Sunday, January 23, 2011

Trolls Under Every Bridge

I once wrote about street artists on this blog, and about a former student who was inspired by them.  And then this fall, Shepard Fairey participated in the "Viva la Revolucion" show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and painted an incredible mural in the neighborhood adjacent to ours.  (Read here about one of Fairey's San Diego murals which was vandalized during the exhibit). 

So I was excited to see this article about another former student in today's paper.  Kyle has transformed himself from an angry, disconnected, and illegal tagger, and he is channeling his talent productively.  While his tagging didn't appear to have had political messages or the aim of raising social awareness, there's something fascinating about the public attention-getting that inspired it.  Certainly taggers and "legitimate" street artists have that in common. 

What I was not excited to see were the comments left by readers after the article, many of them mean and dismissive.  Most of them don't know this young man and his journey, struggles, and true character.  The commenters who know him signed under screen names.  I am more and more dismayed by the audacity of readers operating behind the mask of anonymity, or the likelihood of never seeing their target again. 

At least the Westboro Baptist Church stands behind its vitriol. 

Goodness, people, have your opinions!  Please, have your opinions; the world is richer with opinionated people.  But consider the vehicle you put them in and how you drive it.  It's okay to leave that Hummer in the garage sometimes. 

Speaking of driving, yesterday I made a rather bold left turn into parking lot traffic at Ikea, inspiring a man to snarl, "Nice driving!" at me as he passed my minivan.  I had to explain to my daughters that it wasn't my smartest nor safest move (although, in my defense I'd say it's a stretch to suggest I cut anyone off or caused more than a tap of brakes).  Honestly, that guy kind of bummed me out; I'm not so good at shrugging off negative commentary.  It's not that I don't have my own internal growling at fellow drivers running in my head.  I just think in your head is a good place to keep it.  I'm guessing the woman who gestured angrily at me in an intersection several years ago wishes she had kept her frustration to herself--after she realized I was her daughter's teacher.

I once left a comment about my experience with professional development after an article about the International Baccalaureate Program in our local paper.  When someone personally attacked me and my benign response, I identified that "someone" as a woman from another state with a website and mission to "reveal the true facts" about IB.  Though I happen to be a fan of the IB curriculum, I am interested in hearing why others are not.  But when "dialogue" opens with a detractor making broad assumptions about me and my livelihood and motives, I quickly lose interest in discourse.  Even being defensive isn't fun when you're caught in an endless loop of reprisals; I just pack up my bat and ball and go home.   It isn't even ironic that the anti-IB website has a page dedicated to bemoaning the hateful responses in defense of IB that the site has inspired. 

The Internet has provided us with an immediate outlet for our strong opinions and proclivities for spiteful backlash.  We no longer have to type, print, lick and affix stamp (steps which provide opportunity for reconsidering one's thoughts), mail our commentary, and wait to see if it's published.  We can watch the drama unfold minute by minute as we react and our responses spawn retorts.  I try to imagine the "trolls," the anonymous and often irrational Internet instigators, in their homes, at their computers.  Who are these people?  Do I work with them?  What would they say to my face?  Collectively, I suppose they represent the pettiest, meanest, nit-pickiest, and most biased and judgmental parts of ourselves. 

I have to wonder what happened to wondering.  To inquiry.  To thoughtful probing, followed by listening.   Reasonable and respectful expression of thoughts and opinions ought to beget similarly rational responses.

Let's go back to acknowledging no one is right all of the time, that being right doesn't matter all of the time, that we're all busy trying to figure it all out, anyway.  Muddling through. 

As my grandfather loved to quote, "I never make mistakes.  I thought I did once, but I was wrong." 

A little humility, I think, is what we need.

Feel free to disagree.

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