Happiness

Friends of Positivity: Let’s Talk About Divisive Speech & The Culture of Constant Criticism

I have a complicated relationship with the Internet. I love it because it allows me to learn things and see things and broaden my world. I also love it because it allows me to make my living from home. I love it because I love blogging. I love posting and getting comments and then commenting in return as I look at posts from other bloggers from all around the world! But there’s one thing I really don’t like about the Internet, and here it is:

“I’m so disgusted by this girl.” 

“She looks constipated and simultaneously sucking her stomach in two sizes in the jersey dress”

“I hate her. She makes me so angry I can hardly type.”

“X really does think her naval is the most interesting thing ever. Like it’d be one thing if she were actually well known for something, but the amount of ME ME ME ME ME ME with nothing of substance in 200ish pages is pretty pathetic.” 

“All I see when I look at that nasty ass hair is some rich white girl trying to look like Daryl from The Walking Dead.”

Ah, the Internet. It can bring out the best in people and the worst in people. These are all real quotes (I removed the name in one of them) from a website that’s completely dedicated to tearing apart different bloggers. I actually chose some of the tame comments since the really bad ones were not things I wanted to repeat. There are tens of thousands of posts, literally, from what I can only assume are very bored people with nothing better to do than rip apart other human beings.

You might think from the severe tone of these comments that the content being referenced is something really polarizing like war or hunger or politics.

Nope.

These comments are all referencing parenting, lifestyle, and fashion blogs. I checked out the blogs being discussed and I saw some happy people posting photos and writing. That’s about it. Some were great and some weren’t my cup of tea but none were anything to be hateful about.

For some reason people spend hours of each day tearing down other people online, and I mean hours. They religiously follow these bloggers that they supposedly hate and then endlessly comment dissecting everything from fashion choices to punctuation and values. They speculate about motives and intelligence and character. They dig through years of posts to find inconsistencies. They revel in their hatred and judgment of these pathetic people who are clearly so far beneath them. They frequently reference how these bloggers have no lives yet they spend their time, their precious time, obliterating people who they’ve never even met.

I can’t believe that all of these Internet commenters are actually this horrible to people in real life but something about the Internet tricks people into thinking that it’s ok to be mean, judgmental, and hateful. It’s not just this one site either it’s comments sections, podcasts, online magazines, facebook, and other fora. It has also seeped into real life. People love to chat about things and people and ideas that they hate, find stupid, annoying, etc.

The Internet seems to exacerbate the problem of divisive speech but it lives in our offline world as well. Gossip, abusive speech, idle chatter, call outs, and negativity are staples of modern culture. Nowadays we call it “snark” and act as though it’s charming and witty. I’ve spent so much time thinking about this mentality because while I never got into the online hate party I have absolutely participated in divisive talk in real life.

I work very hard every day to eliminate this kind of speech from my life but it is unbelievably difficult because it seems to be constant. Of all the moral high grounds people enjoy claiming there are very few discussions about the damage that our words can do. I believe this is because it’s easier to point to big things that most of us aren’t in any danger of committing (murder, rape, etc.) than to actually talk about the hateful acts that most of us engage in on a near-daily basis.

I’m a people pleaser by nature and when the hate ball starts rolling it’s easy for me to agree just for the sake of being easy. I don’t really feel the things that I say or nod along with but confrontation is not my strong suit. Whenever I slip up like this I feel a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I nod in agreement that so-and-so is stupid or crazy a feeling in my heart says “this is not the way”.

So, my wise and positive blogging friends, I ask you: how do you deal with hateful speech in person and online? Online it’s a bit easier to not participate or avoid ultra-negative websites, but in person sometimes the sources of this speech are people who we are fond of, love, or have to see/work with every day.

How do you stop a divisive or abusive conversation in its tracks?

What is the root of this type of hatred?

Is there anything we can do about it other than work on ourselves?

Let’s talk!

3 thoughts on “Friends of Positivity: Let’s Talk About Divisive Speech & The Culture of Constant Criticism

  1. Confrontation never fixes this sort of thing, because it’s fuelled by things we know nothing about. The best thing to do is ignore it, block offenders, don’t go to certain websites, don’t hang out with certain people, and work on yourself.

  2. I know exactly what you mean, and recently was in a telephone conversation with someone who went on a derisive rant about a jogger, a fat girl. I was shocked! It revealed something about this person who I didn’t know as well as I thought. I said, “She’s not a loser, she’s a hero! She’s doing it, maybe not well, but it’s more than you or me, and it’s harder for her than anyone else.” Sometimes throwing the “me” in there helps…

    But relating this to another person, she had a suggestion, one that I should have been aware of because I’ve raised children and trained dogs. It’s simple action. When you work with kids or dogs, you have to try to put your emotion aside and take action. My friends suggestion was to simply have said, “I’m not comfortable with the way this subject is being handled. I’ll talk to you later.” and hang up.

    That places the responsibility right back on the person who might realize that people won’t want to be around them when they misbehave, it cuts off arguments that might feed their sick needs, sends a clear message – just like putting a child in time out or a dog on a stay…

    No need to explain yourself later, fewer words are always better. If questioned, again put the responsibility right back on them. If they say they don’t get it, tell them they need to do some soul searching.

    I thought this was brilliant, and I feel, like you do, sick when I let things go, yet logic, emotional appeals and arguments don’t seem to work.

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