Last night, ugliness again crept into the Twittersphere, it seems. This time, some terrible, spurious claims were made against John Green. I’m not going to link to the comments here. No doubt, you can Google them. But they were hateful enough and awful enough and WRONG enough that I felt compelled to say something this morning.
This has become, sadly, a familiar scenario where social media is concerned. There’s so much that’s terrific about the Internet: It can provide context and community. It can give visibility to those who have been marginalized. It can be an agent of social change. It can be a place for innovation and discovery. It can help kids sorting out their identities feel validated. All of this is amazing stuff.
But the Internet can also be a very ugly place, the equivalent of the worst middle school cafeteria ever—everybody camped at their tables waiting for somebody to throw the first carton of milk and the food fight to be on while people crowd around yelling, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” What was said about John was not just mean-spirited and, again, WRONG. It was damaging—and libelous. It’s actually actionable.
A long time ago, I heard someone say something I’ve never forgotten: “I choose not to define myself by the people and things I pan.” These are wise words. This is not to say that we cannot be critical or questioning. Those are necessary parts of dialogue. But we should also be thoughtful and reflective. We should examine our own motives. There is a performative aspect to the Internet that often tempts us into saying or doing things just for the hits. Dude, I’ve been there. Sometimes that’s just an innocuous, “Hey, wanna watch me down three Mountain Dews and burp out the alphabet?” But other times, it can be about taking something or somebody down or joining in when there’s a school yard pounding going on. Except in this case, the schoolyard has millions in it.
The thing is, when such constant corrosive atmosphere is maintained, it’s not just bad for the targets of that hate—John Green, Cassandra Clare, Maggie Stiefvater, etc. etc.—it’s bad for the propagators of that hate, too. It’s bad for everybody watching and listening. It’s desensitizing. To indulge in such hatred is an act of character assassination but it’s also an act of self-harm. I know that sounds like something you’d find on an inspirational cat poster, but it’s true. It’s like Hoovering up an entire bag of Doritos and washing it down with a Big Gulp. It seems delicious at the time, but later, it feels really gross, and you wish you hadn’t done it.
Today, I’m thinking about the wise words of one of my favorite writers, George Saunders, made during his commencement address at Syracuse University in which he reflects on the necessity for kindness not just for the world but for ourselves. I urge you to read it when you have a moment. http://tinyurl.com/qaaqehy
But one of my favorite parts is Saunders paraphrasing the poet Hayden Carruth who, in his beautiful late-life poem, “Testament”, says this: “Now I am almost entirely love.”
It’s a good thing to aspire to. For love is thoughtful and kind. It is corrective and honest, but never mean. And so, in that spirit, I’d like to offer an incomplete list of things I love about John Green:
- He’s funny. Ye gods, is the man funny. Whether it’s a quip, a vlog, a nerd exercise video , a piece of juvenilia, or the many witty-smart characters in his books, John Green is just a damned funny dude. And you know what? None of his humor is ever mean.
- He is genuinely kind. Not “nice.” Kind. John really cares about the welfare of others. He is thoughtful.
- He’s not afraid to be silly. I’m just sayin’.
- He’s smart. When your videos are used in high school history classes, you’re doing this whole nerd thing right. Seriously, listen to John speak. He’s dead brilliant.
- He has inspired an entire generation of young people to do good things in the world. Once, there was a world without Nerdfighters. What John and Hank did to create a place for young people to come together in the spirit of decreasing “world suck” is admirable and incredible. It’s the “teach a man to fish” parable in action. Thanks, John. DFTBA.
- He is an innovator. Many years ago, when John said he was going to make these things called “vlogs” and put them on YouTube, we all looked at him like he was the kid brother who said he was making a rocket ship in the basement. “Well, that’s nice,” we said, not quite understanding. Yeah. And then that kid brother went on to run NASA.
- He is always trying to evolve as a human being. It would be easy for somebody with John’s incredible success and standing to kick back and be all, “Dudes, excuse me while I go to my tailor and pick up my suit made COMPLETELY OF MONEY, HAHAHAHAHA!!!!.” But he doesn’t do that. (Mostly, he wears jeans and unassuming button-downs.) Instead, he’s always working on making himself and the world a better place. He wants to do better, to do more. When I grow up, I’d like to be more like John.
- He’s a wonderful writer. I don’t need to say much here about this—your local bookstore or library is full of the proof. Go. Read. Think. Bring tissues. Then share the goodness.
- He is extremely generous. John is always there to give a signal boost to other artists, whether on social media, in interviews, or on panels. He uses his power for good.
- He has great hair. You know, like Elvis. Or Einstein. If they ever make a John Green Award, it should just be hair. Golden-overlay hair. God. I’m a little misty now. John’s hair does that to me. I’m defenseless.
Truth: I freaking love John Green, unabashedly. He’s a pretty exceptional human being who delights and inspires in equal measure. I’m glad he’s in the world. Please don’t make him reconsider doing all that he does. Today, err toward love.