toward a more unified populous, and this continued game of “Gotcha!” on all sides is only exacerbating the problem.
Because people still have opinions. Strong opinions on all of the hot button topics. They just have stopped telling people about them online. On the one hand, I miss the days when racist opinions were taboo enough that trolls weren’t ready or willing to state them in public. But I also miss the days when people didn’t regularly sift through people’s old social media posts for anything incriminating. People can and do change.
Sometimes I wonder if this will happen to me at some point. If something I’ve written years ago comes across as heartless or inappropriate in today’s environment, and I’m called to task for it. I’d like to think people would judge me based on the entirety of my work, but I know it’s more likely that the focus will all laser in on the one or two posts I wrote that didn’t pass muster. (Please note: I don’t think I’ve said or written anything that will get me in hot water, but you never know.)
Oh well. This has gone on long enough. I’m not sure I came to any enlightening conclusion. I suppose at the end it’s just a statement that people need to engage in hard discussions if we’re going to make real change. Name calling and silence isn’t going to solve these problems. People need a safe space to state an opinion, but they also need to be ready to listen to what people say back, and (most importantly) to be able to admit when they’re wrong. “I was wrong” can come across as a defeat, but admitting it and growing is one of the best ways of becoming a better person.
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