May 14, 2019
On January 18, 2019, a video of Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann went viral. He was at the Lincoln Memorial standing face to face with a Native American man during the March to Life in Washington, D.C. On the basis of that picture, a frenzy of condemnations from reporters, commentators and politicians were heaped upon this student, accusing him of prejudice and hatred. Misinformation and lies spread like wild fire. Finally, when the facts were uncovered, the high school student was exonerated of any wrong-doing, even though much wrong had been done to him and his family. It was a rush to judgment.
On January 29, 2019, American actor and singer Jussie Smollett reported that two masked men attacked him at 2 AM near his apartment in Chicago. He claimed that the attack was racist and homophobic. After Smollett’s initial report, friends and fans, celebrities and politicians expressed outrage at this hate crime. Twitter and Instagram fueled the frenzy of self-righteous indignation. However, in just three weeks, it was discovered that the whole event had been orchestrated by Smollett. Yet, before the facts were fully known, there was the rush to judgment and much chatter.
Gifted with reason, we are wired to make judgments. Discerning the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, the right from the wrong, and virtue from vice: this is an essential part of our being human. However, every judgment must be founded on truth, not rumor; on fact, not fiction; on substance, not appearance. And every judgment must always be tempered with compassion. Albeit from opposite directions, the Sandmann and Smollett incidents show how quick we are to believe or disbelieve, to accuse or defend and how easily we pick a side and draw a line in the sand. And, all the while, truth grows ever more fragile.
Today’s rush to judgment gathers speed along the newly constructed digital highway. We get information instantaneously and, because we want solutions just as fast, we are quick to judge. As a result of this incessant communication about other people’s lives, we live on the edge between truth and falsehood. What years ago was whispered between a few people now goes viral and can never be retrieved. As a result, in this environment, deliberately passing on stories that destroy other people’s good names is nothing less than cyber bullying.
There is no area of modern society that is exempt from someone passing on false information, half-truths or blatant, deliberate lies. In a society of fast-paced information sharing, gossip has become so commonplace that people justify it as a way to right wrongs, correct others and unseat those whom they deem unfit for their chosen work. However, unlike the surgeon’s scalpel that removes the cancer, gossip is the arrow that destroys the other.