The lure of impersonal violence

Dear President Trump,

This morning I included in my loving-kindness blessings the young African student featured in the NYT yesterday who was attacked and beaten by a mob in India and then I included the people in the mob who attacked him. Thinking about the individuals who comprised the mob led me to consider how similar the violent, destructive actions taken by people in a mob are to the hateful attacks that many people seem to relish delivering via email and social media. I’m sure there are numerous thoughtful academic discussions of the similarities between these two covers for disinhibited antisocial behavior but for right now, I’m just going to write about my own sense of these things in so far as how I see them relating to you. I don’t know whether this is the case, but it seems you enjoy fostering the sort of mindless violence that can so easily be whipped up in crowds of frustrated, impassioned people. And how convenient that no individuals ever really get called out for enacting such violence and you can step back, shrug, and say the person who got attacked was really at fault. Same sort of thing on social media — disembodied individuals can lob all sorts of vile, mean commentary anonymously (or not) without ever having to take personal responsibility for their actions or the harms they cause other human beings. How convenient, if you are into that sort of thing.

How different it would be if instead of throwing punches at a rally gone violent or sending barbed, mean-spirited tweets or emails, a frustrated, impassioned individual were to sit down in a public setting with the person who was the object of his (most likely, so I’m going with the male pronouns) anger and they took turns talking about their feelings and shared their thoughts civilly? We can up the ante and imagine that among those watching, both parties have people witnessing the exchange whose opinions they really value, people they don’t want to let down. How differently do you think those exchanges could go? Sure, some might devolve into shouting matches with each side trying to “win.” But I bet there’s way more chance of reaching some sort of mutual understanding if the ground rules for the exchange were informed by basic mutual respect for the other person as a person. Just imagine. You can do it. We need you to.

May you be safe
May you be happy
May you be healthy and truly strong
May your life unfold and intersect peacefully.

Tracy Simpson

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