On Sunday, someone too young to remember the day told me, “It’s been 21 years, get over yourself.”
This was an online interaction, of course. People rarely have the temerity to speak so boldly in person. But, it being an online interaction, my one comment noting my experience and asking others to consider respecting the pain of those still grieving led to a piling on by a collective of indignant and ignorant youth, political extremists, internet edge lords – think of the kids who say anything to get a reaction from the teacher and extend that to folks who’ve probably since left the classroom long behind – and the kind of folks who show up anywhere to instigate and, as my papaw would have said, “stir the stink.”
I bowed out. It wasn’t worth my energy.
But, it’s had me thinking about a few things. Mostly about how much things have changed since that day. And how sad it all makes me.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about September 11.
I’ve written before about my experiences that day. How the regular business of the morning was forgotten. How I huddled in the basement of the Scioto county courthouse with the county commissioners watching the footage on a tiny black and white television with rabbit ears aimed towards the ground-level window high up on the wall.
In latter days the commissioners would default to partisan posturing on positions both local and national, but on that day those things didn’t matter. The tragedy before us, and basic human decency, took precedence. As it should.
I have to wonder, though, if we’d had the same level of internet and social media in 2001, would things have gotten immediately ugly as it seems they’ve tended to since?
There were people who disagreed then about the best response to the attacks. They disagreed on whether we should roll Iraq into the conflict. They disagreed on lots of things.
None of them let that disagreement override their compassion towards those grieving for the loss of their family and friends.
Family and friends, I’ll remind any younger readers, who included rescue workers and firefighters who selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to save others.
They didn’t stop to ask who someone voted for before helping them out from under rubble. They didn’t ask their stances on abortion, or gun control. They saved their lives. And some of them died while doing so.
If the internet thinks I’m wrong for asking others to consider that, and the feelings of their families, before making a joke, they can think I’m wrong.
But I can’t help but think that, as wonderful a tool as it is for connecting with friends and family, new and old, the internet has also isolated us to a point that empathy is not only becoming more difficult, in some corners of the internet it’s seen as something akin to a character flaw.
If you show the least inkling of sympathy for anyone outside the tightly defined confines of your social and political clique, you are suspect. While the alt right and far left may moan about government and media censorship they, ironically, are among the quickest to silence others. The fact that it comes via social pressure rather than government decree has no change on the end result.
I know that I set here bemoaning social media while freely participating in it. That isn’t lost on me, and I’ll own it. It’s an almost unavoidable reality of modern life, and even if I only log on to check work content, I inevitably get sucked into comments and content in my personal feed. Given my desire to avoid echo chambers, and to know what people believe, even if I don’t share those beliefs, sometimes that stuff is shocking, even to someone like me.
I’m sure jokes have been made before, by conspiracy theorists left and right, but this was the first 9/11 I saw them.
If there is a silver lining to any of this, it’s that younger folks seem to be eschewing social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. They still use the internet, just not the way their parents and grandparents do.
Maybe the kids can lead us back to something better and more civil as they come of age.