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The Abyss: Where’s the Christmas Cheer?

December 16, 2010

I think we know it’s not in the angry places. I wish it were. I wish sincerely, fervently, that each person over at AoA would have a merry Christmas, one in which they are surrounded by their loved ones and able to celebrate that they have each other.  

I was commenting at Laura’s this morning that it’s depressing as hell to read them, and it is. It’s also interesting, though, that on the blog AoA put up to illustrate that the anti-vaccine label is misapplied (quoting from Harold’s post refuting Kev Leitch’s post), that so many of them are proudly anti-vaccine. 

Can’t we move past this? Can’t we, for gods’ sakes, stop beating the hell out of each other? No? Okay then. Right. 

There’s real rancor here between some of these folks who’ve been on the interwebz slinging this shit out for years. There’s swagger and bluster and whipping it out to see whose is the biggest of all. Are they fighting for king of the interwebz?  Is there a medal, a trophy? No? If I felt like photoshopping one, I could make one, but I don’t.

No, instead, I am frustrated. 

Frustrated that people can write things like this: “PharmaKorp Nazi Drug Troopers has a nice ring to it. Hey? Has anyone explored the connection of the Pharmaceutical industry with Nazi Germany? Seriously.”

Seriously disturbed that AoA’s unabashedly anti-vaccine poster person can write this: “Autism will come raping or should I saw wrapping at their door, and they will soon find themselves in the oh shit position.” Bless her, she’s more than drank from “the bitter cup”; she’s bathed in it, steeped in it. And her rhetoric hurts to read.

Are all the commenters at AoA anti-vaccine or off the deep end? No. And the reality is that we can not assess how well these comments reflect the day-to-day lives of these people, either. Is their behavior situational and egged on by the close-knit community they have built there? Are they victims of group polarization? I suspect, based on the science regarding both personality and group polarization, that this is accurate. We see only one dimension of these people; we may not see them at their best. They may be venting, and the group they find themselves in reinforces a shift to the more extreme end of things. Certainly these two commenters I’ve singled out are the extreme end there, although there are several more who are close seconds.

Should we hate these people? No. 

Feel disgust? Yeah, those two comments are worthy of disgust, but if that’s where we stop, we won’t understand them, and for me, understanding these individuals is important. 

Can we change them, move them back from the brink? Oh, no I don’t think so, but maybe if we understand how they got there, we’ll be able to help others not go there. 

And that’s where it is for me: understanding them so that we can create a community that stands in front of that abyss and lets no more go over.

Mocking them is easy. Deriding them even more so. Compassion is harder, but if you look at them and realize that they have been broken by what they perceive as their burdens, then you must feel compassion. 

I’ve read blogs by parents who are dealing with severely disabled children (or have, only to be left behind as their sweet children move on), whose lives are round-the-clock care giving to these beloved children, and they weather the challenges. Yes, they are daunted by the challenges. Yes, they struggle, but they move forward with a hard-won grace that humbles me. I read these blogs, not out of obligation (as I do the angry places), but because reading these restores me, fills me to overflowing. And it’s not that these are superhuman parents whose perfection is astounding, but because they are very human, they struggle, they hurt, they tire of the battles, and yet they remain upright (perhaps bent, certainly weary) and continue forward.

They rise. They shine in their humanity, and it is an honor to go with them on their journeys, to bear witness.

Anger, despair, bitterness are all easy emotions to fall into. They are understandable emotions, especially when the hits keep coming, and for so many of us, those hits do keep coming.

And yet, not all give in. Not all do. Most, most!, most manage to cope adaptively, to right themselves every time they are upturned, to find a way to make it work, to find joy in the midst of pain, to find reasons to keep moving forward.

We must look to those who do this so that we can help others do this, too. We must provide a community built on compassion and respect. We must continue to allow ourselves to feel just as keenly for those who dwell in the angry places as we do for those who get up and reject the angry places.

So, today, I ask that if you read this blog, you spend a moment in contemplation for what it would take to lead you to the angry places, to dwell there. I ask that you picture yourself in the midst of that bitterness that has pervaded all and how you would ever see a flicker of light from down there in the abyss. And I ask you to have compassion. Yes, they’re wrong. Oh my. Yes, they’re damaging, but they do far greater damage to their own psyches than they can ever do to us. After all, we can still walk away from the edge of the abyss.

If you cannot feel compassion for those who have lost all hope (and so many there have), I think you lose an essential part of yourself and step just a little bit closer to that abyss.


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