15 March 2010

Proximity Breeds Contempt or Sympathy?

A common theme of anonymous comments on the Enquirer news stories is that downtown residents are bums. A typical comment would be ones like this after Margy Waller's editorial last month:
My area tour of that area involved trying not to step in spit and hoping I did not get robbed and of course being asked for any spare change by different drunks. -gailannmoe

If you walk down your neighborhood shopping street (assuming you have one), how many people would say greet you as you pass?

I ask because, in my neighborhood, it is a lot of people.

And how many of them are different than you in class status, accent, or color?

Yesterday, while making my way in the rain, with my hands full and keeping track of kids, some guy was hassling me for money. And it was no big deal but it bothered me a bit and I was rude in return. I regretted that because I didn't want the kids to see that, but it occurred to me that this was the most disturbed I have been on the sidewalk in a while. For the most part, everyone I meet treats me civilly if not kindly.

The people on the street could fill every classification on a census form. And sometimes, when you see the same person many times you begin to have an acquaintance. Its not like we become close friends or anything, but it is good to have acquaintances, and we will say hi and maybe comment on the weather or sports.

We've had situations wherein we become close to someone who was an acquaintance. It can be something that grows slowly over time, or it can be sudden, when we are thrust together in some emergency or a community event. And it is great to get to know people more intimately, even if we will never become close friends. Once in a while a closer relationship will emerge.

These people fill my consciousness and sometimes my dreams. Some people's faces say a lot without speaking, others come with names and family histories and more. Through this casual proximity, I have a growing sense of sympathy and concern for my neighbors. It is the open nature of the sidewalk and the public daily places that make it possible to have many many acquaintances without having to get too close to them...unless we choose to. And making an acquaintance into a friend must be a choice.


Andrew said...

that's why i don't read anything on the enquirers website... or at least don't look at the comments.

i want to believe that the negative comments only represent a small portion of our local population, but unfortunately i know that's probably not true.

Randy Simes said...

A quick note, the comment you referenced was actually made by lisagf23 (another anonymous hack). gailannmoe was responding to lisagf23 and actually ridiculed lisagf23's comment.

Anonymous said...

I saw a discussion on the large numbers of negative comments on newspaper sites on another blog (the Enquirer is not the only one).

A few commentors remarked on the work and effort that's involved for a big blog/site in creating a thoughtful and civil commenting community. Then someone who worked at a paper said they made a decision not to moderate comments because they want a lot of page views -- other words, it suits their purposes to have tons of angry comments. They are not at all interested in raising the level of discourse.

Blue Ash Mom

Anonymous said...

I've found the best way to combat the "oh - there's bums harassing people for money on every corner" mentality some people have about downtown is to talk about LIVING downtown. If they know me at all, they know the care I take in raising my daughter - and they know that I wouldn't put her in "danger"

Unfortunately, what people aren't talking about is the ugly trend toward harassing the homeless that seems to be growing downtown :(