Society's shift away from forgiveness, and its repercussion on human interaction

Gonna get a little bit hairy in here today. Of course, if you get down to it, it's a hairy era in general, so I'm really just blending in.

There's plenty in the news these days to aggravate and inflame people, and it sure seems to be doing its job. Every other person I interact with is desolated, and the ones in between are enraged. It's a rough time for humanity. Not in the creature comforts, survival sense. Plenty of studies back up the fact that overall, violence and sickness and every other awful way of dying are on the decline. I'm speaking of our spiritual, cerebral facets. 

It's such a confusing time for Americans. In the last few centuries, the entire scope of culture has been flipped upside down. What are we here for? Who do we claim fealty to? And in the next few decades, this will likely get worse, as more of our life becomes automated, and more of us are left with too much time on our hands to spin ourselves up in a tizzy.

So what do we turn to in order to blow of our steam? It used to be family, God, the church, and hobbies/making things. But those are becoming more scarce as outlets, and we don't know how to deal with it. So we apparently turn to allowing our Id out online, with nary a Superego in sight. Hopefully this is just a growing pain (and everything feels permanent when you're in the middle of it), but it's hard to tell.

Here's what I do know: Bullying, hatred, and judgement are the order of the day right now. Particularly in the social media realm. And I think the biggest red flag I see is the total lack of forgiveness.

In Western society, Christianity has been the moral compass for most of the last couple thousand years. There have been missteps and miscalculations and errors along the way, but essentially it was the law of the land. As we move further and further into the "Science as a God" era, the human morality tenets of Christianity are being left behind. Obviously there are plenty of implications and discussions to be had with that little thesis statement, but I'm going to leave much of that to other posts and focus on the compassion, hypocrisy, and forgiveness areas. (And before you get worked up, I absolutely endorse science most of the time. I just don't find it provides all the answers for me, and that's where my religion steps in). 

Now I don't automatically accept the thought that all Christians are the good ones, and all non-Christians are bad. There's plenty of nastiness to go all over the place, trust me. After all we are all flawed humans fighting battles; some winning, some losing. But I will say that the basic premise of "Love one another", and "forgive", are really being lost when we have no outer moral code to help guide our consciences. 

Every day I am seeing the mob of online thought drag humans through the mud for missteps, some of them decades old. I do believe that some crimes are offenses that shouldn't be forgotten (murder, rape, crimes against children etc etc), but that's not what I'm talking about. It's not decades old grievous crimes. It's decades old "things said in passing", or decades old opinions, or things of that nature. And the online mobs are completely prepared to pillory anyone for something said in the past, wrecking lives and families and livelihoods, oftentimes for statements that have been disavowed. And this really bothers me.

I am not sure if students are still encouraged to read 1984 or Brave New World, but it sure doesn't seem as though enough people have taken lessons from those books to heart. As we grow ever closer to every single moment of our lives being captured by technology and stored, and our lifespans are already being predicted to reach 150 years before too much longer, I just wonder what traps we as a society are setting for ourselves. "Thought crimes" are very much a reality these days; perhaps the government isn't very much into prosecuting them yet, but the individual has so much power that the judicial system can be totally sidestepped for punishment, and the lynch mobs are more than ready to take it over.

I'm not saying people should be allowed to say awful things; if you hear someone say something terrible, call them on it, right then. But I don't understand how in an age where we are meant to accept plenty of things that were taboo before, all of a sudden for a misquoted phrase, we expect the speaker to take a long walk off a short plank. Why? And who made us all such moral superiors? 

Humility was something that used to be taken as something commonplace, a virtue that we were expected to uphold. I recently visited the Midwest and was reminded of how nice it is to be around people who are "down to earth". People who do their jobs, live their lives, and are pragmatic. That is definitely NOT something you see often in the DC area, and it's something I most miss about home. The ability to own mistakes, the ability of others to forgive, and the ability of all parties involved to move on. I never hear this promoted any more. These days so much is about self promotion, envy, and the tearing down of someone on the other side. 

The internet has done many great things (I just had Christmas presents delivered to my house on a very windy and chilly day, thank you Amazon), but it sure hasn't done much for human interaction. Echo chambers and self-righteousness are detrimental and exhausting, unless you're online where they are commonplace.

I think it would be good if we tried to remember that just because someone says something we disagree with, doesn't mean we should never forgive someone in a spirit of contrition. I know the First Amendment is meant to protect free speech from government interference, but I'm starting to feel it isn't enough anymore. The largest threat to the individual and their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is no longer the government overreach. It's been supplanted by neighborly overreach. Next time you see an online effort to totally wreck someone from holding different beliefs than you, try to remember that that person is a human who has foibles and should be forgiven. We shouldn't have the power as individuals to decide whether someone is guilty of a crime. That momentary feeling of purposeful elation, isn't really worth it. When the mob moves on to its next over-righteous lynching, the wreckage of a life will be left behind, and we all forget about it.

