[Ed: including to my bad pretend Italian]
. . . the question is: what did we just witness?
Once upon a time in an Italian bar/cafe, there was a bit of a dust-up. A woman spray-painted into clothes that could conceivably be construed as the work uniform of a Professional sort of woman was becoming very vocal in her criticism of the bartender who would not fill her order for a drink refill. As it was still quite early in the forenoon and it was perfectly evident to even the least astute detective in the place that she had already quaffed quite a number of drinks, the knowing grins around the room were clearly in support of the barman’s side of the difference, but that interested la dama not at all, if she was capable of noticing. This was highly unlikely, given how much energy she was devoting to berating and abusing the barman and impugning his humanity, his virility, his lineage, his bartending skills, and anything else she could think up to fling at him in epithetic form, all the while storming back and forth as though onstage in her own melodrama. I, for one, didn’t need to know any real Italian to know either what the situation was or how graphic her language. Finally she did decide to appeal to the cafe patrons for support in her cause, and spun around, all wild hair and spandex, screaming “Siete tutti testimoni!”
And indeed we all were witnesses. It’s just that she failed to realize we were witnesses not to any crime or indignity being perpetrated against her but quite the opposite, had witnessed her being a noisy louse, a jerk, e una idiota estrema.
Keeping a low profile with our badness and stupidity is never easy, no sir. Keeping a secret, always on the verge of impossible; otherwise there would never be any big deal made of it. But we all have plenty of times when we’d far prefer no one were paying us any attention. Don’t tell me you’ve never said or done something dopey or rotten and then fervently wished the earth would open up and swallow you. If that were so, your halo would be blinding the rest of us and eventually you’d be shunned and banished from the general company, because tolerably ordinary mortals make mistakes and have faults.
What wouldn’t any of us give to have our own permanent magician’s assistant devoted to diverting the universal attention from our every slip and slight! Lacking that sleight-of-hand, though, we continue to make our every faux pas and fumble right out in front of everybody, and even those failures seemingly accomplished in private tend more often than not to be exposed with astonishing speed. If we were to be visibly dirtied by our every inward flaw, we would look like nothing so much as a whole race of ambulatory mud pies.
So many ways to get into trouble . . .
The Age of Communication, despite sounding like the cheery promise of more perfect interaction and dialogue between us, has instead mostly created a false sense of remove and anonymity within which many people shed their garments of civility and openly abuse the supposed cover by being ever bolder and more crude in exercising their own imperfections with great abandon, all the while excoriating others whose flaws don’t match their own. Trolls, flamers and lurkers abound.
This isn’t, of course, new. Criminals and miscreants of every flavor have existed since the beginning of recorded time. We merely update our approach to use these newer electronic tools in order to make our awfulness easier to enact or to use new methods that seem to offer better cover for our creeping nastiness.
A fellow blogger recently ‘went public’ with the exposure of one such despicable attack, made via a “comment” on her blog that was nothing less than a vile spewing of personal hatred in the form of threats against her and her child. One can, I imagine, debate endlessly about cause and culpability if one wishes to wade through the possibility of such an attacker’s being non compos mentis or under duress from such-and-such mitigation–while we’re all demonstrably fallible we like to think no real, healthy, normal human would do such a thing to another let alone do so before the eyes of the world. Why and how, however, seem to me to be less helpful questions to ask first than “now what?”
No matter how much we’d like to sweep ugliness under any available rug and forget it, it doesn’t cease to exist–nor do we, however unwittingly or inadvertently or driven by whatever illness or desperation, cease to create more ugliness. The question remains, where do we go from here? Lady Macbeth and all the rest of us know that What is done cannot be undone, so how do we move forward?
Recent events have nagged me into puzzling more than usual in this vein lately. The hideous mass murder in Norway a mere few weeks ago was a terrifying reminder of the ever-present ugly underside of human nature. Americans have been publicly obsessing over how to acknowledge and commemorate the decade-past monstrosity of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Crime waves go up and down but as seasick as they make us we never seem to stop them.
The blogger who published her attacker’s wrong, it seems to me, was wise. She knows that there is a much larger community of people that choose kindness, thoughtful discourse, mutual support and what we believe to be a fundamental good among us that can’t be destroyed by the bad. That we will rise up and, each in our own way, say so when we see someone saying or doing horrid things or being terrible is the only reasonable recourse–silence is complicity or at the very least, acquiescence. And so I must stand with my fellow blogger, and with all my fellow believers in a certain kind of peace, and say to all enemies of that peace that hatred and violence of any kind are not welcome here. In the ether, or on the earth. Not anywhere
Weird and simplistic and naive as it sounds, I think the only way to stop people from doing really evil things is to make them want to stop doing them. [Huh??]
I am making no miraculous proposals here. I own no magic potion, know no transformative incantation, have no universal antidote to hatred and cruelty and incivility. But what I am beginning to learn at this ripe old age is that only by making the first incremental move toward a solution do we have any hope of finding or creating a solution. The only such move I can see that’s feasible for non-magicians is to confront and oppose meanness and wickedness when we see them. Merely standing in open defiance of what we believe is wrong is all that some of us can do, but we surely must do it.
So even though I abhor wallowing in public maundering over unchangeable griefs and agonies past and will not likely take a lot of visible action in response to the 9/11 anniversary or the Norwegian rampage, I will resist the witness-intimidation tactics of both my own passive don’t-get-involved nature and that of the would-be wrongdoers out there and say, Choose better. Being a jerk or worse yet, an openly abusive or cruel or vicious person, has no place among real people. Deliberate kindness and goodness are actually meant to be the norm and should be practiced. Sounds childlike, maybe, but I just have to stand as witness to this.
We’re all witnesses.