I watched the video, which you can find elsewhere on the Interwebs, of ESPN reporter Britt McHenry berating an employee of the company that towed her car. It was awful: No matter how badly the company or even the employee might have treated her, there’s really no excuse for saying the things McHenry said to another person. But I couldn’t quite get to the same level of outrage about McHenry or the relatively short length of her suspension from the network (one week) that you’ll find if you click her hashtagged name on social media.
Then I started reading about the blowback against McHenry’s critics, and how we’re so eager to be outraged about things, and how none of us would want our worst moments in public to go viral the way this video did, and how the particular company in question (and possibly that specific employee) have a reputation for being as vile to customers as McHenry was to them, and how there’s a reason the video in question was edited to include only McHenry’s words and not those of the employee, and how maybe ESPN shouldn’t have suspended her at all. But I couldn’t quite get to the same level of outrage about the blowback to the blowback as some people have, either.
I did, however, start to wonder this: Whatever happened to plain, old-fashioned who gives a damn?
It is safe to say that an infinitesimal percentage of the people commenting on this story have ever met McHenry or the unnamed employee. An only slightly larger number of these people have had an interaction with the towing company in question. A somewhat larger number of these people live in the Washington, D.C., area and/or plausibly know someone who knows someone who knows one of the people involved.
The rest of us were simply making our way through life when, at some point in the last 24 or so hours, we came across a link to this video. And clicked it. And, for some reason, decided to get all bent out of shape about Britt McHenry or Advanced Towing.
Why do we do this?
Why do we do this so often that, for 2014, Slate managed to find a different outrage that consumed social media each day of the year? Heck, the fact Slate created that compilation itself probably ticked off somebody.
(And, yes, I use “we” here because I’m sure y’all could point to something, from Slate’s list or otherwise, that I wound up blogging about in such a way that my outrage seemed outrageous. Many of the outrageous things that make us so outrageously outraged happen in the political world: for example, Hillary Clinton’s failure to tip at Chipotle the other day. (Really, how many of us tip at a fast-food restaurant?) Politicians are treated by many folks as little more than B-list celebrities who deserve the same type, and depth, of treatment Lindsay Lohan gets when she walks her dog. Yeah, we all do it every now and then.)
It’s one thing to read these stories and/or watch these videos — though there’s probably something to be written about why we do that, too. But it’s another thing altogether to get so revved up by them as to write nasty things of our own in response to them on social media or comment threads.
By all means, watch these things and resolve to teach your children better, to stand up for someone being bullied or — best of all — to learn to hold your own tongue a bit more. In other words, let these incidents be reminders to better the world around you. But when it comes to these ultimately trivial matters in the world well beyond you, don’t be afraid not to give a damn.