Wednesday, March 12, 2014

We’re all addicts. Time to just say no.

Drugs are in the news every day. Heroin use is on the rise. Addiction is a serious issue. It kills.

And yet there is one addiction problem that’s virtually ignored. One that we’re all impacted by, at least a little bit.

The “drug” involved is free, easy to access, and legally available to anyone who wants it.
 
What is it?

Schadenfreude, the addictive pure essence of “the pleasure one derives from the misfortune of others.”

It’s that sweet secret thrill we get when the guy we view as a jerk doesn’t get that coveted promotion.
 
Or when the woman we view as a stuck-up twit trips and breaks her pointy little nose.
 
Or when the politician we smugly view as an idiot clumsily reaches for a bottle of water.
 
Or when that famous person who believes they are “all that” falls flat on their face and flubs a singer’s name during the Oscars.

Or, basically, when something embarrassing is revealed about someone – anyone – who’s not you, or me.

The drug of schadenfreude can be manufactured even if what’s happened to the other is good.
 
How?
 
By minimizing, discrediting, falsely accusing, misdirecting, lying, bringing up old indiscretions, rumor mongering – by doing or saying anything that will cast another’s reputation or good fortune in a bad light.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s oh so smug-alicisous!

At times like these, it’s time to light up Twitter and all the dark corners of social media, letting the snark fly fast and furious.

After all, all’s fair in love and, well, a hate-fest.

I’m okay but you’re a real BLEEP (you-know-what)

The sad reality of this truth was brutally visible a couple of weeks ago when Kelly Blazek (a recognized senior professional communicator) was exposed by Diana Mekota for dissing Mekota and others (all Millennials) in private emails. (I blogged about the mess here.)

The outrage that resulted was deep and wide and vicious.

As well as a little puzzling.

Thousands of people, from around the world, who were not recipients of any communication from Blazek, not Millennials, not connected to the professional communications practice, not located in northeast Ohio, not in need of a job, not familiar with Blazek or her job bank, joined in to blast, bash, and berate Blazek.

Why?

Simple. While they had no legitimate “skin in the game” as it were, all were happily mainlining pure schadenfreude.

As I stated in my prior post, “anonymity in online forums breeds contemptible behavior.” Even when not being anonymous, social media users can be vile.
 
The irony of their bad behavior was totally lost on those piling it on.

Rather, the recurrent themes used to justifiy burning Blazek at the social media stake included, “It’s karma”, “She’s reaping what she sowed”, “What goes around comes around”, and the like.

When I was a kid and someone pointed at another to embarrass them, a common comeback was, “When you point at others, three fingers are pointing back at you!”

In other words, for every fault we are pointing out or bashing in others, we’ve got a heap of our own that could spill out at any moment making us the bashee. Gah!

Those dishing out crap fail to understand they are also sowing crap they will eventually reap. In spades.

Karma (or whatever you want to call it) is a double-edged sword, with no handle; it cuts both ways.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s more like a circular saw on a pendulum. Anyway…

Imagine there's no place to hide; It's easy if you try

Think of it like this.

Imagine, as John Lennon might say, waking up one day having a speech-balloon, like those used in comics to show conversation, sprouting above your head. And all day, every day, for a week, every single thought that passed through your mind was revealed in the balloon. Every dirty detail. Every mean word. Everything.

“Oh,” but you object, “thinking something is not really bad like saying it or writing it in an email.”

Okay.

Imagine that at the end of a random week, everyone you know and interact with, receives a verbatim transcript of everything you said and wrote during the week prior. Every dirty detail. Every mean word. Everything.

Still not squirming?

Okay.

Imagine that for a week, without your permission or immediate knowledge, everything you thought, said, and wrote was instantly broadcast globally via the Internet. Every dirty detail. Every mean word. Everything.

Ooo. I see that bead of sweat!

Now, in any of the above scenarios, imagine that people reacted to what you thought, said, and wrote, as you have reacted and talked about others.

Would you be met with vehemence, vengeance, and obscenity? Or understanding, kindness, and grace?

In other words, would you get as good (or bad) as you gave? Be karma-lized? Reap fully what you had sown? Get what you deserved?

The Golden Rule is looking pretty good about now, isn’t it?

Sowing good seed

There’s a much better way than shooting the wounded with vile Tweets, posts, and comments.

Since more than one commenter on the Blazek/Mekota affair brought up the “reap what you sow” scenario, it’s only fair to turn to the source of the analogy. In his letter to those pesky Galatians, the Apostle Paul explains the concept:
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:7-10, NIV).
How might this apply in a, say, “secular” situation?

Simple.

If your response to another’s misfortune or good fortune, embarrassment or pride, failure or success, stupidity or wisdom, is fueled by schadenfreude, then that’s what you are sowing and can expect to get back when it’s your turn.

On the other hand if your response is to defend, uplift, applaud, forgive, and repair then you too can expect good things. Or, another way to put it is found in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (NIV).

The incredibly wise Apostle Paul offers even more good advice in his Galatians communiqué:
  1. Be responsible. While we are entitled to our opinions and have a right to call others out, we have a higher responsibility to serve and protect: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:13-14, NIV).
     
  2. Be selfless. Maliciously attacking others is ultimately self-defeating: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other…. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (gal. 5:15, 26, NIV).
     
  3. Be forgiving. When someone slips up, the better response is to pick them up and help them rebuild what’s been lost: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1, NIV).
John Lennon summed it up like this:
Instant Karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you off your feet
Better recognize your brothers
Ev'ryone you meet
Hello, my name is Stephen, and I’m a snarkaholic

When it comes to schadenfreude, we could all use a good strong dose of sobriety.

Instead of lashing out through social media let’s all just say no, using social media as a tool without being a tool when using it.

Whenever we’re on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or any other social media application, perhaps we can make this our motto and guideline:

Share truth. Be kind. Lift up. Do good.

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A few somewhat related links:
 
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Have you ever been on the receiving end of a social media storm? If so, how did you deal with it? What advice would you offer to those using social media? How do you feel about anonymous commenting online? Share in the comments!

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