Alexandra Villarreal
March 08, 2015 7:30 am

When I was a child, my mother would tuck me into bed each night before reading aloud from one of her favorite books. Her soothing voice ebbed and flowed like a river, and soon I was fast asleep. She would finish the chapter — always the same few pages — as I snoozed, and sometimes she would paraphrase one of the most potent passages in the morning. “Don’t let the mantids of mankind get you down,” she’d say earnestly as I fretted over the trivialities of the day.

At seven years old, I didn’t know what a mantid was, and I couldn’t conceptualize the vastness of mankind in my South Texan bubble. But somehow, I understood the sentiment: don’t let the negativity of others bring you down.

Now, I have to navigate adulthood thousands of miles away from my family. No one reads to me as I drift off, and that’s all right because I prefer to skim my literature in silence. Still, when things get rough, a light bulb always pings in my brain: “Don’t let the mantids of mankind get you down.”

In the 21st century, Earth is tainted by as much antagonism as carbon dioxide. People are harsh, searching for flaws instead of virtues in their peers, and attacking their prey as soon as they find weakness. This fosters a toxic environment where sticking your neck out can result in some serious emotional damage, and success and ambition aren’t always celebrated.

The “hater,” as a term in pop culture, is a fairly recent phenomenon. But the impulse to put others down isn’t new. In the 1800s, when handwritten letters and published dissertations were the primary form of rebuttal, Alexis de Tocqueville admitted that “despite my precautions, nothing is easier than to criticize this book should anyone ever think of doing so.” He referred to his acclaimed Democracy in America, and despite its ingenuity, I’m sure that a few Debbie Downers emerged from the woodwork to comment on the inevitable holes in his philosophy.

Nevertheless, the hater has (d)evolved since the 19th century thanks to modern technology and changing perceptions of humanity. With social media, it’s all too easy to forget that there’s a person behind the screen, and it doesn’t seem uncivil or irrational to rant at another’s “ignorance,” “promiscuity,” or “ridiculousness.”

The truth is, Internet trolls are more willing to vilify strangers because they don’t really know them. In fact, there’s a dichotomy that’s creating even stronger barriers against human connection: the distinction between perception and reality. Of course, the question of reality has always been problematic, as there are no universal truths, and objectivity is a seriously debatable concept. But this division is amplified by the shallowness of technology; critics judge based on a 140-character tweet or a 700-word blog post. A Facebook status gets blown out of proportion or a 20-second video is taken out of context. We’re being fed adulterated information, and we form snap opinions about the people behind it without considering the bigger picture.

Public personalities, the usual victims of social media spats, have dealt with their haters in their own inspired ways. Taylor Swift sang “Shake It Off,” while Miley Cyrus coined the instant classic of a line, “Forget the haters ’cause somebody loves ya.” John Oliver read his YouTube “fan mail” on his series, Last Week Tonight, and celebrities often share mean tweets about themselves on Jimmy Kimmel Live. All of these capable, intelligent entertainers realize that they have to make light of the awful words thrown at them every day because otherwise they’ll lose their bravery and vulnerability with their audiences.

Haters are especially prevalent on the worldwide web thanks to its anonymity and distance. But unwarranted loathing has leaked into our daily lives, too; we’re so accustomed to judging a book by its cover now that we do it to people we’ve barely met. Even worse is when the epidemic infiltrates our most private relationships. Text messages and chats provide media through which we can spew off atrocities to the people we love because we don’t have to look into their eyes and see their pain.

Notice I’ve transitioned from “they” to “we.” We’ve all been haters before, through gossip, or cyberbullying, or even something as subtle as lack of compassion. We forget that we’re all connected in this quilt of personhood, and that we need each other to survive the trials of existence.

So here’s a shout-out to my haters, and all the haters of the world: to the ones who have written ugly comments on articles, or sent mean tweets. To the ones who have said things they regret but haven’t had the courage to apologize. To the ones who whisper at parties in corners and think their victims don’t hear: I’ve been you, and it’s no good. I’ve got an alternative.

Let’s all try to be friends and care about one another. I don’t know much, but I’m pretty sure that sympathy can go a lot further than hatred. Why don’t we test that theory together, like the huge, global family that we are? Deal? Deal.

Image via here.