The first time I fell in love with the word staunch was while watching the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens. The film follows the tattered lives of Big Edie and Little Edie, the formerly well to do aunt and cousin of the late Jackie Kennedy, who are living among vermin in a decaying home by the sea. If you’ve seen Grey Gardens, you probably remember the ‘staunch’ scene. If you haven’t seen the movie, here is the scene I’m referring to:
“But you see in dealing with me, the relatives didn’t know that they were dealing with a staunch character and I tell you if there’s anything worse than dealing with a staunch woman… S-T-A-U-N-C-H. There’s nothing worse, I’m telling you. They don’t weaken, no matter what.” – Little Edie
Like Little Edie, I consider myself a bit of a staunch character. Some may call it stubborn pride and they may be right, but I just see it as the ability to gird my loins in most situations. Grit my teeth. Dig in my heels. Grin and bear it. Soldier on. Skills that were sewn into my DNA and also acquired after so many years of so much bullshit. Sometimes it works in my favor and sometimes it makes me my own worst enemy.
The internet is rife with people like me, stubborn as the day is long with just enough time on their hands to let everyone know. I can argue, and I have. I’ve had my fair share of online debates. At times I’ve been schooled and have had to lick my proverbial wounds, admit defeat. In other instances I’ve laid out compelling arguments and, in my head, changed a few minds for the better. But a large majority of them ended in rabid, frothing at the mouth, banging on the keys, must get my point across again and again and again head spinning frustration.
Then, I got sick.
It’s amazing how fast your need to prove a point melts away when you’re faced with a major illness.
It’s not to say I don’t argue anymore. Ask my husband. He’ll let you know. It’s just that the instances are rare now, even in the days of Donald Trump. I have opinions of him and they are firm, but I mostly just poke fun at the absurdity. And there is so much of it. I make note of the egregious lies that spew daily from his pumpkin tinted face. But I don’t fight anymore. I don’t need to shove it down your throat. I want to, don’t get me wrong. I want to yell and scream and pound my fists on the table. But I don’t. Because that’s how he wins. More importantly, though, that’s how we lose.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the talk of Russian interference in our last election. And it’s real. This is no fake news. It happened. Of that, there is no doubt. My husband’s line of work is cybersecurity and we’ve had extensive discussions about exactly how and why Russia has invaded us this way. I now know what a bot is, how rapidly misinformation can spread on the web. I understand how susceptible the human mind is to taking it in as truth and how quickly it gets us riled up.
Recently, news stories have been circulating around the Trump administration’s cruel (my word and the truth, if you ask me) practice of separating children from their families when crossing the border into the United States. Pictures soon followed of rows of children lying on simple mats inside what could be described as makeshift jail cells. The problem is, those pictures are from 2014, under what circumstances I don’t know, and no post I saw seemed to mark that. As sickened as I am by children being forcibly removed from their parents, even if they are ‘illegally’ crossing into this country, those pictures are not of what is currently happening and no one really seems to care. That’s a problem. That’s how we lose.
It happens often, things like that, a news article suddenly circulating the rounds of social media. Everyone is whipped into a frenzy, sharing and commenting. Only problem is, that happened in 2007 or that person died last year or it is a school shooting just not a new one. But each time it’s shared we clutch our chest, we breathe a heavy sigh, our emotions are sent reeling. That’s the problem. That’s how we lose.
There are also outright lies, so blatant and obvious it amazes me anyone could believe them. But they do. And there are the ones that could be plausible if you’re willing to take an internet meme at its word. The ones that might be true. The ones that could. But who knows? You could investigate for yourself, but you’re onto the next click or that other article. Take, Sgt. Gregory Hayes, for example.
According to the picture, Sgt. Hayes, a veteran, has a teenage daughter and she’s been raped by two Syrian refugees. And he’s going to jail for killing them with his bare hands. But, if you share. If you make this post go viral, dear citizen, maybe you can get the word out about poor Sgt. Hayes. You can show the world that you stand by this honorable man, this military veteran, this hero father who was understandably enraged by this viscous act against is child. Problem is, there is no Sgt. Hayes. Well, I’m sure there is, somewhere, but there is no Sgt. Hayes whose daughter was raped by refugees who is on his way to jail.
The guy in the picture, I’ve learned from a very simple Google search, is some guy named Dennis. Dennis, as far as I can tell, has great taste in clothes and beer, but didn’t beat two men with his bare hands after learning they raped his daughter. That picture, its text, they are lies. And the problem is no one seems to care. The original post that I saw had been shared over a half million times.
Not every person who shared it, I’m sure, believed it. Perhaps they shared it to highlight how idiotic the internet can be. Maybe Dennis himself shared it and had a good laugh at it all. The person I know that shared it, they seemed to believe it. And that person, who believed a complete lie written over a picture of some guy in a bar, is a person I know to be highly intelligent. And that’s why the Russian spreading of misinformation is so tremendously dangerous. It works. People believe it. Even the ones you think will not. Even you.
And even if you didn’t believe a word of it, but wondered if maybe somehow part of it was true. Maybe it wasn’t Sgt. Hayes. It could have been a guy named Dennis. Perhaps his daughter wasn’t raped, instead it was his wallet that was stolen. The seed was sown. Refugees are dangerous. You could someday be Sgt. Hayes, defending your daughter and going to jail. Spread the word, raise awareness. MAKE THIS POST GO VIRAL. It’s possible, after all, isn’t it. Even if it isn’t true, maybe it could happen and maybe refugees shouldn’t be allowed in this country. The seed is sown.
That’s one post that I saw one day during an hour of surfing my social media accounts. Think of all the posts, all the day, over all the accounts you have over all these past 12 months. That’s a lot of seeds and a hell of a lot of sowing. Day after day after day after day. That’s the problem. That’s how we lose because that’s how they win. We are defeated when we fail to seek reason because we are too busy trying to prove ourselves right.
I’ve been left with a healthy respect and obvious fear of the cunning effectiveness of misinformation and its ability to veer us off course. We’re spinning our wheels by posting and spreading lies. We’re doing Russia’s work for them. It’s changing us. It’s turning us against each other. Every single time we don’t fact check, we click share whether we know the information to be factual or not, we are changing the definition of truth and walking ourselves further and further from sanity.
Every time we read something and nod our head because it affirms our beliefs but look no further, the seed has been sown. The enemy has won. Logic and reason are defeated. Everything is the truth and nothing is a lie. Or vice versa. Whatever works for you. Your faith in your fellow man decays, your faith in the system erodes until you’re left with the belief that none of this matters so there’s no need to keep trying.
And that’s what they want and that’s how they win. They whirl us into oblivion and slowly, almost imperceptibly, we begin to withdraw from the process. I’ve felt this way many times during Trump’s presidency. What’s the point? The system is rigged. It doesn’t matter if I take part in the process. My voice doesn’t matter. But, it does, even if I don’t think it’s being heard. It is and I can’t let chaos drown out reason. Neither can you.
Don’t argue. Act.
Love your neighbor.
Love your enemy, if only from afar.
Use logic and reason.
Research before you post.
Think before you share.
Don’t give up.
Don’t give in to chaos.
Don’t sow the seeds and definitely DO NOT water them.
Use your head.
And, for the benefit of us all,
Be staunch, but don’t be stupid.