I was recently shocked by email replies to a short comment I made, as what I thought was a extending out a hand of friendship with an intelligent comment.
The replies were hostile in the first case, and extremely annoyed in the second. Both replies misunderstood my intent for the comment, and misunderstood the semantic for the content of the comment. Few these days have had any education in semantics, and increasingly I am finding persons flying off the handle at reading a word or a phrase without taking the most charitable reading (a principle of critical thinking).
Here the context of my comment is important. I did my best as an ‘American historian’ (an Australian in American studies, and thus please understand the semantic challenge!) to address the historical context, but I was grossly misunderstood by my Australian colleague in the field.
The heated reaction came to my comment on the basic cultural conflict in the American South, not implying, at all, that the basic cultural conflict does not exist in the American North. My actual comment (in full) was
“Interesting, very interesting for a Queensland historian. An invitation to attend the [named institution] in Virginia, USA. (not Virginia, Queensland).
I would be nervous about stepping into the State of Virginia these days, as an Australian (“foreigner”) with a moderate (social) liberal outlook, these days.
Perhaps, [name of colleague] (cc.) might have a few thoughts on the [name of historical figure] tradition and American politics today.
The message was only that “I” (grounding my statement) would not feel safe in any American city, in the midst of the violent American culture-history war.
It was an opportunity for my colleague to speak his mind, and there was no crushing in the freedom of speech. In the end my colleague and I spoke on the phone and our friendship was again strengthen. And, furthermore, I will defend to the hilt my colleague’s nuanced defense of the American South. Indeed, my own misunderstandings have been challenged (but that was not what I wrote).
This is very troubling, though, that persons have difficulty, these days, reading carefully what is written, and are drawn to signal words and react accordingly. It is the extremism that is growing in our midst.
So, knowing that persons are more drawn to popular social media images (than the capacity to read text), I offer this meme and its image title.
Image: The clever cat is reading fairy tales for kittens. Kittens listen to him carefully.
Photo 126259526 / Read © Iryna Kuznetsova | Dreamstime.com
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