Last week, Gary Johnson (Libertarian candidate for President of the United States) was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. They began the interview with some formalities and questions about who he was taking the most votes from, and then suddenly, rapidly, without any segue whatsoever, asked: “What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo?”
“And what is Aleppo?” Johnson asked.
“You’re kidding,” replied Mike Barnicle.
“Aleppo is in Syria. It’s the epicenter of the refugee crisis…”
Johnson went on to talk about what he thought about the situation in Syria and what he would do it. Unfortunately, the damage seemed to have already been done. Social media pundits and critics went nuts on the man, and he participated in multiple interviews shortly after in which he was asked if he thought the gaff was disqualifying to be POTUS. (Quick aside: How is it that with all of the negatives that come with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a brief moment of forgetfulness is enough to disqualify a third party candidate?!)
The world, we were reminded that way, is chock-full of stone-throwers. People who can’t see past their own self-righteousness to give a little grace and understanding to a guy who had a moment of forgetfulness.
Now, I try not to talk about politics a lot on the blog (I did it once and don’t really enjoy it, given the track record of my blog and how that was out of place and out of context) so I’m not trying to get into it on here – but I do like to talk about it in person. I chewed on the events of this story for a while and talked to a few different people, asking if they’d heard what happened earlier in the day. My question to all of them was, “do you know what Aleppo is?” I got about two “yes”es, and a whole lot more “no”s.
What I realized was this: a lot of people don’t know what’s going on in Syria. I sure as heck didn’t know the extent of it. I realized, through Gary Johnson, that I didn’t know the half of the situation there. I didn’t know the names of major cities on Syria, didn’t know the ins and outs and who was on whose side, whose side the United States are on, etc.
But not a lot of people think that way. Republican and Democrat, media pundit and layman alike used this as an opportunity to say, “oh, how embarrassing, a guy who’s struggling to get into the debates doesn’t know what Aleppo is. His campaign is done.” Instead of choosing to forgive a moment of ignorance, forgetfulness, lack of knowledge, brain fart, whatever you want to call it – people politicized it. Because most people know that. Because real patriots know that. Because real candidates know that. Because real people who care know that.
I have a big problem with how America handled that. But I can think of more examples than the Gary Johnson/Aleppo situation.
I live in Lexington, KY, home of the Kentucky Wildcats. Now, we’re much more well-known for our basketball program than our football program. But for now, football is the only thing in season. On the first weekend, Kentucky led Southern Mississippi 35-17 at halftime. The game ended 44-35…to Southern Miss. It got ugly. Enter “Mark Stoops” on Twitter and you can see all of the things people are saying about him (He’s the head coach of Kentucky football.) Social media was rife with comments about how disgraceful it was, how the team should be embarrassed, people wondering how the players can show their faces around Lexington, and fans talking about how ashamed they were to be a Kentucky fan.
I get being emotional about sports, but I question how far we should go with our reaction to it. Why is it suddenly a moral or a justice issue? Why do we use words like “embarrassing,” “disgraceful,” “abysmal, or “ashamed?” Those are words critics use – those are not words that laymen have the right to use. I wonder how many of social media detractors have been in the shoes of those they’re putting down (and it doesn’t just have to be social media; in the case of the Kentucky game there was plenty of Monday-morning criticism.) How many people lambasting Kentucky football players have suited up for a college team before?
How many of us who criticize our government have served in office? How many of us who make fun of a singer for hitting a wrong note during a live performance have done that?
“But they’re professionals,” you say. “They’re getting paid to do this, they should do it well.”
Right, agreed. But imagine if your name trended on Twitter every time you made a mistake. Imagine if CNN talked about me non-stop for a whole day for writing an incoherent, poorly-flowing blog. Imagine if a photo of bad latte art I made got retweeted and sent all over the internet with captions about how ashamed I should be that I didn’t get the perfect rosetta. Imagine if you got pelted on the Huffington Post for being in a bad mood at your job one day and giving bad service.
Maybe our argument and the logic we use to criticize others (ie. “they’re professionals, they should do better”) we should use on ourselves first. If we all started with ourselves, the world would be a lot better off.
Self-righteousness is the number one disease of our generation (perpetuated, I opine, by social media.) At every turn, we get chances for self-promotion. In our ever-connected world, we get the chance to choose the news outlets we take in – whether we’re going to consume news with a liberal spin or a conservative spin. We get a chance to saturate ourselves with just our own interests and live in our own little bubbles, and sometimes they’re bubbles of important issues, leading us to lambast others who don’t live in that bubble. What do you do about someone who isn’t up to date with what’s happening in Syria, to borrow the earlier example? Are guilt tactics the most effective way to get someone to care? Self-promotion and bashing others aren’t going to help Syrian refugees. Humbling yourself, learning, giving to relief funds, and creating conversations with other people, are the only ways to heal the situation.
And really, that’s the only way to heal our world. Maybe we’ll have the world that everyone dreams of – a world in which we’re unified, we love one another, and we look out for one another – once we humble ourselves and learn to put down our stones.