Just Because You Can, Should You?

“When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’” – John 8:7


Why are people so terrible?  Do you ever ask yourself that?  Why do we take something that is none of our business and turn it into everyone’s?  Do we not understand the power of our words?  Of our actions?  Of our choices?  It’s like we can’t stop ourselves.  We have no filter.  Our opinion needs to be heard.  Our feelings on a certain situation need to be expressed.  Others need to know!  They need to see!  Instantly.  It’s a reflex.  It’s almost like nothing counts unless it’s shared via social media for everyone to witness.  We need the likes, the shares, the comments, the validation that comes with the world hearing us.  We feel empowered.  Encouraged.  It feeds our ego with a great sense of satisfaction, but here’s the thing…

It’s not all about us.

So, quick back story:  Yesterday a friend of mine texted me the link to this post on some guy’s sports blog with a title about racism being alive and well in Nebraska.  Just below the title there were two pictures that someone had taken on their phone – one of the woman sitting in front of them in the bleachers (they were taken at a basketball game) and one of a text conversation that woman was having on her cell phone.  Nestled among the texts was a racial slur.  The caption?  “I guess maybe a picture does speak a thousand words…”  Obviously, the article went viral in a matter of minutes and it didn’t take long for my hometown – population 1,258 – to get a hold of it and plaster it all over their Facebook news feeds eliciting the vile comments of all who scrolled past and paused to pass their judgment on the situation.  The woman in the picture is a resident of the next town over.  That town can’t even be technically classified as a town.  There aren’t enough people living in it.  It’s a village.  Seriously.  There are 593 residents according to the last census.

Now, I don’t know if any of you reading this grew up in a small town but if you did, you understand the grossly prevalent concept that your business is never your own.  Residents joke about it, country artists sing about it, movies and TV shows make fun of it.  It’s a thing.  Small towns seethe with gossip.  Whispers and “Well I heard”s breeze off the lips of locals and make their way around town as quickly as a chain of evenly spaced dominoes toppling in perfect succession.  A reputation can be ruined in an afternoon.  Did you ever see the movie “Doubt?”  It came out in the early 20-teens or something.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays this priest and Meryl Streep is this super intense nun that tries to get him fired (Do priests get fired?).  Any way, there is this great opening scene where Hoffman is giving this homily to the congregation and he compares gossip to taking a feather pillow and ripping it open outside on a windy day.  The feathers get carried away by the wind and you can try to run around afterwards and find the feathers and pick them up and stuff them back into the pillow, but it will never work.  You’ll never find all the feathers.  The pillow will never be the same.  “That,” he says at the end “is gossip.”  It’s such a cool scene and such a spot on comparison.

So people are sharing this blog post and this woman’s picture on Facebook and people are commenting on how ignorant and callous and racist she is.  They’re name calling and finger pointing and chastising, flippantly adding their two cents as a judgmental addition to the list then scrolling on mindlessly to the next post that catches their eye.  Feathers are flying around everywhere and nobody cares.  It’s disgusting.  People are destroying this woman’s reputation one keystroke at a time and then going about their daily routine without a blink of remorse.  What’s worse?  These people are her friends.  Her neighbors.  Her community.  And, here’s my question (Well, one of them.  I have many.):  Who are they to say anything at all?  I know lots of these opinionated keyboard condemners and I can say that a generous handful of them are not without fault themselves.  Let he among us without sin be the first to condemn, yes?  Apparently not in this case.  Instead, folks can play pious shamers, internally elevating themselves above this obviously – according to them – moral-less, hateful woman only because they haven’t been caught themselves and thrown to that which is the merciless beast of the internet.  And that’s not excluding the guy that took the pictures and caption and ran with it.  An actual quote from his post reads that he is, “shocked that we are still here as a country and as a people and that something as devastating as what’s being passed around via the information super-highway is done so with such a callousness and such disregard for fellow human beings.”  Are you kidding me?  What a double standard.  Ranting about disregard for others and doing the exact same thing via blog post.  I can’t even handle it.

The context of this woman’s text conversation went like this:  She sent a message to someone commenting on how full the gym was for the game.  That person responded with a text asking if the gym was full of *insert racial slur here*.  She responded that it was.  Now, should that slur have been sent?  Probably not.  Should we still be using racial slurs in casual conversation, be it electronic or in person?  No.  But, have we all done it at one point in our lives whether joking or serious?  Most likely.  If not, have we ever maybe said something backhanded or rude that in the heat of the moment seemed totally justified but after the fact we came to regret and wished we could take back?  Who hasn’t!  That’s what makes this whole situation all the more outrageous!  These people are assaulting this woman over something that they’ve most likely been guilty of themselves!  How is that okay?  This woman lives in a town of 593 people.  She had to delete her Facebook page.  She won’t be able to get groceries, or her mail, or grab a freakin’ cup of coffee without being judged – outright or internally – by those around her.  I mean, can you imagine that?  Can you seriously imagine that situation?  Imagine if it were you.  Even if you’re sorry about it and regret it and apologize for it, it won’t matter.

It’s probably true that after a while – most likely a long while – things will blow over and people will get over it and the story will become something that gets casually brought up every once in a while, but still.  Her privacy was literally ripped to shreds because some nosy *insert caustic expletive here* (I gave up swearing for Lent.) thought eavesdropping on someone’s text conversation was okay, then thought it was also okay to share it in some capacity that it got around to a sports blogger’s inbox who thought it was okay to broadcast it to the world.  I mean, do these people even think?  Also, why is this news?  It’s – to quote my husband – a perfect example of people looking for “internet points” (See the intro paragraph).  We want recognition of our opinions.  At who’s expense?  We don’t care.  It’s heartless.  Small town values?  Apparently they only apply in certain situations.

Is racism okay?  No.  But neither is taking someone else’s business and making it your own.  The good and the bad we put out into this world have a way of coming back around to us and in the end we all meet the same fate, but perhaps we ought to take an extra minute for our minds to play out all the consequences of our actions before we hit send because once we tear that pillow open no one can contain the feathers.