About an hour ago I got a juicily-worded post from someone who took issue with a recent story of mine on Medium.com about aging, training, and the conversations we have with our bodies. Here, are Jamie Whyte’s comments, lifted from my email (as she is now blessedly blocked):
“Training also means that I heal really, really fast.” one wonders what sort of ignorance leads you to this conclusion since there are millions of people who train hard and yet, as they begin to age, heal really, really slowly. or that yoga will magically heal your crippled friend. it may help. or not. or it may make the condition worse. here’s the reality: you have no fucking idea.
in this context, the battle between nature and nurture has been decided: nature wins. genetics trumps (with apologies) training. making an effort to keep fit is usually helpful (except when it isn’t — a fact about which you seem blissfully ignorant). wishful thinking does not overcome the harsh reality of biology; and even augmentation with hours in the gym is often insufficient to overcome one’s physical limitations.
if you insist upon encouraging people to exercise, do it responsibly and without the moral overlay. don’t make promises for training that can’t be kept. we are all really, really pleased that your training has been beneficial. but spreading a gospel rooted in overgeneralization does a service to no one.
If I were to make an educated guess, since Ms. Whyte failed to validate, back up, justify or in anyway provide proof for a single one of her broad brush claims, that this is a very personal a battle for her. It’s been my experience, limited as it may well be, that the loudest and most vitriolic of those who comment like this are themselves beset with an issue that they haven’t discovered answers for, and are beating the bushes for a bastard to blame. But as she says, and I wholly agree, I have no fucking idea- at least as it relates to her.
However, we tend to leak our truth.
The article at issue here has quite a number of references that were used- since I’m a journalist- I took the time to research to justify the claims I made in the story (More Lies About Getting Old(er)). I used anecdotes, of course. Many of us do. But I also researched and provided links to where I got my material. I didn’t just make it up. As to having “no fucking idea,” well, that’s not entirely true. I read, studied, researched, and provided plenty of material to back myself up. I have no clue about anyone else’s individual experience, nor did I claim any- unless I had interviewed that person. Ms. Whyte makes a number of interesting claims in the above that my own research- or personal experience -doesn’t entirely support. We have differing views. There’s no crime in that. That’s where polite discourse comes in.
Here’s the piece. I have no problem if someone chooses to disagree. This is where we grow. However I do most virulently have a problem with personal, ugly attacks, name-calling and character assassination. This is where trolling has become an art form for those who, for whatever reason, have a massive axe to grind. Perhaps Ms. Whyte has a personal physical problem, perhaps there are people in her family who are afflicted. Those things touch us to the bone, and they are often the reason people attack others with different ideas and experiences. (Well MY brother….well MY mother…okay, that may be true but it isn’t true for all of us. Nothing is true for all of us.)
Well, death is. But I digress.
These are perfectly understandable reasons to be hurt, or angry, or frustrated. They are not, however, perfectly understandable reasons to attack, brow beat, demean or otherwise seek to take down others with whom we might disagree for one reason or another. At some point, get yourself under control and deal with your issues like an adult. Adults do not behave like ill-begotten brats whose manners belong in the sewer. This is trolling made high art form, and why many of us here on Medium.com eschew Facebook, Twitter, and even Linked In which has increasingly been infected this way.
Want to read something scary but that you probably already know or suspect about how we are manipulated? Seehttps://qz.com/1039910/how-facebooks-news-feed-algorithm-sells-our-fear-and-outrage-for-profit/. In many cases, people like Ms. Whyte have been very adeptly manipulated to feel extreme outrage and anger, and she needs to blow off steam. I choose not to be her soft target.
Social media is a cancer in this regard, a full-fledged, anger-driven pissing contest to see who can out-mean everyone else. There is the perception of power in anger. Actually, it eats away at every part of us, diminishes who we are, and rots our hearts (https://health.usnews.com/wellness/mind/articles/2017-10-26/the-physical-and-mental-toll-of-being-angry-all-the-time). Anger in the moment- to protect ourselves, our loved ones, to express stepping over an important boundary, is a normal part of life. You feel it, it’s over, you go back to normal. The kind of constantly-inflamed anger we see on social media, which not only feeds it but feeds off it, is what is part of what’s killing us as a society.
I choose to be informed, not inflamed. Which is one reason my time on Facebook has dropped by at least 95% since starting writing for Medium.com. I feel far safer here than I do on other platforms, but for the likes of Ms. Whyte and just a few others who seem to need to carry their buckets of discord with them to new territories. Since I feel that way about Medium, I will also fight to get rid of angry agenda-driven people.
Medium’s clearly stated rules of conduct discuss polite and respectful discourse, which this most certainly is not. We all have the right to disagree. What we don’t have the right to do is inject cancer and vitriol into what could otherwise be a lively exchange of ideas, from which we (and other parties)might learn.
