Politicians must set their aims for the high ground and according to our various leanings, Democratic, Republican, Independent, we will follow. Politicians must be told if they continue to sink into the mud of obscenity, they will proceed alone. —Maya Angelou
I’m sure I’m not the only one whose parents offered those words of instruction. They’re hardly new, and seldom heeded even by the people who are encouraging such behavior. We all know that we shouldn’t be saying mean and hurtful things, that we shouldn’t be throwing verbal mud at each other, but we can hardly resist doing so, especially when the media of communication we’re using encourage and even thrives on our misdeeds. Can you imagine Facebook without all the ranting and raving? Can you imagine Twitter without #MeanTweets? If anything, we have attempted to turn mud slinging into an art form.
Actually, I understand what late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel is trying to do with the #MeanTweets hashtag. The theory is that by making fun of the most severe forms of rudeness and impoliteness that one takes away any power they might have had and turns the meanness back onto the person who said such things in the first place by subjecting them to ridicule. When read by the person to whom they’re directed, the original insult becomes powerless and the person who authored the tweet is, in theory, humiliated. The problem with the Internet and modern society, though, is that once the trolls find out they can get their name mentioned on television, they begin creating even more severe insults in hopes of even a fleeting second’s worth of notoriety.
Slinging mud is not new, of course. Societies have been spewing all manner of rottenness, sometimes in a very physical sense, at those they don’t like for as long as we have existed. While the term “mud slinging” only goes back to the late 19th century, I would not be the least bit surprised to find that our earliest non-verbal ancestors actually threw mud at each other before they discovered that rocks had a much more permanent effect. People say or do something that we don’t like and we feel compelled to respond in kind. One might argue that this is human nature.
I’m not opposed to mud in its natural form. Today’s picture merges two of my favorite forms of mud. I’ve even offered to shoot weddings for free if they would perform the ceremony nude in the mud. Certain forms of mud can also be used as an industrial lubricant, which I’ve always found interesting. There are plenty of pleasant and acceptable uses for mud that are not only not mean, but artistic and beautiful and maybe even somewhat desirable. These are the forms and uses of mud which we should more readily and universally embrace. A Miss Mud Universe pageant, anyone?
The thing about throwing mud at other people is that to do so we have to get muddy ourselves. The more we toss mud at others the more likely we are to find ourselves slipping in that mud and ultimately we become more covered in mud than does our target. We know better. We know we’re losing more ground than we’re gaining when we engage in less-than-honorable activities. Is the definition of a fool not one who knows to do better and refuses to do so? I would much rather work with people who roll naked in the mud for fun than those who are constantly slinging it at others. Let’s be more careful what we do with mud. Think art, not harm.