by Frances J. Trelease
In my role as college lecturer, I often confer with students on global current events. After all, under our current president, stories of conflicts are as plentiful as the proverbial Horn of Plenty. And sometimes we look at how social media fans the flames of outrage between two sides.
But in a recent class, our goal was to highlight how public figures – political, athletic or celebrity – often handle themselves in a clumsy or obtuse manner. We were to focus on mannerisms, more so than messages. But the talk quickly turned — predictably so– back to message. Also predictably… President Donald Trump took front and center stage.
Before I steered Trump policy talk back to the oafish and awkward (think the hilarity of George W. malapropisms, and Trump’s Twitter ‘covfefe’,) I read some of the indignations voiced by these intelligent, young adults. Their outrage was real. Here’s a sampling of what they railed against recently:
- A NY Times editorial penned by actress Mayim Bialik, who wrote of her own casting experiences in Hollywood, post-Harvey Weinstein. She was accused of insensitivity to other women, after saying she chose to dress conservatively to auditions.
- Comments by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who let slip with a chuckle, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about [wide receiver] routes.” (Better thought than vocalized? Sure. Deserving of the firestorm it ignited? Perhaps not.)
- and Heaven help ANYONE – on either side of the debate – who spoke their views on the NFL/anthem debate.
A good number of the comments my students reacted to were… dare I say… innocent off-the-cuff remarks. Not intended to wound or draw blood. Yet in most cases, the speakers in question faced unexpected and vociferous blow back.
The speakers apologized to their protestors, those who voiced indignation and anger, those who questioned their moral compass. They apologized to those who charged, “How dare you talk down a group I identify with? Don’t you know we’re all welcome in this great country of ours?”
Yet in this increasingly “pile on” culture, these same protestors don’t hesitate to pillorize, denigrate and lambaste their fellow citizens over the smallest perceived slight or disagreement – yelling down from their high ground of acceptance and tolerance.
Now don’t get me wrong. The Richard Spencers and David Dukes of the world, the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville with swastikas emblazoned on their shirts and head scarves… it’s time to send them back to the sewers they crawled out from. No, I’m referring to those civil adults among us who voice their views because they feel they can. Increasingly, at a hasty turn of phrase, or a slight misstep, they find themselves buried in an avalanche of online vitriol.
I fear we’ve become, as a society, thin-skinned and quick to rage. We can’t or won’t take it… yet we’re quick to dish it out.
Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, described what he calls a dangerous growth in “identity politics.” While we ostensibly applaud our differences, we prey on them as well.
The zeitgeist of our country has never been more divided. To close that divide, perhaps it’s time to separate out the truly offensive (terrorists, and others who directly seek to cause harm), from those among us who are simply outspoken, sometimes to the displeasure of others. Whatever happened to civil debate?
If you disagree with someone, by all means say so. But don’t leave the village burning in your wake.
Frances Trelease, (MBA, UConn ’96,) is the founder of Boomer Den LLC, which provides internships for midlife adults. She is also a college lecturer and former journalist for Gannett Newspapers. She is dedicated to partnering talented adults with new career opportunities. http://boomerden.com, Fran@BoomerDen.com