Maybe it’s always been this way. Maybe Americans have always been so self-assured and arrogant because our perceived superiority was rooted in some objective measure of reality. So it didn’t matter if we were happy so long as we were better than the next guy.
We had the biggest economy and the best and brightest minds. Our leaders were bold and transcendent. Our people lived well. Longer too. We valued the nuclear family in a moral sense, but also financially; you could raise a family in the middle class.
(And we had a middle class).
Perhaps that vision of the “shining city upon a hill” was real enough — tangible and wide-spread — that what separated political factions was viewed as inconsequential semantics in light of shared experiences.
But, not anymore. Our veil of superiority is in tatters. We are not great. And today, it’s as true as ever. Our life expectancy ranks 26th out of 35 OECD countries. We rank 40th in wealth inequality. We’re in the bottom six countries in the world for death at the hands of policing forces. To boot, we’re treating a global health crisis like a pack of neanderthals who believe it’s a far-left plot to discredit the president and infringe upon personal freedoms. Oh, and we hate each other.
And to what end?
The only thing we are still in first place for is the usage of antidepressants.
All of which leads to a conclusion that’s oversimplified, but not in dispute — we’re arrogant, broke, angry, dying faster, and utterly miserable.
And worse yet, we lack the introspection to see it, let alone deal with it. So, in spite of ourselves, we feed that misery daily, like a newborn in need of milk.
We fight each other on the Internet with a fervor we almost never exhibit in the real world for our jobs, our loved ones, or the causes we tweet about.
And we do it intentionally. I say ‘we’ intentionally too. I’ll explain.
About four weeks ago, I’d reached a breaking point with COVID life. I was on edge, unhappy, yet not deeply.
Each day, from the moment I peeled my eyes open on one side and mercifully found sleep on the other, felt like an endurance race against an unrelenting wave of things that piss me off.
How I hadn’t realized the nexus of it sooner, I don’t know. But the catalyst, the biggest source of my frustrations, was clear as day.
It was me.
As time indoor led to even more time on social media, it became abundantly clear that my own hand-picked social media feeds and group chats were gripping me in misery.
And I’d been too proud to acknowledge it. Yeah. A basketful of ass hats I hardly know in real life managed to piss me off enough in my virtual life that it was affecting my happiness.
Did I remain self-righteous throughout this self-reckoning? Hell yes. I stand by my views. But who was I changing and who was I helping by getting into tit-for-tats online? (No one.) And most of the time, it was with people I wouldn’t care enough to see in person even if I were allowed to.
Who’s the idiot in that scenario? Unquestionably, me.
As I zoomed out, taking a minor reprieve from ‘weighty issues’ on social media, I was stunned by how quickly, and how markedly, my sense of peace returned.
I engaged with things that were light and funny, or informative and *gasp* objective. I even retreated from toxic text conversations with people I do love and care for in real life — and instead worked to push those conversations onto Zoom chats.
To take the venom out of our premeditated responses in text form, and instead focus on that which once unified us — and still does.
What unifies us is us. The real us. Not the internet us, not the text message or meme version of us. The real us. The person who has differing views but can talk through them after pushing the keyboard aside.
The us who has loved ones at home and on our mind that we’re too damaged and scarred to address with simple, vulnerable love.
Our political views and rants are forms of public self-gratification where the only currency exchanged are likes. Likes which won’t help us sleep better, won’t make us feel better, and won’t make us better.
We can do better, and we have to do better. The democrats and republicans won’t be there to bury us, and they won’t bat an eye after we’re gone.
But our loved ones will.