Why We’re all Fragile Snowflakes
I’m a fragile snowflake. So are you.
I don’t mean this ironically, and I don’t mean it in the same sense as “We’re all racist.” I mean that, in the eyes of someone else, someone who doesn’t know you, you’re too sensitive about something. So am I.
Most of my friends and social media contacts are liberal or progressive. My Facebook feed is filled with people who refuse to put the words “President” and “Trump” next to each other; it’s more common to see him simply called 45*, or something more offensive. Last year, reading my feed, you might have thought the election was between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
In other words, I live in an echo chamber. As do most of us.
Since I have several dozen liberals on my feed, and they each have dozens of commenters who are mostly also liberals, I have a clear sense of what liberals get mad about, and how they sound when they’re venting and when they’re truly angry. It also means I sympathize with that anger. I have a sense for when to join in, when to watch quietly, and when to step back entirely. I’m not perfect by any means, but I have context.
It means that I share a lot of their anger and sadness. There are things that other liberals and progressives get upset about that cause me to scratch my head, but there’s a lot of overlap. So when my Facebook lights up with negative feelings, I usually understand it.
For me, these aren’t fragile snowflakes, these are the righteously angry.
I also know what liberals sound like when they’re calm and in their own space. When someone is having a bad day, or misreads something and goes off on a rant, I know it’s someone having a bad day or misreading something.
Because I talk to a few dozen liberals on a regular basis, when I see a particular person having what seems to me to be an irrational reaction to something I’ve said, it leads me to step back and look at what I said. I’ll conclude either that I said something off and need to be more careful in the future, or that the other person is in a place I don’t understand right now.
What I won’t do is conclude that liberals, or progressives, or feminists, or seekers of racial equity are fragile snowflakes. Because I know a variety of people in these groups, I can easily differentiate the behavior of an individual from the behavior of the group.
This is also true for groups that I don’t personally belong to as well. The more I speak to women, or to people of color, or Muslims, the easier it becomes for me to see them as individuals, and to attribute displays of negative emotions as either individual responses or justified reactions to cultural inequities.
At the same time, I’ve become more insulated from conservative viewpoints. I used to identify as a libertarian with liberal leanings, and as an advocate for men’s rights. I was a stoic, rational mansplainer who read P. J. O’Rourke and laughed with Dennis Miller.
That’s not my world anymore, and the farther I get from it, the more difficulty I have sorting out the individual inanities from the groupthink. While I think I largely still understand the reasoning and experiences that got me to that perspective, there are major disagreements I have with it now.
The details of that are topics for future articles. The relevant point is how I would respond now, versus how I would have responded two decades ago.
Two decades ago, seeing a Men’s Rights Advocate responding irrationally to something, I would have seen them the same way I see over-the-top behavior from progressives now: An individual, misreading or misspeaking. These days, I’m far more likely to shrug and say, “Those MRAs are all so fragile. What snowflakes.”
When Donald Trump or his supporters insist on a “safe space” for themselves while mocking others, I join my social media contacts in shrugging and laughing and saying, “Who are the real snowflakes, anyway?”
I am not suggesting we should all find the reason in the viewpoints of others. This isn’t a call to join hands and sing “Kumbaya.” Many viewpoints simply have no solid reason to them, and others have a kernel of reason but have become hopelessly corrupted by myopic selfishness. And some conclusions are downright cruel. My point is that the snowflake accusations have become a knee-jerk reaction on all sides.
As I write this, lots of men are upset over Ezekiel Elliot’s nude cover photo for ESPN’s annual Body issue.
I know this because of articles about how upset some men are, showing tweets to reflect the outrage. There are items on my Facebook stream mocking the fragile male snowflakes who are at their homophobic ways, again.
What I don’t know is how many non-liberal men are indifferent to the cover shot, or even admire it, because I don’t spend a lot of time talking to non-liberal men.
To be clear: If you are bothered by Ezekiel Elliott’s cover shot, but think Caroline Wozniacki’s photo justifies you making lascivious sexual jokes about her, that’s highly problematic on several levels: Racism, homophobia, sizeism, and rape culture could all be playing a part. And there are certainly groups for which it’s fair to say that every member is hyperreactive and overly sensitive.
However, it’s easier for us to see a group we don’t interact with as a philosophical monolith, while people we interact with regularly are seen as individuals.
This is especially true today, with the current combination of social media echo chambers and journalists looking for people who are outraged about something. “Ezekiel Elliott is naked, and millions of people didn’t post or tweet anything about it” makes for boring reading.
When the only communication we get from a group is their outrage, it’s easy to decide that they are their outrage. There are lots of conservatives on the internet who don’t care to know me personally, and who only see me when I’m ranting. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them thought I was a fragile snowflake, and that’s okay.
We don’t have to reach out to people whose opinions we loathe. I’m not encouraging that. I’m just suggesting that, as we toss around “snowflake” and “fragile,” keep it in mind that we’re only seeing a slice. Even if that’s all we want to see.