One thing I shouldn't be surprised by, but am, is how very ugly people can be behind a veil of Internet anonymity.
Click on the comments section of any major news story published online and you see it--hateful words spewed for strangers to read. Words that go beyond merely being one person's informed opinion. Words meant to inflame.
I firmly believe that most of the commenters would not say these same words out loud to another human being whom they could actually see and hear. Even complete assholes don't, generally speaking, walk up to a stranger on the street and tell them they're going to hell, don't deserve to live, are the scum of the earth, etc., etc., etc. Besides taking massive balls, throwing hate in a stranger's (or politician's, or celebrity's) face could very well end with the speaker getting his or her rear end handed back in a rather bruised and battered condition.
But in the comments section? Choose a clever name and don't give away your location, and no one will ever know the dark thoughts that lurk in your heart and occasionally exit your fingertips via keyboard.
And when something terrible happens to a public figure, the worst of the worst comes out.
As anyone with a television, social media account, or eyes and ears knows, a talented actor died last week at too young an age from an apparent heroin overdose. The first reactions I read were of sadness--a talented man, a friend, a partner, and a father was gone. That inspires, in those of us who are human, a largely sympathetic response. We may not have known this person in real life, but most of us paid money at some point to watch him on the silver screen. As many times as Twister has been on cable, I'd guess we've all invited him into our homes through our TV screens. For the most part, early reaction was at least a "Well, that sucks."
Within an hour, some reactions became, "Guy was a loser who had it coming." "Another addict dies. Shocking." "Good riddance." And these were the gentler negative responses.
Perhaps I'm just going soft now that I'm older. But an early death of a productive member of society seems deserving of my sympathy rather than my scorn or hateful words or, worst of all, a smugness that things are going so well in my world that I can judge others for their addiction.
Here was a person who did not make the news daily with DUIs, drug possession, and public intoxication. This was a guy who got nominated for acting awards for nearly every role he played because not only was he talented, but he took his job seriously and behaved professionally on a movie set.
I'm sure in time tabloid media and entertainment magazines will publish the full story and we'll find out that (spoiler alert) he was kind of a crappy dad and partner while he was high. Addicts generally are. But that doesn't mean those he left behind didn't love him, won't miss him, and do not have good memories from the times he wasn't under an influence. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the deceased was, more often that not, a rational human being who did not want to be found dead next to drug paraphernalia.
Emphasis on that whole "human being" part.
If you have read this blog for any amount of time you know that I am the daughter of a man who battled addiction for the majority of his life. Most of us who come from addictive families see this not as a character flaw, but as a disease. A gene that, thank God, most people do not have.
But that's a hard talking point for people who have never seen addiction up close and argue that it comes down to self-control and choices.
The first drink is absolutely a choice. For some, the many drinks that come after that are a need. A craving I can only understand because I watched it tear my family apart. And one that I've grown to have sympathy for because I saw my dad actively fight it and try over and over to stay sober. And fail every damn time because the alcohol was stronger than he was.
Does that make him weak? Probably. Does it make me angry? Yes. Does it make him a bad person who would have deserved an early death by overdose, a loser whose death shouldn't make anyone pause? No. I do not think so.
Addicts die as a result of their addiction. That is a fact.
And if they didn't make the tabloids on a daily basis with their bad behavior, if they were nominated for awards for their profession, if their colleagues spoke respectfully of them even before their untimely death, if they leave behind a family to mourn them...are they still lesser human beings, just another addict?
I personally have a hard time seeing it this way. Had my father died from an alcohol overdose (as he very nearly did once) instead of from cancer I still would have been in grief and I still would have needed support. His death would still have felt to me and to those who loved him like an injustice.
"Good riddance" would have dismissed the good in his life along with the bad. It would have dismissed me.
I know it makes no difference to anyone who posts a comment. It makes no difference to the people I follow on social media, some of whom are my friends whose opinions I respect something like 99.9% of the time.
But it makes a difference to me. And therefore, behind my own shroud of relative anonymity, it needs to be said.
Before you throw that stone, think of whose glass it might break.