Occasionally I break the cardinal rule of anyone who values their sanity and peace of mind; I read the comments section of news articles. An while it can be a jarring and disheartening experience, I encourage you to do the same.
It reminds me that I have the privilege of living a manicured life. Over the years I have cultivated a circle of friends that I both cherish and enjoy, and have meticulously groomed my social media feeds to the point that everything I see is thoughtful, informative, or uplifting. As a result I have attained an artificial sense of the world being comprised primarily of thoughtful and intelligent people with good intentions.
Then I stare into the void of the comments section, and all my pretty illusions crumble like gossamer in a fire. The depth of the fear, hate, ignorance, and hysteria I see varies depending on the news source, but is always quantifiably present. What world do these people live in I wonder, surely it is not the same as mine. Who are these aliens that have such drastically different understandings of science, morality, and justice?
Then I take it a step further, and visit these aliens on their home worlds. In a click, I am on their social media profiles, looking at pictures, prior posts, and their self-identifiers. These aliens are human after all. They have families they love, friends, jobs, hobbies and passions.
They are human and we share a common Earth, but their manicured world is much different than mine. Their faces have a lot in common, old, white, and working class. Much like the family I love, but studiously avoid discussing politics and religion with. In these moments I feel empathy for even the most vicious troll. I am reminded that we are not so different after all, and that only time and education divide us.
As Thanksgiving approaches many of us will be seeing relatives who may or may not be like the comments trolls that degrade our faith in humanity. Perhaps this year, it would be useful to seek to further understand your similarities, instead of just avoiding your differences. You may not agree on politics and religion, but you’ll certainly have more empathy for these aliens at the dinner table.