God don’t like ugly. I frequently heard my Grandma use this phrase in my youth. A cherished throughout the South, my Grandma used it as a warning and a chastisement. It was a warning to be mindful of how I talked to, interacted, and treated my fellow humans. It just wasn’t acceptable to be vile and nasty to others. To be flippantly derisive to people was a character flaw and reflected poorly on the individual and their family.

I buried Grandma eighteen years ago, but her words are still with me. When I’m tempted to join the toxic dialogue that social media has normalized, her spirit whispers to me:

“Baby, this is NOT who YOU are. I didn’t raise you this way….

Her memory makes me pause more times than I can count and ask myself: what would SHE feel if I acted this way? Each time, the path forward becomes clear. I can’t give in to the ugliness lurking within human nature. Even if I think someone deserves it, I’m aware being spiteful and mean both degrades others and diminishes me. So, I shake the dust off my feet and disengage.

My disinterest in fruitless, draining dialogue is sometimes labeled fear or weakness. I admit such accusations sting my ego. But my higher self knows I shouldn’t yield to ego and the need to prove myself to others. I cannot engage in what my Grandma would deem ‘ugly’ behavior. As a growth-minded individual, I’ve learned the value of refining my focus and allocating my energy wisely.

Unfortunately, being ugly, cruel, and insensitive to others has become more commonplace in American society. Aided by social media, speaking to one’s ideological opponents with unfiltered rancor is normalized. It is enough to make those who are NOT trolls opt out of the discussion altogether. Discourse is no longer about exchanging ideas and the chance to learn. Our journalists and commentators churn out controversial, clickbait content that is heavy on emotion and light on facts, intended to inflame our worst tendencies. But I can’t blame them alone. Their bait works because we FALL for it. That is what I find most disturbing.

It is one thing for grifters and shady characters to shout into the wind. It is another for Americans to LISTEN to and ELEVATE them. We don’t avoid ugliness anymore. We seek it out, rewarding it with views, likes, shares, and donations. Online and off, the nature of our discourse reflects a grotesque and troubling image of our collective psyche.

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A native Seattleite and East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been.

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