Mob Mentality

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Checking out the road after Wednesday’s storm. The plow stopped because snow-covered branches blocked the road.

I ran into a friend who was searching for wild mushrooms at a walking trail. As my friend Wendy and I joined the hunt, she said, “Maybe we’ll find a Kindness Rock. I’ve found a few of them here.”

“What we really need,” I said, ‘is more kindness and fewer rocks. Why spend time painting rocks when you can do actual acts of kindness?”

“Blog that,” Renee said, sounding a little like an editor. “That’s your next blog.”

Turns out, it is. After spending a few days without power, folks  turned testy, taking out their anger on our town’s Facebook page. The trigger? A nasty nor’easter that brought rain, wind, thunder, lightning and snow, leaving branches and twigs looking like they were coated in thick flour. Oh, and leaving lots of us without power.

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The end of a branch covered in snow made a spectacular shape.

When one woman shared her frustration entering her third day without power, she was skewered with snide remarks. The woman proposed a tax break on the cost of buying and installing generators. It was just an idea, but people let her have it.

“Stop Bitching,” “Just be glad you’re not in Puerto Rico.” “Preparation is key if you live in New England. With no plan shame on you.” “Look at it as family time without electronics.” “Good tree stewardship can prevent power outages.” “Tripping over the dollars to pick up the pennies.”

Everyone once in awhile this happens on the Facebook page, and it’s like watching a train wreck. Someone complains, and soon the negative remarks begin. In no time, people pile on until it’s a verbal lynching.

It makes me wonder why anyone would post anything on this page. Though it’s generally a feel-good place featuring local photographers’ landscapes or heart-warming stories about people, places or pets, it sometimes turns nasty. And honestly, you never know what’s going to set off these Yankees.

No sooner had the woman posted her remark than people began calling her entitled, spoiled and critical of the lineman doing their jobs. It’s funny how people interpret things to justify their own views. It also shows a growing unwillingness today to listen to people’s point of view.

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I’ve never seen branches covered in such thick snow. They almost looked like they had been breaded in flour.

Kindness is much more than a word, or a rock. It’s consideration for other people and their circumstances, opinions, and feelings. It’s giving them a break when you don’t feel like it, or waving them into traffic when you haven’t moved in five minutes. It’s letting them merge onto Interstate 95 instead of speeding up and running them off the road.

It’s letting someone pull out of a side street instead of crossing their bow. It’s stopping at crosswalks and waiting patiently. It’s putting on your turn signal, and definitely not tailgating. It’s letting people with two items in front of you in the supermarket checkout line. It’s holding the door instead of letting it slam in someone’s face. (This happens to me about once a day. I usually respond with a loud, “Thanks.”)

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No Way Out: Snow-heavy branches blocked our road. We cleared it by shaking branches and small trees, allowing the plow to pass.

It’s offering to move over to let someone else sit down. It’s thinking before you speak or post, asking yourself if you’re adding to the conversation. It’s building up instead of tearing down. Making eye contact and smiling at strangers, paying it forward without telling everyone about your good deed.

It’s waiting your turn, and offering to help someone instead of assuming they have a cell phone. It’s stopping into a nursing home to visit elderly folks who never get visitors, or inviting someone into your lap lane instead of ignoring them. It’s handing someone tennis balls instead of slamming them in their direction when you miss a shot. It’s not being a jerk, and realizing there are other people in the world besides yourself.

It’s not putting someone down just because you don’t agree with something they said. It’s considering their point of view, not tearing them apart with sarcasm, or acting like a know-it-all. It’s treating people the way you want to be treated.

I considered posting a comment on Facebook saying that I understood the woman’s position, but I didn’t want to be verbally attacked. I didn’t feel like opening myself to public scorn or ridicule. I didn’t necessarily agree with her idea, but I wanted to defend her. I certainly don’t think she deserved to be attacked for voicing her opinion.

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The snow was wet and heavy, but beautiful. This is a shot of my neighbor’s tree shortly after the snow stopped Thursday morning.

Losing power turns a lot of us into idiots. I’m a complete nut when it goes out, mainly because I like the conveniences of modern living and don’t enjoy roughing it. I’m the one telling The Curmudgeon to haul the portable generator out of the garage two minutes after power goes out.

“Let’s give it awhile,” he says. “Maybe it will go back on.”

“What’s the point of having it if we’re not going to use it?” I snap. “And if we’re going to use it, why not just get it out there now?”

Everyone in my house hates generator, a bright yellow Champion 6800 that I bought after a storm knocked out power for eight days about five years ago. The Curmudgeon is loathe to use it. My son claims it’s poorly designed, with only a single awkward handle to pull it. My daughter is afraid of it, thinking she will be electrocuted when taking a shower.

