This past weekend was pretty brutal. On Saturday morning I found out that a woman I respected in the online world, Judy Martin, had passed away suddenly at the age of 49. Judy wrote often about the work/life balance. She did her thing, always seemed to be positive, and in my few engagements with her she was always, ALWAYS, kind and supportive. To think that someone like her could just be snuffed out came as a bit of a shock.
The next day I learned that one of my favorite actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman, had died of a drug overdose at the age of 46. It seemed impossible that such a great talent could also be snuffed out so suddenly. Boom. Gone.
The shock of these deaths was bad enough, but what made it worse and perhaps even more horrifying was the complete lack of compassion I encountered in the online world. While many of my friends mourned and lamented the death of Hoffman, others took it upon themselves to almost celebrate Hoffman’s death. That’s what he deserved. If you do drugs, dying alone in the prime of your career is exactly what you have coming to you.
As for Judy, when I noted her passing, people did not, interestingly, simply acknowledge that it was sad that someone had died suddenly. “Who was she?” was a common question. I find this odd. If you do not know of a person but find they have died suddenly and that this is making someone sad, would you not focus first on the fact that this person is gone? Your knowledge of them is not the most important thing at that moment. Or am I crazy here?
It’s all about relationships
You don’t have to skim Twitter or Facebook for very long before seeing the word “relationship.” It’s all the rage these days. Engage your audience. Be human. Be authentic. Be real. These sound like great ideas, but some of the things I saw this weekend make me wonder if people actually remember what relating to people is about. A relationship does not mean that things only matter if they are connected to you. When someone notes that they have experienced a loss, what you do not want to do is say, “I wrote a post when my uncle died. [link] (Yes, I’ve seen that happen). When someone has lost someone, your first question should not be, “Well, who were they?” To me this insinuates that if the person was meaningful enough you might note that their passing is sad. If they don’t cut the mustard it’s not really worth thinking about. “I didn’t know them,” you seem to say. “therefore they must not have mattered.”
I wonder, after this weekend, if social media is actually reducing the human capacity for compassion. People who sounded off against Philip Seymour Hoffman got a lot of comments. A lot of traffic. Sure, some of that feedback was negative (something about ruthlessly attacking a man who just died and who had obviously been in pain). But still, if you are trying to gain Klout points, comments are comments. I find myself wondering, although I am horrified to admit it, if there would have been more posts about Judy Martin if she had been one of the “guru gang.”
It’s not new, it just seems worse
I have been watching humanity drip out of the online world for awhile now, slowly but surely – at least in the marketing/business realm where I tend to hang out. Personal uses of social media are different and usually better. But in the professional realm, where you would think there would be more of a focus on decorum, the actual humanity…the capacity to relate to others…has been steadily dissipating. I really became aware of it after the passing of Trey Pennington. Blog posts started multiplying as fast as bunny rabbits. Everyone was now an expert on emotional distress and suicide. I raised an eyebrow. Then people started throwing LinkedIn “parades” and others commented on posts supposing that Pennington had just been a jerk-off fake.
All of that was wretched. A month later, when Bruce Serven took his own life, the silence in the online world was eerie in contrast. Was it because Bruce had not been as popular or as well-known? I wonder.
I am painting with a broad brush. Not everyone online is bereft of compassion. But I am noticing enough scenarios where compassion has gone missing that I could now call it a noticeable trend. Sympathy is becoming a traffic booster. Antagonism is becoming the new way to connect. Judgment is becoming the new handshake. This is not just bad for business. This is bad for us as people.
Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me you’ve seen compassion and empathy increase these last few years. Tell me this weekend was just a blip in the radar.
Please. Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me we aren’t living in and creating a real-life town without pity.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rayterrill/6165556884/ via Creative Commons