Aggressive, obnoxious people are not my favorite dinner companions. I try to avoid them whenever possible. On the rare occasions when I walk in large American cities, I keep an eye out for threatening people. When I am disgruntled, I can understand why people avoid me. I do my best to avoid mean people on the internet too. But recently I failed.
I had just finished a really productive session with several Malagasy men and women. We worked late and identified several strategies around problems that had been plaguing their organization. Back at my mountainside guest house, I had some great Malagasy rice and shrimp and the national Three Horses beer and turned on my computer.
Somehow a social media post appeared which was unassailably logical. It was written by a white American female who contended you should be careful about being nice to white people because they were probably racist and you shouldn’t take the chance on being nice to a racist.
Given her assumption that most white people are racist, her conclusions are very logical. I just questioned whether it wouldn’t be better to just be gentle and peaceful if others are gentle and peaceful. Too late I realized that people who believe such things are living in an echo chamber where everyone echoes the same drivel because questioning it means you are labeled racist and shunned.
She and a bunch of her friends proceeded to make sure I knew how stupid and uninformed I was. I went to sleep. Madagascar is eight hours ahead of middle America, so while I slept they had lots of time to elaborate on why you shouldn’t be nice to white people. When I woke up the next morning, I found that all day these privileged Americans had continued to bash my comments about being nice. I provided them a soft punching bag. I was the scape goat in the Biblical sense. One woman very angrily accused me of being full of anger and being a white male patriarch and probably disliked by all the Africans I’d ever worked with.
Tired of being a punching bag and scapegoat, I deleted all the messages I’d posted about how it’s good to be gentle, nice and peaceful when others are gentle and peaceful and nice and blocked some folks. I thought about pearls and swine.
Then I walked down the street, past beggars, bare-footed porters, home-made push carts, and ragged laughing children to the alley beside the ramshackle market and up rickety stairs past bags of rice seed to begin another productive day of helping a few Malagasy learn market analysis, social motivation and business planning so they can help their villages have a little more income and better lives.