In a recent essay for The Washington Post, novelist Ann Bauer offers a unique perspective on the angry world in which we find ourselves.
Bauer’s life was turned upside down just days before the 2016 presidential election. Her 28-year-old son died a mysterious death, and suddenly everything else took on the look of theater, somewhere outside the world of reality.
“Many wonderful people — from across the political spectrum — converged to help us during that time,” Bauer wrote. “They worked together to care for us, talking with civility and empathy about events and movies and even politics. They were worried we would give in to rage and despair … so somehow, they held up a light.”
Emerging from her grief months later, Bauer slowly realized the world at large had become a darker, meaner place.
“We assumed it was us, our grief making the entire nation feel like an oily, evil place,” she wrote.
Eventually, though, she realized the transformation was real. People everywhere were venting anger, around the clock, in person and online. Worse yet, they seemed to rejoice in the other side’s pain.
“Take it from someone who awakened into this new age,” she wrote. “The act of showering rage on strangers doesn’t move anything forward. The answer to neo-Nazi rage is not elite urban tantrums. Right now, chaos reigns.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) addressed the same issue in a recent comment on Twitter.
“We The People don’t like each other very much,” he wrote. “We smear those who refuse to agree with us. We claim a Judeo-Christian heritage but celebrate arrogance and boasting.”
Part of the problem is many of us live in a bubble of our own making.
In an interview with talk show host David Letterman, former President Barack Obama noted those who watch Fox News live in an entirely different reality than those who get much of their news from National Public Radio.
“One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don’t share a common baseline of facts,” he said. “What the Russians exploited, but it was already here, is we are operating in completely different information universes.”
We live in a world where Facebook and Twitter allow us to share whatever thought pops into our heads. And many of us do.
Bauer acknowledges it might be unrealistic to expect all of us to act every day like we would at a funeral, but she suggests that perhaps we can at least aim for civility.
“This doesn’t mean we stop standing up for what’s right or being outraged by injustice,” she wrote. “It’s about speaking with respect, avoiding hate and generally being decent.”
Al Cross, a friend and fellow journalist, recently shared on Facebook the obituary of one Eli George Jr. The obituary in a recent edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal speaks of a man in his mid-70s who was revered “for his wisdom, sage advice, quick wit and the ability to make anyone he encountered feel like the most special person in the world.”
The obituary notes love is the secret to a happy life, and it closes like this: “Expressions of sympathy can be made in the form of kindness. Be good to one another, especially those with whom you disagree. Find common ground. Pay it forward.”
Bauer, I’m sure, would second that advice.
“Be angry if you must, but be kind as well,” she wrote. “The two are not mutually exclusive. Contribute a little joy to the world. It’s the only way I see out of the chaos we’re in.”