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The most hated machine: the portable generator.

But it is a game changer and I’m glad we have it. For an investment of about $2,000 (about $650 for the generator and $1,300 to wire the house), it powers the furnace, hot water heater, well pump, refrigerator and a few lights. It’s not much, but it’s the difference between functioning and freezing in the dark without running water.

After power was restored about 5:30 p.m. Friday, I thought about posting that I had a generator available if anyone wanted to borrow it. But these portable generators aren’t much good unless the furnace and well pump are wired for them. Without that, it’s just a couple of plugs for lights and maybe the refrigerator on an extension cord.

The kindest thing would have been to offer it anyway, letting people decide if it was worth the hassle. But I didn’t do the kindest thing. I did the easiest thing, which was nothing.

I was heartened to open Facebook today and see that a resident offered to loan her generator to anyone who needed it. She’s got the right idea. Don’t just think or talk about kindness, do it with an open heart. It’s a good lesson, something we can all strive for the next time we lose power. I just hope it’s not too soon.

21 thoughts on “Mob Mentality

  1. So very true-it’s the digital equivalent of mob mentality at its worst. We did the same with the generator and have a love-hate relationship with it. It is so noisy. Did you hire an electrician to wire it? Ours isn’t so it kept the fridge, some lamps, and a portable heater going -and the electric tea kettle thank God- but the whole house would have been amazing!

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    • Hi Kate: Having the house wired is necessary out here because we have a well and no water when it goes out. I hired an electrician who had done a few jobs for me. Not complicated at all. He installed an outlet on the outside of the house, and wired it up to run essentials like refrigerator, well pump, hot water heater, furnace, and a few lights. It has its own separate circuit breaker box. When the power goes out, I flip off the main and turn on the little circuit breaker box for the generator. Works well, and is enough to get by until power is fully restored.

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  2. I recently had the experience of having a lot of out of staters come up here for a conference for work and of course I got a big kick out of these people, well I mean they didn’t even bring the right clothes. Yes they lost power in the hotel, and I am sure they were looking to have a little fun on this trip, but I explained to them that this was New England fun. Different to be sure but it all goes away soon enough.

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  3. You may get your chance to be kind tomorrow, if the next storm knocks out our power again. Since you’ll probably be using your generator, how ‘bout if Barb and I just move in with you guys till the power’s back on? Now that would be an unparalleled act of kindness. Im kidding, but I’m serious about this: if we lose power one more time this winter, I am buying a generator, and it’ll be bigger and better than yours.

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  4. Great post. I’ve been battling with thoughts about what to, and what not to post. Everything we write is open to interpretation, because everyone’s experience gives them a different perception. I’ve tried to continue this thought, but have erased about ten sentences, because my mind is spinning in so many ways on this topic recently. Great thoughts, and in sync with me as always

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      • I try to limit my online comments because I try to remind myself that everyone has an opinion, but sometimes it’s hard. And just because there is an open forum doesn’t mean everything needs to be said…..there’s going to be a lot if this sort of introspection on my blog over the next few weeks because these thoughts have been ratttling through my brain

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  5. This brought to mind an experience on Saturday in NY. It was brisk outside–about 40 degrees. We stopped for food at a small place with six seats. 4 out of 6 were occupied. There were many tables outside, most unoccupied because of the cold. I eyed the two seats inside as we waited at the counter for our food, thinking I really should go claim but that it would not be quite right if we weren’t ready to sit. A threesome burst in and without ordering commandeered the seats and waited several minutes before sending one up to order. Our only alternative was to eat outside, which turned out fine, warmed by the company of my daughter!

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    • It’s maddening. The same thing happened to me when going swimming last week. This guy ran in and grabbed a lap lane right from under me. It was OK, I got one, but I thought, “That was really rude.”

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  6. I wasn’t happy at first, but sitting outside in the cold was also a marvelous opportunity to observe buildings I’d never noticed before. And the avocado toast was excellent. It turned out we started a trend as a number of others opted to sit outside rather than scurry away to find a place inside! But I think it is always better to be considerate of those around us, which I think is the point of your piece.

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  7. Internet mobs are truly horrifying, just as much as real mobs are, because they are every bit as destructive. They may not attack the actual person (only because they don’t have their exact address), but they attack opposing viewpoints, free speech and tolerance…and usually under the guise of “progress and diversity,” which sort of blows my mind. You are so right, real kindness is cutting other slack when we don’t feel like it, being nice when we’d rather not be bothered, and being willing to listen to opposing views. I think all of us feel like complaining after a day or two or three without power, so who are we to attack and judge? But honestly, what scares me most is how people are becoming afraid to voice their true opinions, and how accepted trashing others online has become. That doesn’t bode well for our future. Thanks for the reminder that we need to do better!

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