Scorched Earth

“Only you can prevent wildfires.” ~Smokey the Bear

A fire is a conflagration of circumstances. It is a casual match in a dry field, a bundle of sticks, a blowtorch, a spark, smoke, and ashes. It is all and none at the same time, because a fire is within and of itself. It is wind, and breadth, and air. It contracts and expands depending on the air available to it. And the drier the circumstances the better for the fire to flourish. A fire is brilliant to watch, until it can no longer be controlled.

I watch fires all day. No, I’m not a firefighter. I’m a normal person who simply notices the world around him. And there are way too many uncontained and uncontested fires around that could have been taken care of when they were small, before they got completely out of control and those nearby had to run for safety. Of course I’m not talking about the same thing Smokey the Bear has always been concerned with, but rather the harsh words people wield against each other like torches of flame that burn before disintegrating.

People can be unmeasurably cruel to each other. I’ve seen it firsthand. I still see it firsthand all the time. The words they use, the tones of their voices, the vitriol they spew at each other I could never imagine. And it’s not just to those who are irredeemable. It is to their so-called friends, it is to their family members, it is to the people who they should love the most.

Perhaps there truly is a fine line between love and hate, or at least between love and hate speech. Too many people don’t take a step back and observe their feelings before spewing hate into the world.

Beware, because we can’t take it back. Once it’s out there, we can apologize, we can try and atone, but words cannot ever vanish into the ether. It’s not possible. Once they are out, they are like wild buzzards tearing their way through everything and everyone like so much carrion. Those words spread, regardless of true intent, until they become a raging inferno, a wildfire that sweeps through everything and everyone we come in contact with.

I think it’s become easier to fan these flames, too, because of these screens between us. Without having to look into another person’s eyes it’s easy to let our emotions take over us, to let something slip that we don’t even mean, in the heat of the moment. It becomes a simple click of a button, a touch, an instant, and nothing is the same. If there’s one thing I think is completely hopeless, it’s the “Delete” option after posting something. Someone has already seen it. Someone has already screenshot it. Someone has already blown air beneath it, and it’s soaring high over everything.

But it’s not just through social media. It’s not just rubbing these sticks together that ignites the flame. It’s through the things we say about others when they are not around. I can’t tell you how many times the truth of feelings is revealed when someone’s back is turned. Perhaps people think it’s okay as long as they don’t say it to someone’s face, that it’s somehow therapeutic to get out their feelings-of-the-moment without being taken to task for them. Things get out, though. A spark becomes a wildfire, and then comes the scrambling for cover.

I guess to me it’s always been about being honest with people. If I’m feeling confused by something you said, I’m going to tell you about it. If something you said or did hurt my feelings I’m going to share that with you. In a conversational manner, so you can have a chance to tell your side. I don’t want to start fires because I know how out of control they can get, how charred and blackened everything gets for miles around. I’ve been there, and the scorched earth is untenable ground. Nothing can ever grow there again.

Sam

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