I've always been outspoken, and these days I'm freer than ever to speak my mind. Short of physical violence, there really isn't anything you could threaten me with that would silence me on a given issue. Despite this, I've noticed something weird lately: my willingness to be vicious if it makes my point stronger has gone down at precisely the same time that I'm seeing more and more nastiness in the opinions of others.
I see it in every story I see posted about Uber. People are applauding the loss of people's livelihoods, livelihoods that we guaranteed them if they ponied up for a taxi plate. I use Uber. It's better in a lot of ways, and I expect the plate system is going to go away before long, but that doesn't free us from the obligation to do right by the people who played by the rules we defined.
I see it when the response to a crowdfunding campaign for a family whose home was burned down by the hoverboard they bought their kid for Christmas is, "Idiots. Maybe if they bought insurance instead of toys for their kids they wouldn't be there now." Which, I mean, just... wow. Merry Christmas.
And I see it when people respond to someone who can't afford rent (despite working full-time) by saying it's their fault for taking the job, instead of, "That's messed up, Yelp really shouldn't be basing that role in SF if it doesn't generate enough incremental revenue to pay a living wage."
These are just a few examples (guess which one inspired me to write this). But every time it happens, I see the likes, the agreement, the support of this "fuck you, I got mine" attitude, and I can't help thinking: too many of you are acting like assholes. I'm not saying you ARE assholes. I can't read minds; I know not what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Who you are deep down is irrelevant to me - it's what you do, and too many of you appear to take too much pleasure in kicking people when they're down. That's a behaviour I attribute to assholes.
I'm not going to name names. It'd be kinda hypocritical in a post advocating that we dial back the public ridiculing of people to do just that. Want to take shots at Martin Shkreli and other people doing horrible things to their fellow human beings? I'll be right there alongside you. But if it's some regular schmuck who's lost their livelihood, or a house, or is struggling to make ends meet? Picking on that person is a dick move. Don't give me the "tough love" rationalization - there's no love there, you just want to be tough and you can get away with it because it's someone you'll never meet and who won't fight back.
When I hear that someone's encountered hardships in their life, I don't look through their Instagram to find examples of better times so I can point out what they should have done differently. That's just not where my mind goes when I hear bad news. I certainly wouldn't misrepresent what I find to further belittle them, even though being honest is not a prerequisite for Business Insider to run a story about this blistering takedown of someone who's about to be on food stamps. What concerns me is this: if doing it might get them a piece on Business Insider about their blistering takedown of someone who's about to be on food stamps, I can't guarantee that someone else won't do those things.
This is a bad way of doing things. We should not encourage it. Norm MacDonald once said, "I think clever people think poor people are stupid," and I've seen a lot to support his theory lately. Here's the thing: we all overestimate the amount of control we have over our lives, and someday, despite your best efforts, you or someone you care about could be the poor person. That's bad enough, and it'll be worse if minimal empathy continues as the status quo. We ought to lighten up when someone else suffers, and when someone's punching down, we ought to call it out.
I check my analytics, so I know this isn't what you want to read. You want fun stories of dating mishaps. You want me to excoriate horrible people. I get that, and believe me when I say those pieces are much easier to write, but I see this happening, repeatedly, from people I believe are better than that, and I'm not going to stay silent about it anymore. I know that if the roles were reversed, I would never wish the things you're posting about others to be said about you. All of us are going to be victims of circumstance at various times in our lives. I suggest we keep that in mind.