I don’t enjoy any kind of danger or volatility. I don’t have that kind of ‘I love the bad guys’ thing. No, no thank you. I like nice people.—Tina Fey
Finding nice things to say can sometimes be very difficult. Yesterday, for example, one presidential candidate said he wanted to punch a protester. News the past few days has been littered with claims of one person disparaging another, someone shooting someone else because they said the wrong thing, and people who are supposed to be leaders outright lying about facts that are easily checked.
Social media is even worse. Descriptors such as, “idiot,” “slut,” and “jackass” are commonplace as people respond to topics with which they disagree. Do the people speaking actually know the ones they’re insulting? No, of course not. One thing social media is very good at doing is encouraging us to participate in discussions about which we know very little. In fact, the success of apps such as Twitter and Reddit depend on us not being able to keep our mouths shut when silence would certainly be the better tact.
Fashion isn’t any better. I am trying this season to avoid reviewing shows that I dislike. I’m fortunate to have a choice in which shows I cover and I see no point in putting myself, the designer, nor Pattern’s readers through the agony of discussing something I don’t like. Not everyone is so fortunate, however. Between shows, I frequently listen to the panels assembled at SHOWStudio. Participants are tasked with talking about a designer’s collection not only for the duration of the show (which I ignore) but for at least 30 minutes afterward. When a presentation is good, finding something to talk about for that length of time can be excruciatingly difficult. Inevitably, the talk turns negative, and at times even vicious.
We have become a society of mean speakers. The ancient advice of, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” is lost on us. Instead, we embrace what we consider the “right” to say anything we want, anytime, anywhere, and we think we should be able to do so without any consequence. Should anyone challenge our comments in the slightest, we fire back with some claim of “free speech.” Never mind that what we say may be hurting someone else. We don’t care. We have a right to open our mouths and let filth and disgust spill from them, so that is exactly what we do.
Body shaming has become a global pastime and photographers and photo editors are among the worst, not only in how we talk about models, but how we rate photographs based on the physical qualities of the model. I can shoot two different models in the same location and the same time of day wearing the same garment and exactly the same settings, but the photo of the thinner model is inevitably rated higher than that of the more curvy model, even when both are smaller than a size 6. One of the reasons I rarely participate in photographer’s forums online is because there are too many who have absolutely nothing civil to say about anyone.
Even church isn’t safe. When the Pope and a politician exchange insults, what kind of example does that set? Pulpits have become dispensaries of hate and aggression rather than sanctuaries of peace and love.
As a result, we are becoming increasingly violent and intolerant of one another. The recent murder spree by an Uber driver in Michigan wasn’t a random act so much as it was the physical manifestation of anger and resentment building up in all of us. This guy wasn’t crazy. He’s every bit like you and me, angry at society and the world. The difference is that he took his actions too far, going beyond words and deciding to use bullets the same way he might otherwise have randomly left mean and inappropriate comments on some website. We shudder at the horror of what he did, but are the rest of us really all that far removed from doing exactly the same thing?
What we say matters. Words do hurt, and the example we set with our words has the ability to destory our entire civilization. We cannot coexist in a situation where we have lot the ability to say anything nice about each other. When our first response is one of sarcasm, belittling, and finding the worst even in other’s good intentions, we pick away at the threads that hold our society together.
I’m guilty. You’re guilty. We have to do better. We have to find more ways to be nice to each other. We’ve been mean and self-centered for so very long, that being nice is going to take considerable effort. Turning around what have become instinctual responses is going to take time. Even more, we need to stop accepting such meanness from others, especially those in positions of authority and those campaigning for those positions. When someone decides to be mean toward another, we need to walk away, withdraw any evidence of support, and go elsewhere.
Being nice isn’t all that difficult. We can be truthful without being mean. We can disagree without being insulting. Our words are killing us. All of us. Say something nice, will you?