Michelle Quist: There is a good way to deal with tyrants

D-Day survivor Ray Lambert looks out over Omaha Beach in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. The North Carolina man was wounded four times on the beach during the Normandy invasion 75 years ago. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

I was supposed to be in Paris this week. The trip was a long-awaited personal pilgrimage to the beaches of Normandy and the massacred town of Oradour-sur-Glane and the secret tunnels in Lyon. It was meant to be a trip to revere those who sacrificed against a tyrant and recognize those who lived the horror, and those they left behind.

And, of course, chocolate croissants.

But, sometimes, the best-laid plans ...

The beauty of the hushed and holy beaches on the western coast of France, and the rest of the remains memorialized across Europe, is that in the end, tyrants never win. Tyrants always lose.

What the beaches of Normandy teach us is the depths of human nature in reacting to such tyrants. Human nature is good. We can be good. We can certainly be better than we are right now.

And that’s true whether I ever step foot on those beaches or not.

A friend’s recent Twitter activity reminded me that there’s a good way to deal with tyrants, even if those tyrants are just measly little trolls on Twitter.

My friend works for a research institute associated with Brigham Young University, which is of course associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He recently tweeted about Indigenous Peoples Day and some lightweight (I know, I shouldn’t call names) started attacking him for not properly deifying Christopher Columbus. This troll argued that the scriptures are certain on Columbus’s nobleness (they aren’t) and that unless he agreed my friend was shameful and characterless and shouldn’t be employed by a church-associated organization.

Yikes. Someone needs a nap. Or some food. Maybe he was hangry. Or maybe he missed a flight to Europe he was supposed to be on. I certainly empathize with that.

My friend responded with a master class on online behavior. He reminded us social media encourages an “online disinhibition effect” where a lack of restraint causes people to say things they would never say in person.

The result is an “empathy deficit.” It’s as if we’re speaking to video game characters. We rail against each other on Facebook and Twitter and score points that no one is tracking.

Except that the video game characters are real people, worrying about what’s for dinner, caring for sick children, missing work for car problems, and dealing with the myriad of small and large problems life presents every day.

A quick review of headlines shows how and why our social backdrop may be so vehemently charged: impeachment inquiries, homeless problems, homeless problems incredibly compared to scooter problems, student walkouts for safety on campus and state regulation of rules banning gay conversion therapy. Party politics, domestic violence, LGBTQ safety and Christopher Columbus.

The issues are fraught with an intensity that is bound to come out. But we don’t need to sacrifice our humanity in the process.

Another friend posted the following quote from Albert Camus I thought was apt:

“There is no life without dialogue. And in the major part of the world, dialogue has been replaced today by polemics ... Day and night, thousands of voices, each carrying on its own tumultuous monologue, pour out on the peoples of the world a torrent of mystifying words, attacks, defenses, and over-excitement. But what is the mechanism of polemics? It consists in considering the opponent as an enemy, consequently in simplifying him and refusing to see him. We have no idea of what the man we are insulting looks like, or whether he ever smiles, or how. Having become three-quarters blind by the grace of polemics, we no longer live among men but in a world of silhouettes.”

Your neighbor isn’t an enemy in a video game you’re trying to win. Let’s keep our perspective as we interact with each other. Don’t be the tyrant in someone’s online life. Be the soldier storming the beach ready to sacrifice for goodness and freedom.

Appropriately for this column, Albert Camus was a French philosopher who won the Nobel Prize for literature at the age of 44 in 1957. He also said these poignant words:

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

Michelle Quist

Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.