We can do better. Think of the worst things you've done, or said, or felt. I know I've had plenty of opinions over the years that have been annealed and changed over time. I'm grateful that they are mostly lost to antiquity, but that won't be the case for much longer.  I know I'm in no position to judge anyone for any statement they made decades ago, particularly if they don't hold those opinions now. Are you above that self-judgement? We are all flawed and imperfect, and most of us try to do better tomorrow than we did today. So let's try together.

A Man Said to the Universe

Today I'm doing something that I don't think I've done before, outside of required essays when I was in school: I'm going to write about a poem.

Admittedly I'm not largely into poetry. Some of it I find hard to get into, much of it I don't understand, and sometimes I feel as though it smacks too much of pretentiousness; all these are arguably problems with me, and not poems. But then every once in a while I find a poem that speaks to me on a very visceral level, and the scales fall from my eyes, and I see what all those poetry fans are going on about.

One of the very first poems that stuck with me is this one, by Stephen Crane. It was written in 1899, and was included in a volume called "War is Kind". Here it is:

A Man Said to the Universe BY STEPHEN CRANE

A man said to the universe: 

“Sir, I exist!”

“However,” replied the universe, 

“The fact has not created in me 

A sense of obligation.”



And that's it. The whole thing. Five sweet lines that have resonated in my heart for a few decades now. I find myself recalling these words frequently, and in fact this poem has become, to me, sort of a mantra.

I'm sure there are plenty of analyses and wordy papers written about this poem. But I haven't read any of them. Honestly I don't want to hear someone else's interpretation and find out they've come to a different conclusion, because the interpretation I have and the sweet words that stay with me have come to mean so much in my life.

To me, this poem is about humility. It's about fighting off the hubris that comes so naturally to us, and reminding us to stay grounded. Just because we are here, does not mean anyone owes us a thing. It doesn't mean someone has to take an action on our behalf.

It means that we need to stand on our own feet, make our own lives, and that there is no universal promise that just because we feel important, others should automatically deem us so. Because just the fact that we exist and realize it, doesn't mean that anything or anyone else is automatically required to assign us esteem based on no merit.

In an age where there are more people than ever before sharing this sphere with us, and there is social (and traditional) media proclaiming at all times stories of petty offenses and disproportionate outcry, I think this message just continues to resonate deeper with me. It's as though a pebble got dropped in my subconscious, and these rings continue to expand in the pond of my heart.

Perhaps partially because we are more aware of our own tininess now than we ever have been in human history, we are rebelling against it. We know for a FACT that there are millions of stars out there, and millions of planets. We now know that there has been water on two other celestial bodies in our own solar system (Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa, which was just confirmed in the last week). At any given time, every single person in America can access millions of other voices online, informed or uninformed, as the case may frequently be. Never have we felt so insignificant. With the wane of religion as a universal status quo and to reinforce our importance as individuals in Western society, we are becoming ever more swept up in this existential maelstrom.

That's my theory, anyway, on modern trends of behavior that drive me nuts. And I find it a lot more easy to swallow than the alternative: that humans are devolving into childish, selfish, vapid idiots who jump on any bandwagon that gives them 10 second accolades, no matter their basis in logic or morality.

I prefer to think of our ridiculous modern behaviors as a rebellion at this abyss we feel we are lost in, and we are trying to grasp at straws of meaning on some level. In many ways it's the best time to be alive. As far as variety of experience, medical care, food, and safety are concerned, it's absolutely true. But as far as soul and sanity are concerned, I feel its one of the worst.

We are chasing our own tails in search of meaning, and identity. We are crucifying any meaning or identity that we can draw on from the past, partially I think to cut ourselves off from rules that we now prefer to find archaic, and partially to justify our own actions in the future in abandoning human rules that large parts of society have followed for millennia. In an era in which ancestral memory has been scientifically proven to be a DNA-based fact, I find it amazing how much certain quarters want to throw the baby out with the bath water. I think there's a lot of inner conflict on this, and it manifests itself in loud and illogical ways. 

Hence people asking for others constantly to "not judge" the decisions of others (which in many ways I agree with), but out the other side of their mouth choosing to use mob-rule internet justice to ruin the livelihoods of people who make personal decisions of a type they don't agree with. In some cases I feel it's a positive idea initially, but then taken to a lynch-mob like response that entirely obliterates innocent people and their family....and then they flock on to the next thing. For an era that asks constantly for total acceptance for all decisions, there sure is a lack of proportional response when it comes to other, less popular, ideas.

And this all comes back to Stephen Crane's poem, for me. "Sir, I exist". Yes, good, identify yourself and define yourself and be strong. "However, the fact has not created in me, a sense of obligation." But that doesn't mean that everyone is required to think your existence is more valuable than anyone else's. A valuable mantra to remind ourselves of when we feel too large for our britches.