Much has been written about how the 2016 election cycle and subsequent ascendency of Donald Trump has further splintered an already divided public. It’s only getting worse, as evidenced by the comments sections on pretty much every news site or blogging platform out there—including, occasionally, our own Jewish parenting community.
After a mass shooting in Virginia last week–which The Washington Post reported was 154th mass shooting to date in 2017–the accusations have been flying back and forth, each side claiming its the other that’s been turning up the rhetorical heat until it’s too hot.
In all this hullabaloo, one word that’s been bandied about (including at me) bugs me most of all: “snowflakes.” This insult–which prior to 2016 meant someone who thinks they are really special and unique, but is just like everyone else–is usually leveled at people left-of-center who express offense or opposition at some aspect of the new world we live in.
Per a recent ThinkProgress piece that delves into the history of the insult:
“As 2016 dawned, snowflake made its way to the mainstream and, in the process, evolved into something more vicious. The insult expanded to encompass not just the young but liberals of all ages; it became the epithet of choice for right-wingers to fling at anyone who could be accused of being too easily offended, too in need of “safe spaces,” too fragile.”
I don’t need a safe space, but I do not like the way this word is flung around.
Let’s back up. In many ways, it feels like we are living in parallel universes, made up of two opposing world views under one president. This was true to an extent under President Obama, but it’s increased even more this year. To some Americans, President Trump is the anti-establishment Messiah they have been waiting for and longing for–a change agent; a tough-talking, deal-making billionaire who they believe has what it takes to make America great again.
To other Americans (us “snowflakes”), Trump represents the things they fear: an America that turns its back on the interconnected/interdependent world we’ve become accustomed to; an America that embraces isolationism and right-wing nationalism while rejecting immigration and denying the perils of climate change.
While it’s perhaps both foolish and naive to think these opposing viewpoints will ever really see eye to eye, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try to hear each other out without resorting to name-calling and ugly speech. There is a respectful way to disagree. But sadly, it isn’t happening in most online communities today.
The problem is that we can’t communicate effectively with one another if we resort to hurling insults. While I fully accept that we are each entitled to our opinion, it doesn’t mean the insults don’t sting–and they seem to hurt more coming from my own tribe. I think what has surprised me the most is just how quickly my fellow Jews have been to throw out derogatory names like “libtard” and “snowflake” when they don’t agree with my POV. I’ve been [sarcastically] told to find a “safe space and a coloring book.” I can’t help but wonder–would any of these brazen-behind-a-screen people have said the same things to my face?
I doubt it.
It’s not a curse word or a slur, so here’s what bothers me the most about being called a snowflake. It seems to dismiss any cry for social justice that comes from the heart. As a mom, I’m trying to raise my kids to be tolerant, empathetic, compassionate global citizens. I want them to have a deep understanding of right and wrong. What’s so terrible about that?! Sensitivity isn’t a bad thing; neither is passion.
I also can’t help but notice the hypocrisy: if I’m a snowflake because I’m offended, aren’t you a snowflake for being offended by my being offended, which makes all of us snowflakes? I’m afraid we’re all just going to melt! The point is, this term is a conversation-ender. There’s no way to respond with reason. Therefore, calling someone a “snowflake” just pushes us further apart.
I fully accept that just because we’re all Jews doesn’t mean we share the same political views–or any views! I suppose I just thought maybe we–a religious group who’s been persecuted and called nasty names since the beginning of time–might be a smidge kinder and more understanding toward one another when expressing our differences.
We should be able to civilly debate in public forums. We should be able to express outrage as we see fit without being bullied. We should treat others as we wish to be treated.
As a mom, I’m terrified. The current level of discourse doesn’t create the environment I want raise my young kids in; it flies in the face of the things I teach them. But since I don’t see the pendulum swinging in the other direction on its own any time soon, I’ll throw my energy into doing my part: ignoring the haters, not engaging in mud-slinging, and trying to foster opportunities for healthy and constructive dialogue.
And no, I won’t just melt away.