Writing about how awful it is gets a lot of eyeballs, and can get plenty of followers. But at what cost?
There are a few very bright, well-educated people who write for Medium whose material skews hard towards the extremely negative. I read it every so often, not only to gain perspective on the Millennial viewpoints, but also because for my part it's important to hear about what hurts for other generations, cultures, colors, religions.
However. This morning I dipped my toe in to another piece which started off feeling as though this person might have turned something of a corner until I realized that there was a one-two punch in the face for optimists.
I am an optimist. But there is a huge difference between someone close to 70 who has lived a lot of life, survived too many rapes, a bankruptcy, really serious accidents and homelessness and someone who for whom breaking a fingernail or having Netflix drop their favorite movie is A TRAUMA.
Don't get me wrong, I didn't say this writer is the latter. I'm just making a broad point.
The unrelenting negativity of this very bright person has begun to rub me raw. It isn't that they don't have a legitimate take. They research, and they write about harsh lived experiences. Those experiences ring true with news stories I read.
Enough of it is true to have the ring of absolute accuracy. But it isn't entirely accurate. It is true for some seeking validation about how the world has entirely gone to shit. Look, in some ways, I don't disagree. In others, I do.
Where I disagree is where I have close to forty years more in life, learning hard lessons in resiliency, and coping. The only way you gain those perspectives is by going through tough times, which is precisely what we are all experiencing right now, each in their own unique way.
What bothers me is that this person has amassed a great many followers, which I sincerely hope is helping to pay the bills. The problem that I have with that is that this kind of messaging isn't exactly mother's milk. You won't find hope here.
If you and I as writers are going to be unrelenting in identifying the issues, then we also need to be unrelenting in suggesting answers and a way out. That is, of course, my opinion only.
I've written plenty elsewhere about the entire American Business Model of making money is based on our misery. All the bigs: weight loss, medicine, pharmacy, body image, et.al. make money only if we fail. There is vastly more profit in our anger and self-hate than there is in selling hope, ways forward, trust, community and collaboration. Those don't sell. Wars sell: wars on fat, wars on poverty, drugs, each other.
For example, articles that pound the drum against previous generations are a call to war. Nobody benefits but those selling weapons (and ads). The same as for the war on cancer, war on (name your topic). Wars are proclaimed where there is money to be made. Articles about hope don't sell. For my part, those articles are hardly touched by the algorithms. There's no call for blood.
While I am no fan of selling hope where the future is fuzzy, I am also no fan of heaping angry, negative discourse on intractable societal issues that need courage and conversation, collaboration and cooperation.
A dear friend of mine, someone who like me experienced incest and sexual assault, is beyond a doubt one of the bravest women I know. Dr. Rosenna Bakari found her way to healing, and has made it her life's journey to offer a healing process to those of us who, like her, have struggled with all kinds of barnacles that have made life damned hard to enjoy. She recently wrote a brand-new book, The Healing Journey. She wrote regularly on Medium which is where we met, and a friendship blossomed.
This morning she posted this meme, which is what inspired this article:
Dr. Baraki models, teaches, demonstrates a way out of despair. That is why she's my friend and it is also why I promote her to others. I like sharing answers.
Struggle porn, as seductive as it might be, makes people money, but it also rewards us for wallowing. Humans love negativity, which is why it leads when it bleeds, the longtime editorial truth for all newspaper headlines.
When we attack those who are trying mightily to re-frame, rework and refocus as a way of coping with sometimes dealing with what to them are insurmountable odds, we cut them off at the knees.
If we wouldn't do that to our children, and I most sincerely hope you wouldn't, then I have to ask why we would do that to anyone trying hard to deal with a frightening and changing world.
Those of my online friends who write about anti-racism, which is a deeply divisive and difficult issue, also write about what to do. Where to go to learn, what to read, how to change how we see, think, feel.
My favorite authors such as Marley K, Sharon Hurley Hall, Rebecca Stevens Alder and others put their hearts into writing about what it's like to be Black in a hateful, truth-denying world, but they also offer a way forward.
It's powerful to point out what's not working. It is dis-empowering to focus solely on what's wrong without offering a dialogue, a way out, how to move forward.
I will admit that reading their material can be exceedingly uncomfortable. Well, GOOD. Because that means there's some truth in it, and if that's the case, then it's up to me to figure out what I need to do. That's the role of discomfort.
Those of us who write for a living have a sacred responsibility, particularly if we are going to be social commenters, to not only point out what's awful but to also shed light on what you and I can do. The great James Baldwin did just that. He inspired many a Black writer and continues to inspire today. My most admired writers put unpleasant facts in my face and then they tell me what I can do about my part in that unpleasantness.
For we all have a part of something that doesn't work.
Simply calling people out, berating people and browbeating them doesn't do much except give us a temporary dopamine hit, which then descends deeper into anger and depression.
Anyone can call out the bad stuff. Not everyone is willing to do the hard work of offering the solutions, or at least, starting conversations about solving those issues.
So while I may well agree with much of what this particular writer says, I do not agree with the notion of building a following based on blame, angry rhetoric and complaint. The problems are real, our leaders are shameful. But we lead no one out of the mess if all we do as writers is incite more anger, validate the hate, and offer nothing but a frayed rope that will break the moment someone in need grasps for it.
The problem is that when we make our bones on the bones of anger, hate and blame, moving towards hope makes us appear lame to those thousands of followers who want us to validate how the world is against them. So they're stuck. They make money in one way, and if they grow, they insult their followers. Talk about building your own prison. Social media can be lethal in this way to vegans who need meat, for example, or a popular Big Girl who loses weight (Adele).
We are already drowning in what's wrong.
We need more light on what's right about us, what we CAN do, where to find the courage and the competence and the capability to face what is and work with it anyway.
What a difference that might make.
And yes, I have hope.
And that, kindly, is what I choose to spread.