Is it just me, or has it been only until recently that real people, many of whom we might know only slightly if at all, have become our new favorite people to hate? It used to be that we all could join together in lamenting the human unpleasantness of Eddie Haskell or J.R. Ewing. We could be decent people while still cheering against The Joker or Lex Luthor. And we could heap a deserving serving of disdain on the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy or even Hitler.
Nowadays, however, the appetite for dragging our local and far less nefarious neighbors through the mud seems to be on an alarming increase. Recently in Milton, the public and even some media outlets were chomping at the bit to see the Milton School District superintendent and director of administrative operations have their lives upended and careers destroyed. As someone in the midst of media communications, while I do believe some grave miscalculations and missteps were made that compounded the image problems of the district, I don’t believe the characterizations of those individuals as community villains was fair or justified.
The same is true of the vitriolic comments I witnessed surrounding the Janesville City Council candidates. All candidates deserve our respect. The voters deserve our respect once the outcome has been determined. The winning candidates deserve respect, as a majority of the voters elected them. But some residents supporting the candidate who did not win immediately sought to throw verbal and social media “stones” at those duly elected, suggesting they were of villainous intent or even part of some conspiracy.
Most recently, people who arguably helped build Janesville and the volunteers that wanted to recognize that fact were made into villains. The comments I read across social media channels as Blackhawk Community Credit Union and its volunteers tried to give mementos of the GM plant in the form of bricks during a May 4 event were tactless, mean spirited and spiteful, not to mention completely unnecessary. Some commenters villainized the people seeking a physical embodiment of a memory. Some villainized the volunteers for putting the bricks in plastic bags. Some were sure that the process was “fixed” to exclude them by some covert group of people. Some just had nothing good to say about a company or the workers that supported the lives of thousands of Janesville residents.
Of course, these local examples can be followed upstream to state and federal legislators and our president. In my book, Paul Ryan is the biggest local example of our culture making master villains out of fellow citizens. Paul loves people, he loves his community, and he attempted to navigate through the roughest political ocean most of us have ever experienced. He probably made some unpopular decisions and a few missteps. However, the amount of social media “muck” that will live on forever whenever someone searches the name of the former House speaker makes me nauseous.
The days of my Mother’s best advice, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” are sadly gone. Many of the worst comments I read regarding the examples cited here were from people I daresay never had the chance to say more than a couple of sentences to any of those individuals. I hope we can find our kinder hearts and restore civility to our county, state and country. I pray that when we have the choice to say something encouraging over something disparaging, we choose the former. But I doubt that will happen unless we are willing to recognize the greatest villain standing in our way of doing so might just be ourselves.