This article was originally published in the March 2017 edition of 605 Magazine.
Whew, it’s getting ugly out there.
And for once, I’m not even talking about the weather. I’m talking about modern day human discourse. As in, the manner in which we communicate with one another. Maybe it has always been this ugly, but now instead of just thinking bad, mean, or sarcastic thoughts, a lot of us suddenly have cyber courage. That is, every little thought we have seems to somehow catapult their way out of our minds, making their way like rushing torpedoes into our ferociously typing fingers and BOOM!: Our most retched thoughts are splattered across the interwebs for all to see.
I took a break from social media and the news for awhile because of this negativity phenomenon. Sometimes it’s hard to find north when all you hear is noise. So, I pressed pause on the noise. I started reading real paper things again (gasp!). Books, magazines, the paper, essays; basically anything that didn’t have a “comment” section. Because as we all know, reading the comments section of pretty much anything online these days feels like you’ve swiftly been transported to the bowels of hell based on some of the exchanges you see between people.
So, I lived outside of the internet for awhile.
And I started thinking about real life. The life that happens outside of the internet and the comment sections. I started thinking about everyone being so seemingly angry at one another. Everyone so convinced they are right about everything. Seems like no one is willing to listen anymore, but yet everyone sure is willing to talk.
In all of this, my biggest worry has been, how do I go about teaching my kids to be slow to speak and quick to listen in a world that is doing the exact opposite? How do I mimic this to them when even I suddenly have an urge to hop right on up on a proverbial soap box and shout some things and then quickly drop the mic and run away and hide?
I was so deep in thought about all of this last week while I was leaving a meeting, and I made a turn onto a street I’ve probably driven on a thousand times. But, all of a sudden, people started honking at me. Startled, I looked around and realized … I was driving the wrong way down a one-way street in downtown Sioux Falls.
True story, dear reader. I was one of those people. Driving the wrong way on a street. I should have been on Argus 911. “Idiot woman wreaking havoc in Downtown driving wrong way on 10th Street.” Maybe I was on Argus 911. I don’t know. But I will tell you: I’ve never, ever, ever in my life done anything like that. I pride myself on being a good driver and an impeccable parallel parker to boot (a skill acquired out of necessity going to college on a mountainside with limited parking and being perpetually tardy to, well, everything). But on that day, I was not a good driver. I was a distracted, deep in thought, driver. So, if you saw me that day driving the wrong way, I’m sorry. It’s OK if you judged me. It’s OK if you honked and even maybe if you gave me the bird. I deserved it.
But in all of the chaos that I caused driving the wrong way, there was one lady who saw me and didn’t seem to judge me. She didn’t get angry. She just honked to get my attention while laughing and threw up her hands in the air and shrugged her shoulders as if to say: It’s OK! You’re going to be OK! Just turn around. I’m not even mad! Just turn around, we will all be OK.
So, I did. I turned around. Her nonchalant response gave me the courage to not freeze in fear in the middle of the road while cars were whirling at me. I quickly backed up and got myself out of ongoing traffic. I got back on the other road and started to drive away – albeit heart all aflutter – and I started going the right direction this time. I saw the lady again as I drove off and she waved and smiled. I sheepishly waved back in an extremely apologetic “Oops!”
I couldn’t get that woman or her reaction out of my head as I drove home to pick up my children. I kept going over and over it in my head until I realized why that woman’s reaction so impacted me: In a moment that was entirely my fault, in a moment where she was very justified in getting angry or belittling me, she instead chose to show me grace.
That’s it, guys. That is what is missing in the comment sections. That is what is missing in our modern day discourse with one another. Grace. Unmerited mercy. Unmerited kindness. And, that is the how, the what, and the why we can show our kids in the face of the ugliness going on out there. No shouting, no bird-giving whilst driving, no belittling. Just grace. Even when we think or know people are dead wrong, going the wrong direction, headed the wrong direction, or faced the wrong direction...