By Mary Gaylord. Reprinted from Huffington Post.
We do it constantly, almost without thinking, hook, line, and sinker. The Free Dictionary defines this idiom as follows: “to be tricked into believing something without any doubts.”
We take the hate bait. And then we share the hate bait — we tweet it, post it, talk about it.
Hate bait is when someone bites on, reacts to, and/or spreads some incendiary story, post, tweet, or the like. It gets one’s dander up and blood boiling. It serves as a catalyst to get us or our adversary poised to jump on a high horse and go for a ride. It can feel so righteously poignant, clever, and in-your-face.
Some of us live for it. We can hardly wait for someone to do or say something so we can join them or oppose them and show anyone else who is paying attention, how right we are and how wrong they are. We go with the emotional rush, not bothering with mundane details like accuracy or truth. We take the hate bait, hook, line, and sinker. And we share it.
There are so many enticing lures out there we hardly know which one to bite first. Infotainment masquerading as news? Facebook posts? Tweets? Talk radio? Bumper stickers? Getting your “news” from these sources is akin to getting medical treatment from a 4-year-old playing doctor. It may be cute, but definitely not reliable.
We are living in a universe where disparate realities coexist side-by-side. How can the same event or person be seen, described, and experienced so differently? How can Barack Obama and Donald Trump both be our political saviors and our nation’s downfall depending on your perspective (and your sources)? It feels schizophrenic: A situation or condition that results from the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic qualities, identities, or activities. I can think of no condition that more aptly describes the dynamic in our political/social culture these days. Here are a few examples of hate bait and disparate, antagonistic dynamics I’ve seen recently:
- Sources that categorically suggest people who voted for candidate “X” are racist, misogynistic people.
- Sources that refer to those whose presidential candidate did not win as “whiners,” “sore losers” etc.
- Commentaries on the attire/appearance of public figures.
- Anyone who perpetuates the us against them dynamic.
There are indeed small factions of destructive hate-filled extremists on both sides. They attach themselves to movements and political parties, suggesting that they represent the majority when in fact, they are a very small minority. They pit us against each other when we take the bait, magnify their influence and throw their words and deeds in the faces of others. These people routinely employ hate-bait. They are the racists, bigots and others who gain power through division and their schemes to further divide us. They are a tiny faction, and yet, many of us have been baited into thinking otherwise.
Hate bait separates us into bullies and the bullied. It distracts us. We can do better than this and we can be saner than this. Call it a momentary lapse in judgment or a temporary break from reality, but let’s get back on track. Can we get to the business of focusing on what matters and doing the real work that is necessary?
The next time I’m tempted to bite and spread hate bait, I will ask myself these questions:
- Is the information relevant and important? Does the information solve problems?
- Who or what is the originating source? Do they have an angle? Are they credible?
- If it’s a laugh I’m going for, is it worth it if it misleads, wounds, or offends people I care about?
- Does it pass the “mom test?” - would she give me that look and remind me that “if you haven’t got something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
By all means, stand up for what you believe in. Take action where you can. Make your voice heard and participate in our democracy, But don’t take the hate bait. Hold yourself to a higher standard. Doing so doesn’t require that we agree on everything, but it does require us to consider the source of the information we share and the effect sharing it will have.
There are some very good people I love on the “other side.” I am committed to resisting the hate bait and finding a way to make a new place, one not defined by us versus them — a place where I can stand alongside people, where the high horses of indignation and righteousness are occasionally stabled in favor of reason, sanity, and civility.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. ~ Rumi
Mary Gaylord is a Program Development Partner with Living Room Conversations, an organization committed to bringing together people with differences in a friendly, structured, conversational format. She has worked as a community mediator, victim-offender reconciliation specialist, and facilitator of bully prevention programming for school-aged children. She lives in the Rocky Mountains and is passionate about spending time outdoors with family and friends.