By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel
Will Rogers is remembered for saying, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Today he would probably change it to “person” he didn’t like.
That didn’t mean he always agreed with everyone or embraced their ideas. Rather, he was a humanitarian who believed everyone deserved respect and dignity. He was as comfortable with elderly men and women from the pioneer era as he was with Presidents, and treated them all the same.
Rogers died in a plane crash in 1935. When I mentioned his quote to a friend, he said bleakly, “Well, it’s different now, because of the internet.”
That may be true to an extent. Anyone with the slightest bit of computer savvy can write or say almost anything, no matter how offensive, and hide behind a screen name.
When I moved to Sauga-tuck in 1990 the term “trolls” was reserved for Lower Peninsula residents whom, like the mythical creatures in the fairy tales, lived below the (Mackinac) Bridge. Today, it means internet users who write unpleasant and inflammatory comments.
There have always been people who seem deficient in having nice things to say about others; today, it’s just easier to get away with it. But the ease of firing off a barrage of vitriol doesn’t make it right and is harmful to us all. All of the judgmental comments, labelling and branding become increasingly divisive.
The problem is, it is human nature to respond with our ancestral fight or flight mentality. We either give them what for, turn their noses to 12, dust their clocks, fire back an even more toxic message, or just drop out.
That’s a nutty way to live. Yet we do it because we’re dividing ourselves into tribes based on litmus and purity tests allowing little or no room for compromise or civility.
Many of us participated in small group activities such as the “I like game,” where you had to say five nice things about the person sitting next to you. Sometimes it was truly basic: I like your hair, I like the way you are kind to other people, and so on.
What we said about each other wasn’t nearly as important as the result. You see, it’s hard to take verbal potshots at someone after giving them a compliment.
It might not be a bad idea to pick a time, date and location and have an “I like you because” party.
I think about the old Red Green Show, where at the end Red would remind viewers, “Keep your stick on the ice, and remember, I’m pulling for you; we’re all in this together.”
We don’t have to agree on everything — or anything for that matter — and we can still work together.