It has been an interesting 12 hours on Facebook. On two arenas, art and politics, I have had the all too common experience of being attacked, sometime viciously, sometimes humorously for, in one case, being an abstract artist, and in a second case, offering support to my Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders.
I am not the kind of guy who draws a lot of attacks normally. I am pretty peaceful. I am not much of a radical rabble rousing type in any of my opinions. I hate conflict.
That may be an understatement. I’ve had a lot of trouble dealing with conflict for most of my life. It all goes back to a father with anger issues and alcoholism and a little boy (that would be me) growing up in an atmosphere where any differences at all turned into conflict. My dad and I came to a place of respect and love, but it was a rocky road until I was in my twenties, and part of the fallout of that rough time was a fear of conflict, even mild conflict, that still plagues me from time to time.
But I have gotten better at it. My wife has been the best and biggest factor, helping me more with her love and logic than anyone else ever has, even my therapists, for my entire life. But I still hate conflict.
Like I said, I am better at it, particularly conflict with strangers. I tend to explain things into oblivion with so much kindness that kindness becomes a weapon of shame, and sometimes actually changes people.
Let’s start with the art. I posted a few new paintings yesterday. Those who read my art posts know I am mostly an abstract artist. I paint a lot, post a lot, and now and again sell a few. I know some people don’t like or don’t understand abstract art. Especially here in Vermont where we have an incredible number of talented landscape artists, abstract art is not in vogue. But it’s what I paint.
I got a comment on one of the paintings: “Are you kidding?”
I could have responded in all kinds of ways. Mad. Indignant. Or I could have ignored him. In the past, that is what I would normally have done. But in my old age, I have begun to take a different tact.
Here’s what I wrote: “LOL! I have heard that enough times that I am not nearly as insulted as you meant me to be. Some people like abstact art and will even pay for it. It has meaning for them. Others don’t. Most of those who don’t just pass me by. But you chose to be rude. That’s OK. I am fine with what I do, and how I do it. Like I said, I have heard it before. Have a good day. Hope you feel better.”
30 minutes later, he had deleted his post, and with it my answer. It made me smile.
Later in the evening, I read a post from my Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders. Now, I have to tell you that before coming to Vermont 12 years ago, I thought Bernie was a flake. That was the opinion of most of the Virginians I grew up with. But my time up here, and my own growth in awareness and compassion has made me respect him immensely. I don’t always agree with him, but I do with some things, and I respect the incredible consistency of his stands over 40 years. This particular post of his was a challenge to Senator McConnel to pass the $2,000 stimulus bill. And so, I very simply wrote that I was proud to have him as my senator. Nothing more.
What a hornet’s nest I stirred up. I was called an “idiot” by several people, and an “idoit” by another. Called crazy. Called unAmerican. My Christianity was challenged. I was told people like me made others ashamed to be a Christian. Shit emojis abounded. I was told what I thought about economics, politics of all sorts, even about abortion. Some of them were pretty vile. And beyond the posts, I got a slew of crazy ugly personal messages.
Now, remember, all I wrote, literally was “I am proud to have you as my senator.”
A few of the ugly commenters were from the other end of the political spectrum. Even more from my side of the aisle, but had mistook my comment as supporting McConnel. It was breathtaking.
I could have let it go, but I decided “No, that is what people who are ugly want. To shut down others with their rudeness.” So I responded to each and every ugly comment with a gentle, kind explanation. To many of them I simply suggested that they go read my comment again. that I was actually on their side. To others I gave biblical explanations and history. To others I stood my ground without being ugly. I stayed away from snark.
Well, almost. To the guy who called me an Idoit, I did point out his misspelling. But otherwise I was unfailingly gentle and kind and gave them probably way more response than they expected or whated.
Now, this is the interesting part.
Most of the people who had misread things went back, re-read the post and my other comments, and apologized. One of the people who is on the other side of politics from me send me an eloquent apology, and said that my gentle tone has made him rethink things. Another guy said the same thing publicly. Several people who DID get what I was saying said nice things about my patience. Two or three people deleted their ugly comments. Not what I expected.
It is part of my own growth, to confront ugliness, and do it gently. It has been, not just in the last twelve hours, but in the last few years of my own growth, amazing how people draw back when their rudeness and ugliness is gently confronted and shown up. It has taken me a long to to get here, and I have a ways to go, but still, it is growth in the right direction, and it has made me slowly turn politely feisty. I think my mother would approve.
For me, it was a vindication of the power of a gentle word as opposed to lashing back. We teach that in schools and in churches and religious institutions of all sorts, but as a country, particularly the past few years, we have largely abandoned the practice of civil discourse.
But you know what? It works. It still works. And it was a good reminder for me that it works.
Be well. Travel wisely,
PS: The painting is mine. It’s called “Layers of Faith”.