A growing trend within our U.S. society is to rummage through social media garbage and comb the archives of the world wide web to retrieve that one carefully selected, possibly taken out of context, tweet from 2009 to prove that a person is a sexist, misogynistic protector of the evil patriarchal order in efforts to get the person fired from her/his job. By the way, this scenario happened to Sam Seder, an MSNBC contributor.
The story made for news.
For crying out loud, it is a tweet from 2009.
Let this one sink in: You can be fired for a bad tweet from almost a decade ago, no matter what you have chosen to do with your life for good since then. It is not a celebrity issue.
Sam Seder could be any of us.
And it is just plain wrong-not that fancy wrong is any better.
Although MSNBC has since rehired Seder, the social justice tunnel vision clouds the critical issue of the runaway mob mentality trend. As another recent example, MSNBC host Joy Reid apologized because certain blog posts with homophobic content surfaced from almost a decade ago, too.
Joy Reid could be any of us.
I am not Catholic, but judging by these contemporary writing standards, everyone needs a confessional. Perhaps the Catholic Church needs to hold writing confessionals on social media platforms.
As a matter of fact, ten minutes ago, I probably said something somebody somewhere might consider problematic. And when I am finished writing this post, I shall most likely have written something that could rub someone on God’s green earth the wrong way from now to decades to come.
Because these days no matter where we stand on the U.S. political spectrum, a mob justice mentality prevails. Where do we draw the line? How far do we go?
How Far Do We Go?
How far do we go back with dragging up past comments to accuse people of being the bigoted flavor of the week? At the current mob speed, we might begin searching as far back as people’s kindergarten years in order to psychoanalyze their macaroni art for traces of bigotry. I can see it now:
The villagers emerge in the dusk of night, tramping along the dusty streets of town. Anxious citizens peak through the curtains, hiding behind closed doors in fear of not becoming entangled in the bloodlust. Others, frantically gather their pitchforks, torches, and other instruments of warfare fitting to the affair, and join the crowd. A collective identity forms in taking down their latest enemy.
At last, the villain emerges.
Images splash across the news of a remorseful senator, as she holds her head in shame, apologizing for racist and xenophobic messages in one of her childhood refrigerator artworks. Satisfied, mob sets their attention on getting a conservative news host fired, who wrote a sexist paragraph at the age of eight for a class assignment. Now in his mid-forties, he has long since changed views for the better. It does not matter. The mob comes for him next.
Okay, hopefully, we do not go this far. Unlike the people who go after the Reids or Seders of this world, I think it is dangerous to draw these hard and fast lines about something written or stated from their past, especially out of context and without hearing them out. I think it is dangerous no matter what political leanings people have.
Likewise, I think it is counterproductive to focus on writings and speech of people’s past if they have chosen to shift the way they live. On the other hand, whenever the angry mob wants vengeance and retaliation, societal progress takes a back seat.
By ignoring people’s journeys and focusing on past bigotry, we create a world that discourages people to change their ableist, homophobic, xenophobic, racist, sexist, ageist, etc. beliefs. Their present or future becomes rendered hopeless.
Think about it.
What is the incentive of people bothering to change if they will continually be reminded of something from the past? They have no chance at a new life if the mob holds them hostage to even a tweet.
Whelp, I pause here for a brief, shameless plug for Jesus. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not about avoiding hell to get to heaven. It is the news that we do not have to deal with the weight of our own sins. We have forgiveness to be cleansed of our wrongs even in a world hell bent on reminding us of our pasts. We can be free to have inner joy and peace, as we move forward in a new life. We do not have to inch through life in misery and shame for even that bigoted macaroni art from kindergarten. Isn’t this good news?
Let us reconsider creating a place where people must go the rest of their lives apologizing and being punished for something written or said from long ago. Shifting away from this mob mentality requires re-evaluating the extent to which we really want to go in order to prove social justice sins in people’s words. I invite these mobs to become more interested in understanding if and how the person has grown.
Along the same lines of the squeaky wheel getting the oil, a critical mass can spark change. Consequences such as getting fired can serve as a wake up call for growth. Boycotts can compel a company to revisit unethical practices, so I am not granting a carte blanche for bigotry without consequence. But our current mob mentality seems more obsessed with short sighted vengeance and not a long-range vision of societal progress. I do not think the trifecta of dig up the past, lash out, and attempt to destroy lives makes for a sound nation.
Priorities and Love Mobs
This vigilante approach to proving bigoted histories demonstrates a priority on policing the past versus how to more create a future together where we can thoughtfully engage across differences. If we put more time in learning how to have grace for each other as we stumble and grow, we could actually make much more societal progress than we realize.
It takes intention.
What I find is often missing is the grace for each other in our journeys to expand our thinking. As we grow our diverse lenses, we shall not write and say things in the most socially just and politically correct way. It is a part of learning. Most of us do not expect a baby to learn to walk without stumbling.
When it comes to living together in this diverse world, we are more like babies learning to walk than we realize.
Recently, I spoke with an old friend who immigrated to the United States. We reflected on our talks from long ago and laughed about the cluelessness in how I would say things. At the time, she observed how hard I was trying to learn and understand. I was being open and straight forward in my diamond in the rough dialogue. I did not have all the “right words,” but she recognized my attempt to make sense of her perspectives. I am thankful my friend did not police every word I said as I tried to connect. I am thankful for my friend making room in her heart to really see mine.
When we commit to learning how to hear what the person is trying to convey- the spirit and heart of the message- and not grade their communication on a social justice scale, we begin to move closer together. A priest would not be necessary for everything we write, either.
What matters more, the people creating goodness in the world through transformed lives or a mob fest to prove just how off the socially just mark people were in past writings?
If people’s unsavory literary pasts come to light, what if we paused to ask, “What was their intention? Are there another ways of perceiving their writing? Have they grown? Are they open to grow?”
I invite us to expand our capacity to discern why people write and say what they write. What is needed now is more of a heart to truly understand each other and our journeys instead of assuming we know it from a tweet older than some of our relationships. I suggest a less popular use of digging through our pasts. We can use our pasts to reveal how far we have come. What if instead of condemning Reid’s past homophobic writing, a mob celebrated her change in thinking and writing on mainstream and social media? Imagine the kind of liberation spread from such a loving act.
I propose a love mob.