Last fall I wrote for The Toronto Star during the Ontario provincial election. Their Speak Your Mind program invited two bloggers from each riding to act as “local reporters” focusing on the issues that mattered most to their individual communities. In addition, each registered blogger was invited to participate in a members-only forum where we could bounce ideas off each other and chat about how it was going. For the most part it was a positive, encouraging group, except for one angry young prat, let’s call him “Frank,” who had nothing but bile for anyone who didn’t agree with his political views. The only article Frank ever posted during the course of the campaign contained libellous accusations against members of the government, alleging criminal activity without a shred of proof. Less than 24 hours after it was posted, the article was deleted and Frank was given the boot from the community (not that his contributions were missed very much). By coincidence I happened to see this same guy’s name pop up in my Twitter feed recently and it seems he’s still at it. He looks to be about 20 and for whatever reason has a pathological hate-on for everything and everyone to the left of Mussolini. I talked the other day about the dichotomy between how we are in person and how we choose to act online, but I suspect Frank isn’t any different when you meet him on the street, and it would probably be difficult to restrain yourself from delivering him a Pete Campbell-esque punch in the face.
Less extreme perhaps, but cut from the same cloth are a majority of op-ed writers in today’s news climate. You know the ones, you can probably name a few off the top of your head – they have a regular feature in your favourite weekly where they snipe, cajole, mock and otherwise belittle everything that doesn’t fit their deeply jaded worldview, then in the same paragraph congratulate themselves for their singular, incisive, insightful wit, as if they are the wise shaman gazing down from the mountain of enlightenment at the foolish mortals below. It’s schadenfreude taken to its most extreme, the perpetual cries of the never-weres choking on their sour grapes, nourishing a weakened ego on the scraps of the achievements of others. Political columnists are some of the worst offenders in this regard. As those of you who read me regularly are aware, I have no love for conservatives, particularly those in elected office, but I can acknowledge that at least those people had the balls to get out there and run, to put their names up for consideration and accept the responsibility of serving their communities, regardless of how competent they may or may not be to execute that duty. Everyone knows it’s much easier to be the overeager parent on the sidelines screaming at the ref because Junior was called offside. Monday morning quarterbacking has no consequences. It also has no lasting impact on anyone or anything. Think about those same sarcastic op-ed writers and try to recall the last time they penned something that really resonated with you, that you can’t stop thinking about and which continues to inspire you. I’ll wait.
Figured as much.
We can be honest – it’s difficult to be an idealist in a cynical age, when we watch democracy being trampled on the news each night. There’s also a tendency among a large percentage of the aforementioned media wisenheimers to dismiss optimism as tragically naïve. But if idealism were easy, it wouldn’t be idealism, just like principles are only principles if you stand by them when they’re inconvenient. But to sit back smugly and join in the chorus of misanthropy is the coward’s way out. It also ensures beyond doubt that things won’t get better. The main reason public debate languishes in an all-time abyss is because we’re choosing to approach it from the gutter, figuring that it’s better to be a smartass commenter than a genuine contributor. So we can wallow in our sheer, unfathomable awesomeness as we watch the world burn. What unbelievable, face-punch-worthy arrogance. I don’t know about you, but I have no time for that sort of thing. Life is just too goddamn short.
Some friends of my sister’s are engaged in a charity venture for Africa and asked if I could help promote them. Happy to, said I. These are two people who see what is happening in the world and instead of sipping bellinis and wearily moaning about their ennui have decided to get involved – and not just by absent-mindedly cutting a cheque or tweeting about it. The reaction to their work proves, again, that there is a hunger out there for light and hope, and every downbeat op-ed wasting trees and gigawatts is missing the point (and a potentially huge audience to boot). More to that same point, I’m unable to find an example of where ceaselessly carping about how things suck and will never get better has succeeded in actually making those things better. The same goes for how we choose to approach life. What do we look back on at the end if we spend our limited time on this earth the way “Frank” and I’m ashamed to say some of my fellow HuffPosters do – have we made the most of our lives? Have we touched anyone else’s?
Listen for those same crickets.
I’m reminded of that famous Jean Sibelius quote that “A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic.” To me, it comes down to this – if everyone goes around crapping on everything all the time, are we that surprised at what our world is covered in?