Friday, February 27, 2009

No, YOU are!

When I was in college, I was in a fraternity. This is apropos of very little, except that I'm about to tell a story involving my little brother, which is a frat thing; I do not actually have a younger brother.
Anyway, one night, my little brother, aided by some goading from his housemates, made a phone call which... well, let's just say he probably still regrets it. Before we go on, I will point out that he was not much of a drinker, and in particular was not drinking that evening, in my recollection. I don't know if that makes it better, or worse. But I digress. The next day, I talked with him about how to make amends. Our house President talked with him. His pledge trainer --- whoops! We don't have those, uh, his "New Member Liaison" --- talked with him.  At that point, he trudged off to some afternoon activity. However, that's when the fallout really began. As brothers began getting home from class, they stopped by our room.
"Is Skippy (note: not his real name, nor, despite my efforts, his nickname) around?"
"Well, when you see him, tell him I want to talk to him."
This conversation was repeated over a dozen times. Most of the brothers wanted to talk to him. Several of their girlfriends wanted to talk to him. Some guy I had never met before wanted to talk to him. Finally, it occurred to me to start getting annoyed, and I asked one person why he wanted to talk to Skippy.
Person:"You heard what happened?"
Me:"Yes. I talked to him about it. [President] talked to him. [N.M.L.] talked to him. Why do you need to talk to him?"
P:"Well, a lot of people are angry."
M:"Yes, three people have mentioned that to him. He feels bad. Why do you need to talk to him?"
P:"To let him know that he's made a lot of people angry."
M:"Oh. I never would have thought to do that."
In the end, what really bothered me was not the staggering number of people who thought that they were going to offer some unique perspective on the situation. It was the readiness with which they were willing to dispense their bile, without really knowing what had happened (none of the people present at the incident, it should be noted, came by to talk).
I think about this incident whenver I see things like this note, in which one participant of Top Chef gets, well, a bit catty about another contestant. Certainly, she probably shouldn't have said what she said. Probably, she regrets whatever she said, whether or not the quote is accurate. But the followup is inexcusable; the 200+ comments read like a contest to see who can come up with the meanest, most vitriolic response. Very few of the commenters claim to know Casey Thompson, or to have any knowledge of the actual goings-on during the final episode, and those who do are shouted down.
I stopped participating in most forms of Internet discussion a while ago, because I just had no stomach for the folks who came in determined to ruin someone else's day. There are forums where people participate in reasoned, respectful discussion, to be sure. But this kind of anger just seems like the norm, and makes me wonder why it's tolerated.

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