On Public Shaming and the Death of Civilized Discourse

Ray Wewerka

As someone with relatively thick skin, I’d like to speak out about something that really bothers me — personal attacks on people we disagree with.

I know it’s part of the deal, “haters gotta hate” and all, but wow — it’s incredible what we will say when protected by the anonymity of the internet.

I recently had one woman write some hateful comments on an article I posted to the Boodaism Facebook page. She was giving me “feedback” on my writing but was really just using that as an excuse to insult me with passive aggressive take-downs. After going back and forth trying to discuss the topic amidst her vitriol, I finally gave up and deleted the comment thread.

It was also on Christmas.

Afterwards, I felt a little depressed. Maybe she pushed the right buttons, or maybe I was just lamenting the fact that it’s so hard for people to simply disagree with each other and not be a jerk about it.

Even when someone isn’t attacked directly, most people cling so tightly to their opinions that if anything challenges their worldview, it occurs as a personal attack, so they retaliate with insults and passive aggressive comments — and the war begins.

The saddest part is this has become normal for today’s conversation, especially online. We somehow feel like we have the right to hate those we disagree with. Can you recall watching two people debate a sensitive topic online while maintaining respect and dignity for each other? It rarely happens. It’s like seeing a shooting star or spotting a rare white elk.

So yeah, this woman hurt me with her comments. I wish I could say it rolled off my back but it didn’t, and I even let her know that in my replies to her comments. I tried my best not to attack her back, so instead I shared honestly how she made me feel.

This may sound crazy (and it doesn’t always work) but after years and years of defending myself, I’ve found that if I have any chance of getting people to come down off their high horse, it’s by being vulnerable and actually exposing my pain, as hard as that may be.

There’s also a part of me that doesn’t want to acknowledge the pain these people have caused, cause “fuck that” — right? I’m not gonna let her see me bleed.

But that’s part of the problem. We won’t know the kind of impact we have on other people if we keep repressing and hiding our feelings. Take it from someone who got a PhD in repression during his formative years – it doesn’t help anyone.

The Death of Civilized Discourse

It’s funny, because as I was finishing this article I saw the news that Donald Trump had tweeted another insult at Kim Jong-un. It almost seems ridiculous to be talking about having intelligent debates when our cultural standards for decency and respect are so low.

“Cause fuck you” seems to be an acceptable response to someone we disagree with. How did that happen?

So I wonder — is civilized discourse officially dead? Maybe it was never really alive. Maybe the internet freed us up to say what we’ve been thinking all along. I try to avoid the temptation to think things are worse now than they used to be, but it sure is tempting to want to come to that conclusion.

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