Monday, June 13, 2011

The Tweeting Of Blame

"We are always paid for our suspicion by finding what we suspect."
- David Henry Thoreau

"If you point out the errors of your brother's ego you must be seeing through yours"
-A Course In Miracles

You may succeed in making another feel guilty about
something by blaming him, but you won't succeed in changing whatever it
is about you that is making you unhappy. "
-Wayne Dyer

There has been a profound amount of finger pointing and guilt seeking online this week. From Congressman Anthony Weiner to daytime soap star Crystal Chappell, I have seen online boards flooded with pages and pages devoted to seeking fault and perceived moral deficit in other people.  Twitter offers a unique and effective way to complain and blame, given that 140 characters hardly allows you to experience a rich discussion or get a sense of complexity or depth that fuel people actions.  

To review: people have been up in arms because New York Congressman Anthony Weiner sent out a series of PG-13 pictures of his body to various females, and lied about it publicly (though more details are unfolding as this is being written).  Emmy winning Crystal Chappell has been taken to task because she opted not to defend a cast mate who was cruelly bullied by a media figure on Twitter.  This past week most people I know have been commenting/blogging/posting/tweeting and forming judgments about the choices of these public figures with inflated superiority. 

There is a special type of adrenaline reserved for moral indignation. As far as I can see, millions of people are getting high right now off their sense of righteousness. 

To be clear: you cannot find guilt in others that you do not perceive within yourself. This is just as true for bullies in schools as it is for judgmental religious leaders, as it is for soap fans on Twitter.  You can only condemn in others parts of yourself you don't like.  Twitter, and American culture at large, enable and encourage you to perceive guilt and fault in someone or something outside of yourself.  But finger wagging and blame won't change the feelings and desires you are uncomfortable with.

This is most evident in the example of gay bullying.  The only reason one would choose to focus on another person's sexual orientation is if they were uncomfortable with their own.  It is usually closeted gay teens who violently seek out and pursue attention from other (perceived) gay teens in the form of bullying.  When someone has comfort within themselves about who they are, they have no reason to fear and condemn the actions and desires of others.

Similarly, Anthony Weiner's behaviors have set off a maelstrom of insecurities about the structure of the traditional heterosexual dyad.  His actions have challenged the foundation of "monogamy" and "cheating."  Instead of people looking at the issues he brings up, and their own interest and stimulation by his activities, they are resolving to handle this internal stress by blaming him and calling for his resignation.  If he does quit, it will do nothing to further resolve the fundamental problems in people's relationships, and will only enable people to blame others the next time a political scandal breaks (and there will be a next time!). 

Crystal Chappell's Twitter activities have also provoked thousands of thousands of comments and opinions regarding what she "should" have done when a colleague was verbally attacked.  Once again, people can narrowly focus on the "shoulds" of others, and gain adrenaline-fueled momentum on their search for finding fault and assigning guilt.  But doing so won't make their lives any happier.

Responsibility and integrity are essential ingredients in the recipe of mental health.  This starts when you decide to focus on the person in the mirror instead of public figures.  Ask yourself, "In what ways have I have behaved outside of my integrity? Have I ever been tempted to engage in a relationship outside of a monogamous dyad? Is Anthony Weiner really bad, or does it just piss me off that he almost got away with doing something I really wanted to do?" Or ask yourself, "In what ways have I not stood up for someone in my life? How have my actions contradicted my intentions? Is Crystal Chappell really wrong, or does she just remind me of times in my life when I have fallen short by not being there for someone else?"

Focusing on the errors of others is a great way to avoid responsibility within yourself, feel high off superiority, and gain community with others who are doing the same thing.  But it won't help you sleep at night, and it won't enable you to have more authentic feelings of pleasure, enjoyment, and serenity.  Instead of seeking fault in others, try noticing what uncomfortable feelings are aroused.  You may be surprised at what you find!

**NOTE: Since the writing of this piece, more details have been learned about Weiner's involvement with underage women.  I do not condone or agree with this behavior, but still maintain that it is serves individuals and couples to discuss their reactions and thoughts about his actions instead of perceiving him solely as the "problem."  

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Psychotherapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, ageism, bullying, caretaking fatigue, body image, grief and loss, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email at


the funky monkey said...

Could not agree more. Thank you for a mature and thoughtful look into both situations. :)

Jess said...

I think your characterization of the Crystal Chappel incident is a bit misleading. Most people would not have cared if she had remained silent. But she responded by telling people to "send love" to the media figure while he was bashing her co-worker. So it was not that she failed to defend her co-worker that bothered many of us; it was that her tweets endorsed the man.

If that media figure had been a real-life bully, Crystal Chappel's conduct would have been akin to watching him beat up someone and then telling people they should support the bully against the people who wanted him to stop.

I don't feel superior as a result of the exchange (which I witnessed in real-time). I just felt sad that someone I respected behaved so poorly.

Damon L. Jacobs said...

@Funky Monkey - THANK YOU!

@Jess - I understand. This is not say CC's behavior is acceptable. My suggestion is that we can do more for the world by using this behavior to determine how we want to live our own lives. You may already be doing that, but most people who have commented are content to judge CC and Weiner instead of "being the change" themselves.

DocT said...

This post gives me pause Damon.

It just goes to show that common sense principles apply to the digital social media age.

It is so easy in the heat of the moment to shoot our mouths off or fire off a retort on twitter, FB, text, or on a message board.

I remember what my parents always said to me, think before you speak, we need to stop and review what we type out before we hit send.

Anonymous said...

That analogy, Jess, is a bunch of hogwash and totally outrageous.

A closer one would be:
You are standing on a football field surrounded by dozens of friends, many hundreds of acquaintances, and thousands of strangers. Everybody is shouting really short sentences at you and each other. A friend you know is standing several yards away from you, shouting things to you in between shouting really vile epithets at someone else. A lot of people who hear what he says, start yelling at him then at you in really ridiculously short sentences that don't carry a lot of meaning all by their lonesome. Your toadlike friend who is really to blame for the mess might even send out a short: Help! I'm being murdered for my opinion here!" to which you reply "Everyone has the right to say what they want," and "Send my friend the toad love." Then lots of stuff comes flying at you, and other people hear the stuff aimed at you and start shouting. And then you hear that you said something that you're pretty sure you didn't. You shrug and take another swig of your alcohol of choice.

All right, my analogy isn't all that great. But it is closer, I feel, to the hysteria and chaos that is twitter than the "Bad Samaritan encourages beating of innocent bystander" absurdity above.

I admit I'm not a fan of Chappel's. I jumped ship from her projects a long time ago and will certainly never pay for her work again. But foul misrepresentations enrage me. You and your club might think it is "obvious" what Chappell did and did not do. You may attach the words "fact" and "truth" to your perceptions of unknowable events, but I'm very sorry to inform you, you would fail any logic 101 or rhetoric class in the land. What's more, the fact that you put the worst possible spin on the scant pieces of concrete fact that can be sifted from the mess does say everything about you and not much at all about the target of your self-righteous anger.

As for Weiner: his name suits him.

Katie said...

I think that we are very quick to judge when we don't know all the facts. I absolutely love Crystal, I enjoy her projects and I honestly believe she is a genuine and caring person should she of defended Branco no probably not but she didn't say anything against KA either not that would warrant this much hatred.

Anonymous said...

Eloquent, concise truth is a beauty:

"There is a special type of adrenaline reserved for moral indignation. As far as I can see, millions of people are getting high right now off their sense of righteousness."

I predict this will be forever immortalized in a collection of quoteables somewhere ... like my FB page!!