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Bullying for a cause: You don't get to make me feel sad

On Life

Ruminations and provocations.

Bullying for a cause: You don't get to make me feel sad

Stephen H. Provost

The savage and heinous assaults on innocent civilians in Paris that took place on Nov. 13 have unleashed a predictable torrent of self-righteous indignation on social media. 

  • "Facebook's providing this really cool French flag overlay. Why aren't you using it on your profile picture? Are you heartless?"
  • "Do you really think using changing your profile is going to accomplish anything? You're just trying to make yourself feel better. Quit being so shallow."
  • And my favorite: "What about all the people who died in those terrorist attacks in Kenya and Beirut? Why didn't you change your profile picture then, you xenophobic so-and-so?"

Ah, social media. The place where good intentions somehow become bad vibes as users rush to judgment like jackals on a feeding frenzy, laughing in ridicule at people they call their "friends" as they feed on the corpse of human tragedy. If that sounds harsh, it's intentional. Because this is what people look like when they go around demanding that their friends be sad.

My response to all this: Who are you to tell me why to feel sad? Come to think of it, why do you want me to feel sad in the first place?

It seems to me the height of arrogance for one person to tell another, "If you feel sad about this, you must feel sad about this other thing, too. And not just sad, but equally sad. Heck, more sad, because it's more important to me."

Compassion should know no boundaries. It shouldn't be dependent on where we live in the world, what color our skin is or whether we worship (or decline to worship) this or that deity. But demeaning someone for showing compassion in one case and failing - according to your definition - to show it in another won't resolve anything. What it will do is make compassionate people angry at and wary of one another. Instead of railing against each other, shouldn't we be focusing on the problems that are making people sad in the first place?

News flash: Most people don't enjoy being sad. Or outraged. Most people want exactly the opposite. They want happiness, support and respect. Heaping tragedy upon tragedy and demanding that people be sad or outraged about each new one in turn won't heal us from those that have already occurred or prevent others from happening down the road. It's going to do the opposite. It's going to make people numb and indifferent.

I'm sorry, but you don't get to make me feel sad, no matter how worthy your cause or how justified you may feel in your judgments. And if you think calling me racist or xenophobic or ignorant or insensitive is going to help your cause, go right ahead, because, you see, I know it won't. All it will do is encourage me to tune you out. That's what people do when people start calling them names.

People don't like being attacked - even in the name of what someone else considers "a good cause." Those of us who have been bullied know from experience that our tormentors often hide behind "good causes" to justified their actions. When someone tries to "convince" us by using force, guilt or manipulation, we stop listening to the message and pay attention to the method. People who use such tactics often do so because they're trying to hide some deficiency in their argument. Most of us won't even analyze their motivations to that extent. We see what we perceive as a threat, and our fight-or-flight response kicks in.

Sometimes, the squeaky wheel doesn't get the grease. Sometimes it gets ignored and just falls off. And sometimes it gets replaced altogether.

It's inhuman cruelty we're trying to stop here, not compassion. If someone shows compassion, and you say, "Yes, but," I can't see how that helps the situation. Awareness doesn't come through judgmental declarations (which, incidentally, the purveyors of fear and cruelty are very good at making themselves), it comes by spreading compassion. And compassion never spreads through demands and accusations. It spreads through encouragement and empathy.

So please, if someone's sad about something, don't jump down that person's throat and say, "Yes, but what about (fill in the blank) ... ?" Meet compassion with compassion. That's the way it grows.