… the besetting danger is not so much of embracing falsehood for truth, as of mistaking a part of the truth for the whole.
I’m not perfect and I tend to be on the judgmental side. For the most part, I keep my opinions to myself and when I don’t, I try to have all the information available before I speak in favor or against something. It’s not because I think I’m better than anyone – it’s because I don’t want it to come back and haunt me. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and it would be hypocritical of me to be hard on someone for something I myself have done in the past. It’s also a bit of narcissism on my part; I don’t want people to think I am dumb or uninformed. The last thing I want is someone publicly calling me out because my information was wrong and it was simply because of a lack of effort on my part to seek the truth. It makes me appear lazy. We all live in glass houses and I try to throw stones with caution.
Now, more than ever, our glass houses are defenseless. With the advent of social media, there is no curtain we can hang which would protect our privacy. Everything seen or heard is caught on tape or interpreted by a “witness” and shared over and over again. Trust me; I have shared things as a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived injustice without validating the story. Usually, I realize my error within minutes, research it, and, if I find out the story is misleading or incomplete, I take it down. Many people don’t activate this filter; their knee-jerk reaction is their final reaction. This is how we are bringing society to its knees.
I recently read an article which I found very informative. It was about the impact social media has had on people. If you listen for the subtext, it’s telling you to be very careful about what you say and do online. The bigger problem, however, is what we say or do in real life. Nothing is ever as it seems and people are quick to put their own bias in place of reality. This morning this fact hit me hard.
Last week, I saw a story about the participation of a dog in the Polar Plunge event in Wilbraham, MA, benefitting the Massachusetts Special Olympics. While I thought nothing of it, someone else did. As often happens, only part of the story was revealed. Photos that would appear damning were used and the owner was quickly labeled an abuser. Rather than take the time to look at the entire video of the event and speak to the owner and bystanders, social media judges came out in force. Many media outlets also participated in spreading only part of the story, and those that did tell the full story sounded as if they didn’t believe the truth themselves. One such story was printed on MassLive.com. It began “Lincoln the Lab is fine and everyone needs to chill out. Or, so says the Town of Wilbraham.”
While the article goes on to point out many facts that support this as a harmless act, they don’t state that the uproar was misplaced. Regardless of what happened and what your opinion is, the fallout is completely out of proportion with the incident. I know, some will say “what if it were your dog?” or my child, elderly relatives or pet rock. My response would be that I know my dog, child, elderly relative and pet rock better than you so I am in a better position to decide what they will and won’t do. It’s not for society to decide based on a snapshot in time.
My biggest issue is with the fallout. This morning, unaware of the severity of the Lincoln issue, I contacted a friend and asked if I could come to Wilbraham to do a book signing and give free books to the officers as a way to boost morale. She replied, “Honestly, I would worry about you. It has gotten so bad. The police were robo call attacked. An officer has been getting threatening e-mails daily because a picture of him and his Lab was released and people now think he is Lincoln’s owner. The actual owner is in hiding because people have threatened to burn down his house.”
I cannot wrap my head around this. A dog spent about 10 seconds in the water, is perfectly fine and now a man is in fear for his safety because of social media, knee-jerk reactions and sensational headlines. The police department had to shut down their Facebook page because of all the hate. Why? Because people think the local police sponsored the event. In fact, the event was sponsored by the Law Enforcement Torch Run in collaboration with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department and the Wilbraham Police and Fire Departments. The Massachusetts Special Olympics, probably in fear of retribution, denounced the act and hung the police and the dog owner out to dry.
Ironically, the biggest reason I wanted to bring my book to Wilbraham is because there is a chapter dedicated to a dog they help saved from abuse. On February 6, 2014 the Wilbraham Police Department not only helped save the life of an abused dog, they helped raised money for his medical bills and one of the local officers adopted the dog. The Wilbraham Police Department is made up of people who are far from the edges of depravity. They are good people.
Last week’s event affected me for a number of reasons but the two that stand out the most are what this says about social media and the police. First, social media is a very strong tool; people often give the photos and the headlines a cursory glance. Without much effort, I am sure someone can make a case for Mother Theresa being a terrorist. All they need is one good headline and a picture, someone will run with it and eventually we will all forget the good she did and she will become hated. Maybe that’s a stretch but you get what I mean.
The second reason this disturbs me is because I cannot make a simple gesture without fearing for my safety. Delivering books that speak to the decency about police. My children know that I have some upcoming book signings and do you know what they have said? “Mum, we don’t want you to go because we don’t want you to get shot.” Why would they be afraid that I would get shot? “Because you like police.” Until today, I never thought that my children needed to be concerned. Had the police not been involved would the public have flooded the offices of the Special Olympics with hate? I doubt it. What about the Fire Department which was also involved? People easily forget the good deeds of police in the face of one headline.
I won’t let the warped tide of public opinion decide what I will and won’t stand for; I hope my children understand that as they get older. I know I am not the only one who sees these sensationalized stories and wonders what has become of us that we have to send others into hiding because we don’t like what they did. At what point did the general public become judge, jury and executioner? When did the news outlets become so apathetic that they don’t research all sides of a story and present a balanced statement? When did the news outlets become so biased and jump on the bandwagon of hate? When did hate become more important than love, tolerance, understanding and forgiveness?