The Lost Art of Keeping Your Mouth Shut

It’s always okay to say nothing. That’s a concept we’ve lost in the internet age, where we rush to project our thoughts as soon as they flit across our brains. But really, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep your mouth shut once in a while.

I say this because last night, while Hurricane Sandy was unleashing its worst on the tri-state area, Jack Shafer of Slate saw fit to take to Twitter and unleash this (reverse chronology from top to bottom):

Normally, I assume most people outside the tri-state area don’t like New Yorkers, and I could care less. Provincial hatred of other cities might be the saddest, most ineffectual prejudice there is (think Springfield vs. Shelbyville) and it says more about the practitioner than his target.

However, I truly don’t understand the psyche of a person who would see what was happening to New York and choose that moment to express snide, impotent rage against the people living there. And not specific people, either, but a vague idea of those people crafted in a badly compartmentalized brain.

Fine, Shafer, you hate some mental image of New Yorkers. Congratulations. I have zero interest in changing your mind, but is it too much to ask that you wait a day to express this thought? At the exact same moment I read his first dismissive tweet, I saw a news report about two children who were killed by a falling tree up in Westchester. Excellent timing, professional journalist.

As I write this, houses are still burning out in Breezy Point. Neighborhoods in southern Queens and Brooklyn are still under 6 feet of water. Parts of Staten Island and the Bronx were hit just as bad. People have lost homes, and for the most part they’re not the kind of people who have the means to just shrug and rebuild. If that does nothing for Shafer, I can assure him the storm also hit New Jersey and Connecticut hard. Houses destroyed, whole towns flooded and possibly more if levees don’t hold out, power out for who knows how long. I don’t know if those states have been too polluted by their proximity to New York to earn his sympathy.

Tragedy isn’t a contest. When something bad happens, there’s zero point in trying to determine if this Bad Thing is better or worse than the last Bad Thing. There’s no award given out for Best Reaction to Horror to the people involved. In any disaster, there are heroes and there are crappy people, because there are humans. Actual humans. Try to remember that when you’re sitting at a keyboard.

A tweet Shafer wrote later (the last one he wrote, at this moment) indicated he was without power in the DC suburbs. So maybe he didn’t see all the images of destruction that I’ve seen in the last 24 hours. That’s still no excuse for his reaction. As a journalist, Shafer should know that if you don’t have all the facts, you can always keep your stupid mouth shut. The internet will manage to go on without your uninformed, hateful garbage, I promise you.

Different people react to tragedy differently. Some feel compelled to help, others joke to deal with their terror. If your reaction is to sneer at the people who are in harm’s way, I feel sorry for you, and anyone who may be in your life.

  • http://twitter.com/ryankelly Ryan Kelly

    For a good chunk of the day (probably more than this guy deserves), I’ve been wondering if/hoping that Jack Shafer feels intense shame today.