The other day I was driving my car on a side street in the early evening. It was dark. From the side street, I approached a major street and prepared to turn right. There was no intersection or crosswalk. Just a stop sign. Before I reached the sign, I noticed a biker crossing in front of me. I stopped. Perhaps quickly, but with plenty of space between us. As the biker passed by, he raised his hand– presumably to wave “thank you” for stopping.
As his hand reached up, a single middle finger rose in the air. The one-finger salute expressed his feelings about the situation.
The gesture bothered me for the rest of my drive. I didn’t even know this guy.
If we had discussed the matter, I might have said: “Hey man, sorry about that. Sorry if I scared you. Didn’t see you until the last minute.”
He might have said: “No problem. I am really glad you saw me and stopped. After all, I was riding my bike down a major city street without a light or a helmet.”
But no conversation would take place. Only an expression of displeasure that served its purpose of making me angry.
This exchange is symbolic, I think, of the ways we relate to each other these days. And it’s not just trolls on the internet.
Or, maybe we’ve all become trolls on the internet. Memes and knee jerk reactions become our one-finger salutes. Angry gestures from passersby.
Rage gets sparked by things like a Gorilla at a zoo, shot to protect a child who ventured into a cage. Who do we blame?
Outrage as entertainment. Conviction by social media.
Looking through this lens, many examples come to mind. The riots in Milwaukee. Conservative anger about Black Lives anger. Local news. Anything having to do with the presidential election.
And I’m equally at fault, swept up into the rage of the political season. Quick to condemn and point fingers and yell and scream and insult.
But this reaction just lowers the bar. Of a bar lowered, pretty low, already.