Why such vitriol?

I find myself returning again and again to thinking about a Facebook status update I saw a few days ago. I can’t find a way to write the post I want to without quoting the post a little. I don’t know how to make my point without using the illustration. Nonetheless while the illustration is particular, the point I am trying to make is general.

The person who posted was clearly deeply frustrated with an issue he was having with a product. The post began with a comment a wish for the face most associated with this brand to be burning in hell, and ended a statement saying that all fans for this brand are idiots. This is someone whom I have never met, but whose posts I generally enjoy, and for whom I have respect. As a result, this particular post jarred. (There are others who post regularly in this fashion and whom I have long since removed from my newsfeed!)

In a related fashion, there was an article about Pope Francis in Rolling Stone magazine this week. Whilst the author was clearly a fan of Pope Francis, he took a couple of shots of Pope Benedict XVI in a manner that was completely unnecessary.

In such cases the criticisms may well be deserved and justified, but again, in both cases, there is a slide from legitimate complaint to personal accusation. That troubles me.

Somehow the slippage between ‘I hate this product’ and ‘I hate the person who made the product’ is not noticed. Likewise ‘I hate this behaviour’ and ‘I hate the person who has behaved in this way’ are not distinct categories.

Why is that? Perhaps more importantly, why are we all okay with that?

Liz Gilbert of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ fame tweeted this a few weeks ago ‘Don’t let people throw vitriol at you & get away with it by calling themselves “truth-tellers”. Honesty needs kindness to be a virtue’.

Honest needs kindness to be a virtue – This is an idea worth promoting, and certainly one that I hope I can learn to embrace.

Of course, we need spaces where we can let off steam and rant a little, maybe some use social media for this. But I am not sure any of this helps to make the world a more loving, more compassionate place. For my part, I do rant and blame at times, but I am trying to become more aware of the impact that has on my world.

To criticize and complain may well be justified, but how do we do it in a way that is not too general or too personal. How do we do it in a way that the person involved can actually take on board what we are trying to say?

4 thoughts on “Why such vitriol?

  1. Great post, Mags. An interesting phenomenon on FB, but also in daily life sometimes.
    I like Liz Gilbert’s tweet. Thank you for sharing it.

    Yesterday on FB someone posted an article on the atrocities committed by Franquistas in Spain… It triggered a couple of violent expletive-depletive comments. Someone else came along and ask them to control themselves, which admired, because it was done with calm, non-violence, and dignity…

  2. Good post. Good ponderings. I’m afraid my response is to vitriol is to step away and avoid such people and confrontations. But, apart from not contributing to the vitriol, this response doesn’t do much for the greater good. Our society is becoming so balkanized that it’s hard to see how we climb out of this hole.
    So, I pray. It feels like a weak response and yet, we know Our Lord has already won, so I pray that those who have been gifted with the most effective responses for the vitriol are strengthened for the battle at hand. Or, in the unlikely event that Our Lord tasks me with responding at some point, in some situation, I pray I’m strengthened, given the right words or responses, and found worthy…(I practice sometimes in the shower…it’s very much like that singing voice that sounds better in private!) Mary

  3. I also appreciate the statement that “Honesty needs kindness to be a virtue”. Words can kill and it is so important to consider what we say or write before we speak or write. Thank you for this post.

  4. There’s a saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Ditto the teachings … the words … the phrases that slip puzzle pieces into place. Vitrol disguised as “I love you” … I was recently hit with a dose of this by someone with whom I have been in deep conflict … and I have been at a loss as to how to respond. It’s been nearly three weeks and I’ve not done anything yet; have given myself time to relinquish reactivity; have been praying, waiting. I still don’t know what to do, what to say, how to respond, if at all. Your post, Mags, is a gift. Agreed, Lynda, that “words can kill.” I write amidst the ashes of a friendship, and continue to discern …

    Thank you so much.

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