If You Think We’re Becoming a Country of Mean Girls You Might Be Right
It is just me or have we, as a nation, lost our big-heartedness? Our spirit of generosity? This past week I experienced two separate incidents that drove home a disturbing picture of our growing lack of tolerance.
A recent TikTok video clip went viral that I think captures our current climate of narrow-mindedness. The creator, Lubalin, took a text message thread and set it to music.
In this clip, three women discussed their relationship with an old friend named Caroline. One lady claimed that Caroline had stolen her broccoli casserole recipe eight years ago. She then warned, “Be careful who your friends are.”
Amidst these ladies’ misspelled interaction, the pettiness and irony are not lost. Obviously, this was not a friendly conversation with its mean-spirited backbiting. Caroline is the real victim who probably was unaware that these women couldn’t be trusted.
Why has this clip gone viral? I’m sure Lubalin’s masterful reenactment of this text conversation and hauntingly beautiful musical score are two major reasons, but I also think this clip offers a painful reflection of our country’s current climate.
We’ve come through a very contentious election year amid a pandemic. We have fallen along odd dividing lines. Research has shown that times of prolonged disasters can reshape our social groups. In the article, The psychology of coronavirus and how to manage it, Annebelle Timsitt reminds us that it is fear that drives us to point the finger at others. She goes on to quote psychologist David DeSteno who wrote in a NY Times editorial that such situations make us:
“more susceptible to embracing fake claims and potentially problematic, hostile or fearful attitudes toward those around us — claims and attitudes that in turn reinforce our fear and amp up the cycle.”
The critical factor is trust — something that is in pretty short supply right now. We’ve seen those in power commit horrifying acts in the name of self-interest and lethal brutality to the most vulnerable among us.
Chronic stress and risk can give rise to odd paranoia. We are more likely to react based on fear yet mistaken our beliefs for rational thinking. In Psychology Today’s article, Matthew Legge summarizes it this way:
There’s a level of uncertainty, ambiguity, or ignorance behind all decisions. We make our choice based on one interpretation of the data that we’re aware of…. Where we enter shaky terrain is in saying more than we’re able to without realizing it and then attacking people who don’t agree.
Twice recently, I’ve seen the same pettiness featured in Lubalin’s video on display, not about something as silly as a recipe, but in human’s lives.
The first happened in response to a set of photos I posted on my personal social media page. I’d taken a walk through my neighborhood. In one of the nearby yards was a visually provocative display. The owners had filled their lawn with bright orange, red, and white flags — the kind used to mark utility lines. Hundreds, maybe thousands, covered every square inch of this small patch of green.
In the center of the yard was a sign that read, “Texans Lost to COVID-19: 27,313.”
I posted the image along with this comment, “A powerful view on today’s walk. I traveled in a different direction.”
Oh my, the reactions I got.
Someone wanted to know if this statistic was the number of people who died “with” or “from” COVID-19.
Another became combative.
She then wrote, “seems a little gaslightish [sic]. People die unnecessarily every day. Car accident[s] from distracted driving, [to]falling, [and]not being able to get a biopsy because they furloughed [their] doctor.”
This was just a series of photos I’d taken during a walk — a common practice of mine.
A similar reaction to one I got about the pictures happened again in a text conversation. In a group thread of condo owners, a heated debate broke out about the veracity of wearing masks, COVID-19 death statistics, and the need for social distancing.
Neighbors of mine became hostile in their opinions. The conversation got so intense that one owner, who had recently lost family members to COVID-19, left the group. Until these texts, I had respected these individuals and had assumed I could turn to them for help; now I’m not so sure. Their lack of sensitivity for his loss disturbed me.
What’s going on with us?
Yes, we are in the midst of a terrible situation. Our national pandemic policies intersect with our personal rights and care of others and probably will have far-reaching effects. We are faced with a unique opportunity to make things worse or better for those around us.
Whether our country is taking the right steps to protect its populace from the coronavirus certainly is up for discussion. However, our response to one another during this crisis is revelatory.
Lately, we’ve not been a very kind country.
Maybe you’ve thought this for a while.
The person who responded to my social media post knew my son has a severely compromised immune system. He may not survive a COVID-19 infection, having just battled leukemia. She also knew I’m a widow who has suffered catastrophic losses. Why did she need to post a reaction? Was that the most thoughtful thing she could have done?
And what about my neighbors who were cruel during that text conversation? They continued to argue, even after learning another owner had lost family to this pandemic. Was that necessary?
Which is more important? Being right or being kind? Are we at risk of losing our humanity in a rush to protect our rights? This is not a time for us to turn into a bunch of mean girls. We need to look past our biases and consider the good of others.
Reformer, Martin Luther, experienced a fifteenth-century re-emergence of the Black Death in his hometown. In a letter, he wrote:
Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.
Rev. Kurt Hendel, the Bernard, Fischer, Westberg Distinguished Ministry Professor Emeritus of Reformation History at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, summarizes Luther’s stance in an interview. Hendel said:
Love for neighbor is the ultimate criterion that Christians must use as they choose what to think and plan and do — not only during a time of pandemic, but in all times, in all aspects of their lives.
That is an excellent recommendation not just for the religious among us, but for all of us.
So, the next time we are tempted to react, let’s first consider:
- Does this comment show consideration to my neighbors?
- Is making this point necessary?
- Is it the kindest thing to do?
- Am I paying attention to the needs of my listeners?
These are vital questions for our relationships with those we love and care about. I don’t want to exist in a world that resembles Lubalin’s spoof — one that is small and petty. Let’s choose to live big-heartedly with one another.
Let’s stay in touch.