When my daughter was younger, I used to tell her that the first rule of being a woman was that if you must pick between being a victim and a bitch, go for bitch every time.
Kassy reminded me of that recently as we walked our dogs together through a spring woodland. I was taken aback by my own words. In my present experience of the world, why on earth would such a choice even be necessary? The world is full of reasonable and decent people. Victimization is extraordinarily rare, and in most cases it can be fended off with firm boundaries. No bitchiness required.
Of course that is NOT true in the real world.
This is the both the wonder and problem of being in healthy relationships: You forget just how crazy and toxic people can be. You walk around in this privileged bubble of kindness and genuine good intentions. So you can forget about how many people are abused, how limits don’t matter to rapists and wife-beaters. And you are gobsmacked when you run into people who are unkind for sport and have malicious intentions.
This is why I find the online world so distressing. It creates a huge cognitive dissonance. How can I continue to believe in the kindness and basic goodness of people that I experience in my real life if I cannot reproduce it online? I try to act towards trolls as I would towards those in my life: I explain and try to open dialogue to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. I forget that some people are brutal for entertainment.
Don’t get me wrong, a perpetual expectation of goodness comes in handy more than you might expect. Often people simply live up to your expectations. And when they fail, your faith in them inspires or shames them into remembering and returning to their better nature.
There can also be something incredibly shrewd about having such good expectations of people that it verges on willful naïveté. I have always thought that the smartest and shrewdest woman in Gone With the Wind is Melanie. Her determined unwillingness to see anything untoward in Scarlet’s relationship with her husband was an ingenious way of making sure nothing ever actually happened.
Of course the odds of Melanie’s gambit working would have dropped significantly had she been married to a less loving and loyal man. Her security in that relationship allowed her to neutralize even the most conniving seductress.
That is how the privilege of a good relationship works. It does the same thing as any other form of privilege: It perpetuates itself so effortlessly it becomes almost invisible. It makes our privileged state seem natural and easily obtained. It blinds us to how hard others must struggle to have what we take for granted.
The experience of being loved, if it goes on long enough, makes you start to expect goodness and become less tolerant of even marginally abusive behavior. You think you are doing something right because you “attract positive people” and repel those who are toxic. People are kind to you, respectful and even fall in love with you because there is something about the privilege of being loved that reproduces itself.
Those of us who have good relationships are like people who are born wealthy and become even wealthier because of their work. Many wealthy people believe that if they can make a couple of extra million dollars a year by working hard, the rest of us should be able to make our first million the same way.
Likewise, those of us who are in good relationships know that we have put work into them. What is more some of us have succeeded in surrounding ourselves with only good and kind people. yes, that has taken is quite a bit of work. But where we go wrong is when we assume that those who are lonely or who are in abusive or just unhealthy relationships can find healthy love as easily as we find more of it.
This is even true for some of us who have been raised by abusive people and have had brutal life experiences. More than anyone, I should know how easily people can become prey for sociopaths. But especially in the years since I cut off connection with my mother, I have become increasingly oblivious to the plight of those not surrounded by kindness, compassion and basic goodness.
I have actually wondered aloud how everyone else seems to run into assholes all the time and I meet mostly nice people. I thought I was doing something right until my daughter reminded me, “You know that you are not normal, right?”
In truth, I am privileged, perky and suffer from selective amnesia. (My family says that this is the most accurate description of me that they have ever heard.) I tend to forget unkindness and remember the best about others. As much as that might sound a virtue, it is really just another artifact of privilege.
I am so sure that goodness and kindness are the norm, I dismiss everything else as an aberration.
And perhaps this is why it is so important for people like me to spend time online. We need to remember what it is really like out there. We need to be reminded that privilege is not the same as normalcy. Trolls remind is of what the world is like outside of our bubble of privilege.