A Pandemic of Acrimony

By Jennifer Hartline Published on August 18, 2021

What is a friendship worth? What is a family relationship worth? How quickly or carelessly will you throw it away in anger?

Without minimizing the devastation of deaths from the virus, there’s another pandemic overtaking us that may cost us far more.

Acrimony has become a highly infectious, destructive agent in the very air around us. The pandemic of anger is decimating our humanity.

Every day I read about people who are in grief over the loss of someone they love, not due to death, but to hostility. People are dazed at the swiftness and severity of the division. They are at a loss to explain how they could have lost so much. None of it makes any sense. It’s actually just stupid, they say.

Friendships, too, are in tatters all around, marked by bitterness and loss instead of good will and loyalty. When Jesus told us to love our enemies, I wonder if it was because He knew we would find that our enemy today was our friend last week.

Moral Superiority is a Delicious Drug

It’s never been easier to hurt someone. A few keyboard clicks, a few seconds, and wham! Lashing out has never been so effortless or rewarding as it is today. There is nothing to stop the verbal slicing and dicing, discharged with snarling and spitting. It just feels too satisfying to stomp that idiot into the dust as he deserves. Moral superiority is a delicious drug.

That moron needs to shut up.

What a loser.

You’re an idiot.

You’re anti-(fill in the blank) and selfish/stupid/callous, etc.

You just want people to die. Got it.

Vitriol is our new vernacular, and how easily it flows off our fingertips. We are bludgeoned by hostility in repeated blows that may seem small but pack a wallop.

We’re worn down by it. We are coarsened by it.

The Pandemic of Acrimony

We’ve become comfortable doling out smug retorts since the moron we’re talking about isn’t in the room with us. Besides, we are so justified because really, she’s an idiot or he’s a jerk and somebody has to say it. But hey, wait a minute… that jerk is my friend. Or was till five minutes ago.

What happens when people live in a constant state of smoldering? When all around are piles of ash and debris from what was a community, a neighborhood, a friendship, a family? This is not normal. This is not how human interaction should be.

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It’s the red danger zone on the gauge telling us that we’re becoming deformed. For all of this flows out of the abundance of the heart. Our hearts are in bad shape.

The sting of this pandemic of acrimony has hit home lately, and I feel the hurt of damaged friendship. I also hear a gentle voice whispering a warning. I am not immune to becoming a nasty person. I am not made of better stuff than the object of my contempt. The battle, like every battle, begins with my will, my choice.

The Sermon on the Mount came to my mind today, and one “blessed” in particular

Blessed are the Peacemakers

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

I never gave it much thought before, but it struck me that Jesus did not say, “blessed are those who love peace” or “blessed are the peaceful” or “blessed are those who long for peace.” He said, “blessed are the peacemakers.”

Peace-makers. We must make peace. Peace isn’t fairy dust that just falls on our heads.

Peace is a deliberate pursuit. We must make peace within ourselves and make peace with each other. Only those who make this peace can be called sons of God. The pure in heart shall see God, and the peacemakers are His sons.

Choose Not to Add to the Hostilities

Making peace involves humility. The proud are not pure in heart, so they cannot see anyone but themselves. If pride is a mirror, peace is a window asking us to take a second look outward.

Those are our friends and family. Our neighbors. Fellow human beings. People who are struggling to carry crosses we do not see. People falling into the same pit over and over, much like ourselves. Why are we so eager to devour one another?

As far as we are able, we must work to make peace. We can remember the good in each other, even as we disagree.

We must work to recover the restraint that common decency demands. From there we must choose to, at least, not add to the hostilities. We can at least say no to acrimony. We can fight to preserve friendships.

Is winning the argument that imperative?

Are we content to see every friendship torched?

As far as we are able, we must work to make peace. We can remember the good in each other, even as we disagree. We can listen to the other and respond without snark or mocking. We should stop once in a while to ask whether we are being prideful and stubborn.

We will survive the virus. We could be wiped out by malice.

 

Jennifer Hartline is a senior contributor to The Stream. You can follow her at @jenniehartline.

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