Harrisburg Happenings: February 3, 2016
Happy New Year to all. May 2016 bring positivity in all aspects of life.
I am taking a liberty here to deviate from the recent, and somewhat mundane, report from our State Capitol as the following topic has been rattling around in the deepest corners of my mind for quite some time. I appreciate the lenience of each reader.
When first meeting someone, one often used to be cautioned to never mention religion or politics unless the goal was to quickly derail the conversation. One was also cautioned to be on one's best behavior and not to be overly confrontational in general conversation.
Fast-forward to the modern world and enter into electronic and social media. All of those cautions seem to disappear when common human compassion is replaced with faceless bullying.
Negativity via electronic and social media has become an epidemic in the political climate; long gone are the days of agreeing to disagree in a respectful manner. Freedom of speech has turned to anonymous mud-slinging littered with spiteful personal attacks. How is it acceptable for a presidential candidate to berate another based upon a perceived lack of personal beauty, or to mock a physical handicap? Should the divisions in our country consent us to providing bad examples for our youth?
Smack in the middle of the Commonwealth budget impasse was an undercurrent in our community of barbed frustration fueled by the quasi-anonymity of electronic and social media, commented, posted, and shared from the refuge of a keyboard. There is little thought given to fact, context, or reason; moreover, the seemingly accepted mob mentality that wrecks public discourse prevails. Empathy as a foreign concept is played out on a grand, electronic scale. Decisions made are immediately discounted, painted with a cynical brush, ripped apart, and endlessly ground in the dirt by a boot that is tied with name-calling and innuendo perpetuation.
Why? Because people want to hate government.
The heart of a policy discussion is to present both sides of the issue, engage in informed debate, and attempt a resolution. In today's world, that process is peppered with footnotes and hearsay that are detached from the issue at hand, devoid of the necessary contextual information, and instead focused on disdain.
The broad cynicism of government can be appreciated and understood, as much of it has been earned by those who, by their willing actions, have tarnished the oath taken. But to immediately write off all elected officials as lining their pockets, or making decisions that better themselves instead of the greater good, or not caring about their constituency, is simply not accurate or reasonable. We all know that accuracy or reason rarely fuel social media posts; and that nameless slander isn't a useful assessment of public figures, but an obstruction to finding actual solutions.
As adults exhibit social misbehaviors openly and candidly via electronic and social media in general, many of our nation's youth follow suit at alarming rates. Those attacks then often translate to in-person confrontations for our children who must attempt to thrive in toxic environments. There is no longer any solace found in a home environment as hate can permeate even the best home security system, worming its way into every home with Internet access. Young people have taken their own lives after endlessly suffering online bullying and only then is the reaction shock, outrage, and a vow of vigilant change. The slow burn and the simmer beneath the surface are unacknowledged; only the boil-over is.
Democracy in the modern world has many faces. Accepting the face of malevolence condemns us all to an endless simmer beneath the surface, and the subsequent shock and awe lacks substantive meaning.
So if the way that one "meets" another in contemporary society is over a broadband cable, the basic tenets of respect and consideration must also transmit across the wire. John Wayne never intended for cowboys to carry a keyboard, and our children shouldn't be sentenced to a life lacking empathy.
Senator Sean D. Wiley can be contacted at SenatorWiley@pasenate.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @SenatorWiley.