Having something go viral reveals some interesting truths about people.
I knew it had reached viral status when God (the Facebook comedian, not the actual Lord Almighty) shared it on Facebook, and George Takei (the actual Lord Almighty of social media) shared it twice in one week.
Millions of views, hundreds of thousands of shares, and thousands of comments later, I've gained some interesting insights about my fellow humans.
The thread was about why and how Colin Kaepernick changed his protest of racial injustice in our legal system from sitting during the national anthem to kneeling. Apparently, many people had missed that Nate Boyer, a former NFL player and Green Beret, had suggested that Kaepernick kneel instead of sit in order to show respect to veterans and military personnel.
I’ve been writing on the internet for a long time, and I’ve had some things go viral before. But this was on a whole other level. People have feelings about kneeling during the anthem as a method of protest. Big, Big, Feelings.
They say you should never read the comments on the internet, but that's silly advice for a writer.
When you write things for people to read, you naturally want to see their responses. So I read the comments. And yes, sometimes they are horrible. For this post, I got called a "dumb bitch," "the dumbest woman in America," a "whore" (because that makes sense) and an "instrument of Satan." You can lose your faith in humanity in the comments section really fast.
But if you are willing to wade through some muck and mire, there are some wonderful conversations to be had online. I've personally learned a lot from interacting with people on social media, broadened my own perspectives, and gotten loads of practice engaging in civil discourse.
I've also learned, from the responses to this post as well as others, a few things about my fellow citizens.
Some seem to believe that there are only two types of people: liberals and conservatives.
In addition to being a whore, I'm apparently a "liberal fascist." Why? Because I'm anti-racism? I support the first amendment? I shared a true story? I don't believe that kneeling to protest racism and police brutality is disrespectful to our country or the people who fight for it?
In that thread, I literally just explained exactly what happened. I didn't say anything about political leanings at all. And yet a decent percentage of the angry comments I received called me some version of evil liberal/leftist/Democrat.
And a fair percentage of people vehemently cheering me on made snide comments about rightwingers/conservatives/Republicans.
Unfortunately, that's to be expected in the comments section. But I received two e-mails I from two different people who said they couldn't tell whether I was liberal or conservative, but wanted to thank me for what I'd written anyway.
Why would you even need to know if I'm liberal or conservative? And why do I have to be one or the other? Most people don't fall neatly into left/right, blue/red, Democrat/Republican. I know I don't.
We have got to get out of this habit of splitting Americans into two distinct, opposing camps. It's weird, and it's not helpful at all in discussing nuanced, complex issues.
Some people don't seem to understand that we can consciously choose how we look at things.
The interesting thing about the anthem kneeling discussion is that so many people don't seem to recognize that each one of us has a choice in how we view it. Even if our initial gut reaction says, "That's disrespectful!" we can listen and hear the whole story and come to a different conclusion.
So many people are adamant that these protests are essentially spitting on veterans. But there is in no consensus among the military that kneeling during the anthem to protest racial injustice is disrespectful. I received just as many comments from veterans who support the players' protests as who don't. Some choose to see it as disrespectful, and some don't. But it's a choice either way, and people need to own that choice.
Some people really are open-minded enough to change their opinion when presented with new information.
The best thing to come out of this viral experience is the batch of comments, emails, and private messages I received saying, "Wow. My perspective on these protests has totally changed."
So often we assume that everyone is fixed in their opinion and there's no point in trying to reason with people who don't already agree with us. Yes, some people willfully remain unreachable no matter how many facts or how much logic you present them with, but there are plenty who simply need to have their view broadened a bit in order to choose to see something a different way.
These folks restore my faith in people.
So do the veterans who speak out in support of the players protesting and the police officers who support the call for reform in their ranks.
So do the commenters who can't get past their view of the flag and anthem as sacred and untouchable, but who engage in respectful discussion about it anyway.
And so do the countless activists who have these discussions all the time, somehow without draining themselves completely.
Conversations with reasonable people can and should drown out the name-callers and the trolls. When we focus on positive and productive interactions, we can find hope for humanity—even in the comments section.