Update from Italy: When Fear Looks Like Hate

A Japanese Kannon (Kuan Yin) statue, the deity of limitless compassion, with her thousand arms and hands ready to help and support those in pain and in need. Photo by Hiroshi Tsubono on Unsplash

I fled Facebook a few years ago (with few exceptions) because its psychic sludge was prompting daily cortisol reactions and making me feel ill. I’m not a fan of denial, but neither do I wish to be barraged by online discord that thrives in the echo chamber of social media. I want to work for social change in a meaningful way, whenever possible. What that looks like exactly is something I am always considering.

A friend urged me to migrate to Instagram, a Facebook product. I was heartened by its positivity and minimal signs of political/cultural conflict. It’s full of pretty pictures that calm and soothe. Ahhhh la bellezza! I started posting my pictures there daily.

A friend shared a Twitter screencap on Instagram (the infinite loop of social media!). I adore this friend and her work for social change, but the reshared message stopped me mid-scroll.

Well, here we go again. Instagram, a Facebook product, is now about as fun as Facebook. (No fun.)

I commented. I felt I had to. (This is how social media gets you!) This observation is reductive, I wrote. We know this. Hate comes from fear. People don’t love to hate. People are driven by cold fear. This is what America looks like when people eat fear for breakfast.

My friend didn’t respond or reply. The screencaps kept getting posted.

That’ll learn me, I felt with some remorse. I’d been gone so long from social media that I forgot how much people just scream, and then ignore. Scream, ignore, repeat. Scream, ignore, repeat. Even good people. Being upset takes a lot of energy. Then, after that, listening? Forget about it; who has energy for that, after being in the arena for hours, days, an age?

That person who pissed you off? I assure you that they did not wake up today and think, I wonder how I can really make that other person mad today. Like furious! They woke up, and were going through their day, and then something happened that triggered them into a fear-based response. To think that they singled you out, or a group of people out, to annoy you to the exclusion of any other intent, intended or not, is to think with the mind of a child. It is the cry of an ego that is smarting. We all have egos, and they all wince, some daily, some multiple times per day. This is normal. What’s not healthy is to not see things as they are, and to take things less personally.

People don’t love to hate. People are driven by fear. They’ve got genuine fears that look a lot like anger. Maybe listen to the reasons for that fear? Can we work on listening? Can we respect the fears of others, even if they are not our own shared fears? We all know what stone cold fear feels like. I’m talking about the kind forms cold puddles in the bottom of your stomach and makes you feel like you’ve been sucking helium out of party balloons.

This would require a new understanding and use of social media. Part of the problem is that disembodied discourses in the online space bring out the worst in people. You can do an insult drive-by and never reap the consequences. I’ve never done it, but have been on the receiving end.

We can all agree, we want to lay down the fear. Don’t we? Everyone in America is so hopped up on anxiety and anger and fear that no one is thinking straight anymore. Seventeen million guns were sold last year in America. This is madness, and indicative of a deeply rooted problem. Rooted in fear. A delusive fear that endangers and tricks people into creating a more dangerous world. Which creates more fear. The cycle of fear and hate will consume us.

I’m not saying to condone hateful speech, but to listen and to really hear where it’s coming from. And prioritize having more conversations in person. You’ll never change anyone’s mind online in what passes for an exchange.

We all need to work on the imaginative empathy muscle. It’s the only way out of the pit of anger, hate, and fear. Can you put down your triggered response, and see things for what they are? A world full of fear and people in need of compassion? Can we try to talk – and listen – to people in person?

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