In February, I began planning a series of mediated talks at Slopeswell Cider called Open Spaces/Open Hearts.
The Morrison Park rhetoric was becoming vitriolic and since my wife, a city councilor, and I disagreed on the issue and still respected each other’s view, I thought we could do the same as neighbors.
This idea makes sense to those who know us. For two decades we have volunteered in leadership for everything from Columbia Center for The Arts to Radio Tierra to The Gorge Literary Journal and more.
Our lives are dedicated to bringing people together and making our community stronger.
So I was devastated in March when someone led a Facebook campaign to boycott Slopeswell on the grounds that we are “destroying parks for personal gain,” a statement not only wrong, but personally hurtful.
One that derailed any efforts I might have. Constructive dialog is impossible if those you support boycott you.
During the past year, I, my wife, and my business have been continuously slandered on Facebook and elsewhere as everything from park haters to thieving politicians to (inexplicably) a multinational corporation bent on dominating the waterfront.
None of these people know me or look me in the eye.
Social media is not social. It does nothing to bring us together nor to foster nuanced dialog about complex issues.
It thrives on sound bites and condemns topics to childish binaries of good and evil where opinion is regnant and every statement a salvo in a battle of polarized invective. It is a warscape of sarcasm and name-calling where we launch missiles of moral superiority from the safety of our keyboards without any concern for the collateral damage.
Social media, not politics, is destroying Hood River.
We have dedicated our lives to working in our community only to be treated with such slander and hatred that we question our welcome. Why? Because social media encourages us to damage local businesses for “likes,” to make our neighbors unemployed in search of clicks. Social media makes it easier to hurl insults at our neighbors from the safety of our echo chambers than to speak with them and learn who they are; easier to shout than to listen; easy to sacrifice anyone not only when they disagree with us, but when they simply don’t agree with us violently enough.
We act as if posting vitriol on social media is so meaningful, but what does it cost us? Nothing.
Posting hatred for clicks is simply shouting through a megaphone from the cheap seats. It is not bravery, but cowardice.
We are not brave until, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, we are “actually in the arena, face marred by dust and sweat and blood.” We are not brave until we are kneeling on one knee to catch our breath while “those cold and timid souls” post on Facebook that we are selfish failures because, in fighting to make their world better, we stumbled and came up short.
Having felt what such cowardly name-calling has done to myself, my family, my business, and my community, I have nothing but contempt for it.
My love and my heart go out to those brave souls who “are actually in the arena … who strive valiantly; who err, who come short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.”
People like our city councilors who have received such hatred and slander for trying to help those less fortunate, like the staff of the city and the country who listen to the insults as they struggle without proper funding, but also people like Heidi Venture, Tina Castañares, Sarah Kellems, John Boonstra, Juan Reyes, Leticia Valle, and too many more to name.
Those who actually work in the streets; who listen rather than shout; who look their neighbors in the eye; who talk to those with whom they disagree and know that they can learn from them, work with them, even love them.
I wish fewer people posted hatred on Facebook and more stood in the arena, to err, to stumble, to come short yet still hurl themselves back into the battle to bring people together rather than tear them apart.
John Metta is part-owner of Slopeswell Cidery.