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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

In Other Words: Don’t Be a Rathole Online

Butting heads: Uriel Soberanes - Unsplash
My younger brother and I are eleven and a half months apart. Irish twins. We were intense childhood rivals. We fought - often - and we carry the scars of those encounters today.

But there was one trigger word that would surely start a fist fight. One simply had to utter or even silently mouth the deadliest insult known to kids (at least kids in our house) to ratchet any disagreement up a few Defcon levels. Are you ready? Hope you’re sitting down for this because it is such a devastating insult that you will probably rethink your relationships and purpose.

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This is the way it usually went. One of us, say me for instance, would sneer, squint, and call my brother a “rathole” for some perceived slight or injustice. That’s it. Rathole. That insult would set a flurry of fists flying that resulted in split lips, black eyes, injured feelings, and ultimately tanned hind ends and prolonged time outs. But it was an arrow that always found its mark.

I have no idea what it was about that word that tripped our triggers. I have no idea where the insult even came from. I have no idea if others used it. All I know, is that I became a five-year-old rage machine. My brother once stole my Fizzies, a popular tablet that you dropped in a glass of water that then effervesced into a fruit flavored drink - like a fruit flavored Alka-Seltzer. I called him a rathole and then punched out his two front teeth. I earned a significant punishment from our parents for that one.

I look back on it now with some bewilderment and I can’t help but think of this episode when I see some of the silly memes floating around online. You know the ones, usually those politically charged images that portray the opposition as some sort of traitorous simpleton. Figurative fists fly in the Comments section. And some of the insults are almost as creative as being a rathole.

Now, I like to think that I’m smart enough to not step into a steaming pile of dog dirt on the sidewalk when I see it. But some people not only step in it, they jump up and down on it, and then spread it around wherever they go and then complain loudly about it. That’s much of the online behavior I see.

That childish “rathole” behavior continues today with political memes demeaning perceived opponents, ideas, practices, cultures, and religions.  And that’s a shame because there is no parent to correct them.  As we began our time outs, Mom would always say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say it.” And we would stew in our silence. But it’s pretty good advice.

No one looks good attacking others. If you attack someone you disagree with by name calling, using alternative facts, or twisting information, mocking, or even fabricating material then you are the one who ultimately looks weak.

When people are afraid they lash out in all sorts of crazy ways to protect themselves. I don’t think they are trying to persuade someone to their point of view. They are just trying to protect their own. It’s like the puffer fish blowing up to look bigger and more threatening that it is. It’s nature’s way of saying “Don’t touch!” So listen to my Mom and don’t be a rathole. Because if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it.

And there’s always more room on the timeout bench.

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