I used to wonder about the people on the road.
Where were they going? What were they doing? Why were they in such a hurry? Why were they going so slow? Why do they wear their hair like that? Why would they pick such an ugly car, or how could they afford such a nice car?
When they would honk or flip me off, I would think they needed anger management classes. When they wouldn’t let me merge, I would swear a bit and call them a jerkface. When they wouldn’t let me take my turn in the McDonald’s double drive-thru, I would wonder if they go to church and if their clergy knew they weren’t being fair.
But since COVID-19 has arrived, I don’t wonder those things anymore—because I know who they are.
I read their comments every day on social media. The anger, the fear, the control, the dickishness, the douchebaggery.
Now I know who the guy in the red Corvette is. He’s the one who says, “Screw you, I don’t care what any of you do—just let me do my thing.”
Now I know the pursed-lips lady in the Tesla. She’s the one who shakes her head at the ones not wearing masks, all the while looking down her thin long nose at them.
I know the guy in the jacked up Ford. He’s the one with the concealed carry permit who says,”Don’t trample on my rights or you’ll be sorry.”
The girl in the old Jeep Wagoneer? She’s the one who asks, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Then there’s the one in the 18-wheeler semi. He’s bald. His comment is usually: “Get out of my way—I ain’t got time for this crap. If you want your toilet paper, you better stand down!”
Of course these are all just generalizations of people based on their appearance or material things, but isn’t that what we do when we read one comment on social media? One sentence or one paragraph out of 50 million sentences or paragraphs in that person’s lifetime?
Yet we take that one sentence, that one paragraph, and decide that’s all we need to know about them. I mean, they’re obviously racist or they’re obviously a protester. They obviously don’t care about their country. If they support this thing, then they must support that thing. If they cut me off, they must be a jerk. They certainly couldn’t be so deep in their own thoughts, worried about their child or the fight they just had with their spouse, that they made a mistake. If they flipped me off they must be a gun-toting rebel. They couldn’t have just gotten fired and are still angry at the world.
It sounds ridiculous, but don’t we all do it?
What would it look like if we dropped all the assumptions and labels for just a minute? What if we didn’t read into anything or assume things based on our own experiences and traumas?
What if we gave people the benefit of the doubt that they were doing the best they can?
It’s pretty hard to do when you read all the arguing on social media. All the knee-jerk responses. Hard to do when you see someone trying to prove their point by turning cruel.
It makes me crazy, even though I am certainly guilty of being passionate about certain things, and I do get caught up in the madness. I have found myself going down the rabbit hole on social media—offering never-ending opinions in response to the never-ending opinions.
Sometimes, things work themselves out without our input. And taking a break from the news, or the comments, or the judgement is not sticking our heads in the sand if it’s saving us from emotional distress and anger, if it allows us to remember that these people are all human, like us.
If only we could just step back for a minute and let our true, sensible selves come out. If only we could go back to basics, to the truth as we once knew it—to the innocence of a child who believes that everyone is good.
If only we could just take a little bit of that unfiltered wisdom and believe that not all religions are cults, not all whites are racists, not all cops are bad, or any other narrative that had been fed to us by the outside world and sometimes our own parents.
If we could only regain our neutrality, our equanimity, and still be an advocate and be passionate about things without getting all crazy—wouldn’t it be a wonderful world?