The Gift of Diverse Opinions
I have very much appreciated those who have taken the time to consider something I have written with which they disagree, send me some links, suggest that I look into them (and I always do, with thanks) and present alternative viewpoints. This doesn’t threaten me in the slightest. Ms. Whyte doesn’t do this; she simply makes broad claims with nothing to back up her comments. Had there been links, I’d have happily researched them. This rather undermines the post. I often get links from those who disagree. What it does is invite me to turn an issue around from a different perspective. The learning comes far more swiftly when the invitation is genuine and sincere. This is how I push myself to see from other viewpoints, and it is hugely valuable. When the intent is to do as much insult and damage to the writer as possible, it’s hard even for the most generous of us to embrace that POV.
You have a right to your POV, but you and I have no right whatsoever to attack someone we may not agree with on a forum where there is intended to be an exchange of ideas. The world is quite challenging enough already without dripping sarcasm (we are all really, really pleased that your training has been beneficial) and the hurling of insults (puerile,ignorance, sanctimonious). Here I might point out that Ms. Whyte utilizes the online bully’s favorite cowardly term “We are all”. Who is we, perchance?And kindly, who elected YOU to speak for ALL of 7.442 billion other people on earth? Every single troller who has come after me, and I would imagine anyone else who has displeased them in some way, has used precisely the same method- the breathless arrogance to speak for the entire mass of mankind, without asking their permission to do so. It’s hugely amusing while at the same time achingly sad, for it seems that Ms. Whyte apparently doesn’t have the moral courage simply to speak for herself. As do most bullies, especially anonymous online versions of same. To do so speaks to personal responsibility.
In such cases all we’ve done is demonstrated rather publicly our inability to communicate with courtesy, respect and regard for someone else who has a different way of seeing, whose results are different, who has researched different books, articles and materials. In this case the need to be right overrode the requirement to be polite.
That is precisely what is wrong with public discourse right now.
Kindly Please Grow UP
Part of emotional maturity- the entry into true adulthood as it were- is our ability to embrace diverse viewpoints, discuss different, even radically different points of view without descending into puerile (yes, I also use this word) personal attacks simply because we don’t agree. Look, someone might decide to write a lengthy treatise on how the earth is flat. Not only do I know this isn’t true, but science proves it. If I feel strongly, and am angry, I write out a response, get it out of my system and erase it. No harm done, I’ve said my piece, that’s the end of it, and nobody gets hurt in the process. Or, even better, just ignore it. If that article clearly isn’t to your taste or liking, why waste the time attacking the author? YOU chose to read the article. It’s not like this person is inserting mail through the mail slot, or sending you offensive emails, or robo-calling you. Don’t like the article? Treat it like you would direct mail. Delete it. Or just move on to read something more to your preferences.
The Gift of a Mirror
I can only speak to my own experiences here but after 65 years of life and many decades of hard personal work, when I read something that brings up that level of anger, that’s a bright red flag to take a cold, hard look inside ME. Like it or not, and I don’t, that telegraphs to me that there’s an area inside myself that needs attention and work. Of course it’s uncomfortable. Having someone hold up a mirror always is. Whatever I’m resisting (in this case, for Ms. Whyte, the article was about conventional wisdom about exercise, healthy aging and the like) it probably means that I need to look more closely and find out what’s making me so damned mad. It’s not the author’s fault. Not in the slightest. If I’m brave enough I’ll see it as a gift that here, kiddo, you need to take a look at this in your life. Don’t care if you don’t like it. This is important. Sucks. Damned right. But apparently I needed to read it or otherwise I wouldn’t have felt that strongly. Blaming others for how you feel is missing the point. But that’s just my opinion. Doesn’t make me right, but this is what’s right for me.
The simple truth is that nothing I say is going to change anyone’s views when they are of that mindset. I have however, on the other hand, had lively, interesting and engaging exchanges on Medium.com with people whose viewpoints are vastly different. What marked those exchanges was a commitment to courtesy, a genuine interest in hearing the other side, and a willingness to consider. We may not have shifted viewpoints but at least for my part I came to understand and appreciate the other person’s thinking. That is a gift in every sense of the word.
That respect is earned. You don’t get respect with personal attacks. I hardly think she cares, but those of us- and again this is just my experience- who have a modicum of self-respect do tend to respect others.
Not surprisingly, I blocked Ms. Whyte and then I copied and pasted her remarks in a report to Medium.com. I actually wished her well and I meant it. This is a community worth protecting. I don’t have to agree with anyone on here to respect them. On the other hand I don’t respect those who abuse the right to comment, when their intention is to degrade and diminish.
It is a sad life indeed when we feel so self-righteous that we need to take others down a peg for the crime of not sharing our viewpoints, especially when there is plenty of research on either side of an issue. Rather than being able to say, “You have a point, I hadn’t thought about it that way. Have you ever looked at this? This is a bit different, might be of interest.” That’s gentle, respectful, and it assumes- quite kindly- that the reader is willing to consider. Many times we are- depending on the delivery. Toxic delivery guarantees either an ugly response — they win — or you block them out of your life — you win. Nobody needs more cancer. There’s enough of that around already.
Here’s to polite discourse. May it thrive and overwhelm.