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On any given day, I’m mad as hell. Aren’t we all? There are the usual triggers. The Trumpisms, the mischief making from our own politicians. The 14,000 immigrant children who don’t know where their parents are or if they will ever see them again thanks to another one of Trump’s mood swings.
That makes me furious. Rich white guys who gain power and set upon decimating those without it. That outrages me. The fact that enough people in the world vote for them makes me choleric. Who are they? Where have they been hiding? Are they standing beside me right now?
But it’s more than that. It’s the everyday disappointments that build to a crescendo of rage. Things that didn’t work out as planned. A jam-packed streetcar in rush hour with nowhere to move. A perceived slight, a loud breather, a late payment, a bank lineup, a towed car or a letdown.
And when I think my head is about to explode, I turn to social media…
There, I find a plethora of enraged people just like me. Tucked around the edges of inspirational memes and Buddhist quotes, manufactured selfies and matching family outfits is an unbridled rage that is shared by the world or at least the 26 people that can see your profile.
The outlet for all our rage is right at our fingertips. And boy are we using it. I recently saw a post from a total stranger, supporting a right-wing sentiment that I couldn’t wait to jump all over. I put in my 4-cents and in a nano second, he responded with, “Don’t give me your left-wing bleeding-heart bull, I stand by my post!” My fingers flew at the keyboard in vitriolic response. The minute I hit post, I felt instant gratification. About 10 seconds later, I felt like a jerk, too – but I was too proud to take my words back.
I’ve gotten into verbal volleyball spats with total strangers’ time and time again. “Clearly you’re an idiot,” “Why don’t you just shut-up?” and “Go away, just go away” are some of my craftier responses. I’m too lazy to get into a detailed debate, I just want to make them feel bad. The blood rushes to my head and I have no control over my responses.
Social-media rage starts to bleed over to my real life or as I call it, life without keys. I’ve lambasted Bell customer service employees till veins stick out on my head. I’ve had a Best Buy geek squad attendant tell me in a stern voice to be nice. And he was right. I just need someone to call it, and I fold.
I feel sick about my rage. It is misplaced and helpless. I scroll through online debates that go on for pages. Tits for tats that escalate into personal attacks on people’s intelligence level and worst of all... spelling and grammar. Yeah, that will get them. Instead of delving into a reasonable response, just go after a typo. We all know that a typo is the international sign for idiocy. Argument lost with one misplaced vowel. Such an easy triumph, it barely feels satisfactory.
Why exactly are we so mad? The phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” comes to mind. Think about it. Where do the most arguments erupt? Usually between close family members, romantic partners and people who just simply spend too much time together. The brother who sighs heavily after everything you say, the lover who only washes one side of a dish, the co-worker who takes credit for your ideas or leaves their food to rot in the communal fridge. If you let all that build up into a giant snowball of anger, it’s easy to go online and blow a fuse instead of dealing with the issue at hand.
But perhaps we are just getting too familiar on social media. What began as a fun way to reconnect and share tidbits about our lives has mushroomed into an exhaustive dissection into our social-political beliefs, beefs and griefs. The flip side of presenting a perfect fantasy life is the overshare – I’ve suffered through pictures of inflamed toe nails, swollen armpit growth and graphic details of an angry bowel. I mean, come on! This was supposed to be fun. I’ve discovered colleagues that are borderline racist and benign acquaintances that are homophobic. I know every inch of your anxiety, a job gone sour or a cheating spouse. No wonder I’m freaking out. I can’t take it all on. So, we get mad, we get even, we shut down strangers and relationships collapse into the finality of a friendship block: the ultimate slap in the face.
A wise friend of mine told me that when she comes across an adversarial exchange, she calmly asks her opponent to explain their point of view. She wants backup data when you challenge her posts. This puts people in a position of clearly stating or writing down exactly what they mean and claim to stand behind. It also says, “I’m listening, what do you have to say?” That alone cuts the fuse by half. It separates the oil from the water when you have to invest in research and rational thought. And in clarifying a point, there is a chance someone might not stand behind it so vehemently any more. You may actually be able to meet the other person half way in what used to be known as a conversation. I’m going to try it this year.
Let’s stop screaming at random strangers and listen. And as our mother’s said; if you don’t have anything nice to say…
Vickie Fagan lives in Toronto.