The very purpose of spirituality is self-discipline. Rather than criticizing others, we should evaluate and criticize ourselves. Ask yourself, what am I doing about my anger, my attachment, my pride, my jealousy? These are the things we should check in our day to day lives. -- Dalai Lama
Bullying has been in the news a lot lately. All over the country, every day, you’ll find news reports of its sometimes tragic aftermath and efforts to stop it. We feel outrage and ask why this is happening. We blame the kids, we blame the parents, we blame the schools, we blame TV or violent video games or Facebook or…
Let’s instead hold up the mirror and take a long look at what our children see, every day. Like reality television shows whose ratings rely on berating contestants or trash talking each other. Or cable “news” channels where it’s standard operating procedure to replace facts with hyberbole at best and untruths and half truths at worst. Or debates with candidates vying for the US Presidency where the debate sponsor encourages a reality TV atmosphere, with predictable results. Where being angry and shouting over those you disagree with and calling them names, denigrating them and everything they stand for, is standard operating procedure.
Maybe politics has always been a brutal contact sport but the rest of life didn’t used to be. I remember. I remember listening to conservatives like William Buckley, and while as I grew older, I didn’t share many of his political views, I never felt like shouting at my TV when he espoused them. I remember when facts were facts -- not something that had a left or right spin.
Sometimes it seems we’ve lost our ability to talk across these social and political divides. It’s easy to avoid each other or even hearing the same news; modern society provides us with our own echo chambers. There are very few opportunities to leave them and hold real dialogues.
Every now and then, something breaks through and we see – for a moment – just people with different views, having a real conversation. Like this recent interview with Jon Stewart and Republican Senator Jim DeMint. Like the U.S. House of Representatives coming together to demonstrate respect for a colleague – and each other – when Rep. Gabby Giffords resigned.
Some would say we respect civility but we reward rudeness. I would agree. And yet, every time I make a choice to read the story with the leering headline, I’m rewarding the kind of behavior I want to see less of. It may be part of our evolutionary conditioning to be drawn more to drama than to discussion – I get that. So does the media: angry people hurling accusations at each other draw eyes. It makes me wonder who profits from this constant “us versus them” state of affairs.
By actively seeking out angry and tawdry behavior, by supporting diatribe over dialogue with those who believe differently than us -- well. It’s like letting the bullies win.