My friends and I are at odds right now and sometimes I think they are meaner than I ever remember them being. It’s never been like this. I just want to know if you think this pandemic is making us meaner?
I’m not going to say publicly that people are getting meaner because, for one thing, they might gut me and roast me over a shallow pit, thereby turning me into a rack of Christmas ribs. But I think people are definitely stressed out, and therefore they’re acting like it.
And if you think I’m exaggerating, just try this experiment: post something online. A picture of your cat. A selfie. A daily column that contains roughly 800 words. Give it a few minutes, eventually your doorbell will ring and a mob will be on your front lawn holding pitchforks and torches.
No, I’m kidding about the torches. They’ll actually be holding cellphone flashlights.
But the point is, yes, I think people are ticked off in general. Take me. I’m receiving more ugly emails from readers than ever before during this pandemic. Just today, a guy in Virginia wrote, he called me a “lair and a deciever.”
I have friends who have also noticed this anger trend. One of my pals, I’ll call him Matt, is a great person, a super accomplished writer, and uses words like “ubiquitous” in conversations while keeping a straight face. Matt noticed meanness on his personal blog last month.
It started when his mother got COVID-19. She had intense symptoms. Matt wrote that he was frightened, his kids were worried, and he also asked his readers to pray.
Let’s pause here. You’d think people would’ve overloaded him with sympathy, right? You’d think little elderly ladies would have put his mother’s name on the First Baptist email prayer chain, right? Maybe sent a casserole? Wrong. People got out their pitchforks. They called him “part of the lies,” whatever that means.
To be honest, it’s not clear WHAT exactly Matt’s readers were angry about. But it was enough for him to take his blog website off the internet for good. I’ll bet Matt would agree that, like me, he’s never considered himself a “lair and a deciever” before.
Then again, maybe Matt and I are only lairing to ourselves.
But that’s nothing. About a month ago I got an email from a high-school girl. She said she’d shared a video online, a creative video diary about how crummy life is during a pandemic, and how hard it’s been. She expected her online friends to support her, maybe offer encouragement.
Get this. Minutes after she posted, the PARENTS of her classmates started thumb-typing criticisms. They came down upon this child like a falling Steinway. They said she was basically a sniveling brat who was whining about nothing. “Suck it up,” was the main thrust of their helpful comments. We’re talking about a tenth-grader here.
The girl’s mother kept reminding her daughter to focus on the well-wishes and the atta-girl comments. But frankly, who can do that? It’s like being in a room with 10 nice people and the eleventh guy punches you in the mouth. Which person are you going to remember most?
So yes, it seems like people are being uglier than usual. But before we get too down in the dumps about it, human beings also have the capacity to be gracious, selfless, and incredibly kind. And these little acts of charity happen millions of times each hour of each day. I choose to believe in this pervasive goodness, even when I can’t see it.
I’ll never forget when I saw one such act of goodwill in New Orleans, several years ago. I was walking around those gloriously colorful side streets, eating a Lucky Dog, killing hours. I saw a streetband playing for tips. They were a stunning group. These guys were some of the best jazz players I’ve ever seen.
To watch them handle their instruments was inspiring. The trumpet man played Louis Armstrong almost better than Satchmo himself.
It was during their performance that a boy, maybe 12, approached the bandleader, carrying a ratty cornet case. He asked if he could play a tune. The lead musician smiled and said sure, so the nervous kid started warming up his mouthpiece.
But here’s the thing. When the kid finally started to play—and I say this with respect—he was not very good. Everyone knew it right away. He could hardly play three notes without running out of wind.
So what do you think happened next? What do you think everyone did? Did the crowd hurl rotten veggies? Did they blow razzberries? Did they give him the old Bronx Cheer?
I’ll tell you what they did. The crowd did one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. They started applauding the kid. Loudly. They were shouting and howling like fans at a Stones concert. The band musicians were, likewise, fuzzing the kid’s hair, telling him what a wonderful cornet player he was.
The kid became another person. Instantly, you could see his face change. You saw confidence rising within him like mercury in a thermometer. And even though this child might have been the weakest cornet player in the Crescent City, he must have felt like King Oliver. And suddenly (guess what?) he was playing much better!
My heart grows 352 sizes just remembering what that crowd did for that kid. It was perhaps the nicest thing I ever saw. And if you ask me, I don’t believe it’s too late to get that kind of niceness back into our society again. Not if we try. So allow me to try first:
Keep playing your song, sweetheart.
And pay no attention to the lairs.