I found that the solution to ending all the hate is not too far.
I have purposely maintained silence on a lot of issues for a while. I was zoning out, spacing out, taking a break, if you may. I am tired, very tired. I felt bombarded with information all the time.
Media in all formats today is heavy with negativity of one or the other kind. When I have leaned in to hear side A, side B has screamed into my ears that it was a mistake, and vice versa. Every morning I see my inbox and newsfeed filled with negativity. I find the world possibly heading towards political and climatic apocalypse as I watch (seemingly smart) people I grew up with succumbing to the extremities of ideology, failing to differentiate between belief and sanity. I would never describe myself as hopeless, so this brings in a lot of questions. In this time of detox I got a chance to really reflect on a lot of things that I was thinking, hearing, seeing and experiencing.
Xenophobia takes over social media. Image source: static.independent.co.uk
What is happening today in the virtual wrestling rings of Facebook and Twitter is systemic hatred. Hatred that I will feel for you if you don’t agree with me, and you will too if I don’t agree with you. We seem to be persistently chasing each other, making sure that we have a one-up with every retweet or every comment, that we are superior because of our belief systems. I am guilty of having felt that way too, mocking those who don’t share my libertarian views. But (thankfully), I could not sustain my hate and the persistence in debating. Even conversations with friends and colleagues started becoming a debate area for each one to prove their moral high ground of socio-political (and religious) views. It was painful.
It’s a tweet eat tweet world
Are we the young generation that is shaping the future of the world? The generation where on one hand educated minds talk about sexism and the next moment whisper to friends that they find employing women a pain? The generation that will shun people based on what they eat and how they eat it, no matter their own preferences of food and beverage, which may not align with the other? I am not even going to talk about the cow versus women protection debate. No, I am not.
I have also been in a place where I have got upset with friends for believing in what I thought was “not correct or good”. This dislike was easy to vent when I did not know the person or if I saw their name flash randomly on Twitter or Facebook. I also saw groups of friends getting divided, with both groups writing each other off thinking that the ‘other’ had unfortunately lost all sense and holding a silent ‘#RIP’ over their head.
“You are wrong, I am right!”.Image source: serpent77.wordpress
One particularly long discussion with a couple of friends made me realise that a lot of this political analysis that we throw around on the internet stems from our own personal experiences. As anybody who’s studied Social Science will know, our projects and passions stem from personal experiences and desires. Hate in the virtual world is painted a neutral shade but it is always coloured with the beliefs of our community. Sure, that’s obvious, but beliefs don’t necessarily have to generate hate. So when does it become bad? I think when it comes in the way of our basic humanity. We forget to be kind.
What xenophobia looks like. Illustration by Shivranjana Rathore
The other day I met someone who completely changed my view. It was raining and where I live, when it rains one rarely sees any movement outside. I heard a gentle knock on my window. I opened the door assuming it was the caretaker or her little boy. Instead my eyes met a slim young woman with two children - a boy standing intertwined between her legs and a girl staring wide-eyed at me. The lady spoke Hindi with a strange loudness and accent. She enquired if I knew about any vacant flats. I didn’t but assuming that she had seen a listing somewhere, I tried to get the caretaker to help her. He had no idea, so I gave her the number of someone I know who was looking for a tenant. I got to know however, that the owners of the flat were travelling so I asked the lady to contact them through WhatsApp.
Almost immediately, however, the wariness and mistrust of people in today’s world made me ask her questions about where she came from and where she got to know about the vacancy. I was worried that the flat owner would ask me questions that I did not have answers to, and sharing his number would become an issue. The woman said she was from Afghanistan and was here to study at a University. And as far as the flat was concerned, she was randomly knocking on every door in sight to ask if there was a place to stay. My mind buzzed with many unasked questions about her background. Should I have helped her? I wasn’t sure.
The next day she came in again. Constantly apologising for having disturbed me, she said that she could not connect with the landlady. Today, she had her daughter with her. Her son was with her husband. A friend suggested websites that help find homes to rent. I asked her if she would like that and she nodded. I invited her in and showed her some pages. She was thankful but in a hurry to go back, apologising and thanking me constantly.
Use social media to assert a moral high ground. Image source: pinterest
She has not returned since and I hope she has found a home. However, one thing that stayed with me was that I could have interacted more, with more trust and without an invisible wall between us. The wall was from both sides - hers probably with fear and worry of being in a foreign land and mine? Well, mine because of my preconceived notions that she had an ulterior motive. She was Muslim and from another country. Even though she was alone, she had her husband somewhere. I felt ashamed that even though I didn’t believe in labelling people, I was being judgemental.
I realized that before I try to change other people, I must grow into a person I’m proud of. And through my own humanity and kindness, I could prevail over biases and judgments. In the end, we are all connected, and instead of using difference to divide, we can use differences to embrace and unite.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Shivranjana Rathore
Cover photo credit: fineartamerica.com