Monday, March 3, 2014

Facing the Facts

I’m going to ask for a lot of patience from you in this post. For one, I want to talk about how we address issues and information in our digital age, so though I will use one issue as an example, I don’t want to debate that issue. In fact, I hope to avoid all “hot button” words, both to keep spammers off my blog and to stick to my point. For another thing, there will be a lot of links in this post. Don’t feel obligated to follow them, but I like to put my money where my mouth is!

I remember one particular lesson I learned in grade school. And again in junior high. And again in high school. And finally managed to master enough to avoid learning it again in college.

I had a bad habit of jumping to conclusions, making a judgment, and then voicing it loudly. My luck (and I mean that sincerely) decreed that, every single time, the person I judged was in earshot—every single time I did it. I learned how much hurt my false assumptions caused by seeing the look on someone’s face.

I learned to take time before coming to conclusions. I learned that judging, as a rule, oversimplified complex situations—like people. All of us are pretty darn complex situations. I know I am.

There’s been plenty of talk about how judging (criticizing, trashing, insulting, cussing at) feels easy on the internet, because we are not face to face with the person we’re trashing. We don’t see their hurt. In fact, a recent study shows that internet trolls might have serious issues. You can read the study here:

I think most of my readers can see that extreme trolling doesn’t accomplish anything. I see no point to it myself and I don't do that, but…here comes that lesson again. Guess what I have done? I have received an “article” from a friend, been outraged, and passed it on. Luck was with me again, as a friend caught that the “article” was untrue and I was able to forward a retraction to the same folks who got the “article.”

With internet “articles” packaged so professionally, it’s easy to believe them—especially if they present an apparently complete story, especially if it preys on our fear or outrage. When something triggers those powerful emotions, double checks go out the window and we forward the email or click Share.

And guess what else? People at “real” websites do that, too. They repost things that trigger fear and outrage, whether because their own emotions are involved or because they hope to profit from their readers’ emotions.

Before long, the well-intentioned netizen can Google a subject and find PAGES of hits featuring an erroneous story repeated on many “reputable” websites. And then the odds of finding the truth have gone way, way down.

Does anyone remember their school days and the unfounded rumors that developed lives of their own, often “ruining” a classmate’s day/year/life? Not so great, huh? At least those classmates had faces to reflect their hurt, eyes for gossiping classmates to look into.

We don’t see those faces online, especially when we spread rumors about entities—corporations, for example. Or states, as Jes Baker points out in this recent post, That One Time George Takei Made Everything Worse, which you can read here:

Okay, that one goes a little far afield for my purposes, but it is a case in point. It’s a lot easier to type “boycott Arizona” online than to, for example, look into the eyes of a gay travel agent and say, “I’m cancelling my trip to your state because the representative you didn’t vote for says you can be denied service in a restaurant.”

That makes sense…how?

Well, as a leader/parent/volunteer of the Girl Scout troop at my church, which is a Roman Catholic church, I’ve long been aware of—and done a great deal of research into—the rumors being spread about Girl Scouts.

If you can find the facts in the deluge of repeated rumors, the original story from 2010 (that Girl Scouts has a partnership with a Controversial Organization) clearly has no foundation. So more rumors have been added to the mix, mostly to do with national employees’ past jobs or debatable choices on the part of individual scouts and leaders.

And so some angry, scared people have decided to hate Girl Scouts.

I can understand this on one level. As I mentioned, certain issues make people very emotional—angry, righteous, outraged, scared. People crave action to take. But what action? They can attack the Controversial Organization, but it's kind of hard to boycott an organization that you already don't do business with.

But, wait! Girl Scouts! these angry people feel (not think). They’re everywhere and I’ve been buying their cookies. They support that Controversial Organization—the news/internet says so! I can stop buying cookies. That’ll show them. I’ll be acting! I’ll be punishing those evil people who fooled me, who made me angry and scared.

That’s not very logical, but at least harmless--if Girl Scouts is a huge faceless corporation that only exists online. But it’s not. It’s parents who devote hours of every week to teaching girls to dream big dreams and reach big goals, to love themselves, to try new things, to “serve God and country.” It’s parents like me.

It’s parents who see how vitally important it is to teach girls to be “responsible for what I say and do.”

And the majority of the people affected by this rumor? They have faces like this.
Who can justify venting anger, fear, and hate to a face like this because the internet said so? 

I sure hope no one could.

I hope that for many reasons. Not the least of which is that I will be there. And I will step between my scouts and anyone who tries.

Anyone who tries will have to tell me to my face why they’ve decided to accept lies without question and use those lies to justify bad behavior toward innocents.

Folks, just don't hate. Seek the truth. Be nice to people. Please?

In case you’re wondering where Girl Scout cookie money goes:

In case you’re wondering what the Catholic church says about Girl Scouts:

No comments:

Post a Comment