We, the operatic community, received truly horrible news this week. And before I go any further, please let me make one thing absolutely crystal clear: this post is not about the accused nor the accuser. It is not about anything that has been alleged, nor is it about what may be true and what may be untrue. This is a call for decency.
As artists, as opera singers, and as opera lovers, I think we pride ourselves on our ability to empathize. It’s one of the greatest privileges of our artform: when we get to experience an opera, we get to walk in another person’s shoes for a while and see the world from their perspective. I think this is part of why we are generally such a compassionate bunch. I think it’s why anti-bullying campaigns find such easy resonance with us. Each year, I love seeing countless colleagues turn their profile pictures purple for #SpiritDay and put rainbow filters over their pictures for Pride. I love seeing how many colleagues assert that Black Lives Matter every time the world needs the reminder (which is still all-too-frequent). I love seeing how staunchly supportive we all are of the #MeToo movement. We are a community that stands up for the down-trodden and oppressed.
The vitriol that unfolded (and perhaps continues to unfold) online, particularly on Facebook the day the news broke disturbs me and is what prompts me to write this post. Reading the comment threads was a shocking thing to see – almost more shocking than the news itself. What started as people trying to defend and support those that they love (both the alleged perpetrator and the accuser) turned into a vile, name-calling troll-fest. Horrible insults littered with disgustingly foul language were lobbied like machine gun artillery, and it devolved almost instantly into the social media equivalent of a shouting match in which very little was accomplished aside from maximizing the pain of these events for everyone on all sides.
Just because it comes from a desire to defend, this kind of insult-throwing isn’t any different than bullying. When we engage in this behavior and this kind of dialogue, we are no different than the people we blame for creating the binary and divided state of affairs in which we find ourselves. We are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.
We fancy ourselves better than this – I know we do. The incessant conversation about all of our liberal causes and the constant lamenting about the sharply divided state of the world tells me this. But this week showed me that we are absolutely not better than this. This is who we are, and it’s no wonder we find ourselves in this mess of a cultural and political climate. I’ve never been so ashamed and embarrassed to be part of a community as I have been since Wednesday. Not because of what was alleged in the New York Daily News – because of how we treated each other in the wake of that horrible and tragic news.
I know that allegations of this nature bring anger and grief – for everyone on all sides of the matter. But we need to be the adults in the room in times like these. We need to learn to channel our anger and grief in healthier and less hurtful ways. We need to learn to sit with our feelings, and to take a breath before we speak or type.
Words are powerful. As opera singers and opera lovers, we know this the best of all, because words are what we combine our beautiful voices with in order to move people to laugh, to cry, and to be consoled. If we know this so well, we should remember their power when we get on social media. There is an adage that one should think before one speaks, because what is said cannot be unsaid. There is another adage that declares that the internet is forever. Please keep this in mind before deciding to spew hateful speech on Facebook – even if it is to defend and support the ones we love. There are better, more effective and classier ways to do that than bullying.
If we want a better America, a better world – that change needs to start with us.