A couple of weeks ago, I was writing with the television on–a common practice–when my attention was caught by the words “autistic child.” I then listened to the awful story of a young mother who had gone to a spa with her autistic toddler only to be accosted by the spa’s owner for the child’s untoward, to the owner’s way of thinking, behavior. I was outraged and shocked when I heard the commentator say that the spa was the luxurious one a few miles from where I live. How could she? I asked myself as I slammed off the television and put in my iPod ear buds.
But that was far from the end of the story. From that point on, the television, Internet, and general conversations were flooded with tales of the awful spa proprietor and the helpless young mother and child. More than the initial report, it is the afterward that I want to write about.
In a few short days, our nation became experts on who it saw as the uncaring, malevolent owner. Ultimately we concluded that the owner deserved to be punished. We arrived at this conclusion armed only with what we had heard, read, or been told. And yet, we felt we had every right to weigh in.
How did the incident catch fire so quickly? The Internet highway, of course, It turns out that Facebook is rapidly becoming a weapon of mass destruction. I quake to think about how quickly I could destroy someone by planting a statement regarding him or her on FB. Turns out that someone in the spa that day was so upset by what she had witnessed when the owner shouted at the mother of the child that she went directly home and posted it. We have no governor with FB. We can post with very little thought as to consequence and once out in Cyberspace, the information is there forever. In the old days, someone would have mounted the courage to confront the owner and tell her how badly she behaved. But I fear we are becoming a nation of snipers that lets FB do the unpleasant work for us. Someone is mad at her husband? She puts it on FB. Someone is mad a friend? It goes on Facebook. The accused have no representation other than to go to FB themselves, and it becomes a gossipy small town with no good intent, much like the situations in my books.
Here’s my real problem with what happened and the way it was handled: From what I hear and read (again only hearsay but some highly credible secondary sources), the owner has always been prickly. That does not excuse her, but it does say that she didn’t single out the autistic child, just the mother who, in her eyes, was not supervising the child. Second, and for me most important, the owner has a business in a state where small businesses struggle daily to survive. She lives by the reputation of her business and that reputation has been badly tarnished. Friends have told friends, “Don’t go to Mspa.” It’s a killer mantra. I’m sure when the person posted her account, her intent wasn’t to kill business, at least I hope it wasn’t, but kill business I’m sure it has. And last, the word “spa” connotes a place you can go to relax, spend a few hours alone in peace and luxury. It’s probably no place for a child, any child, and especially one who is easily distracted by stimuli. I was a mother who spent more time than I probably should have around my children, at least that’s what they say, but during those few precious times I did get out by myself, I wanted serenity. In that spa, on that day, there was no serenity. Both the owner and the young mother had a miserable experience.
“But she is the owner and should have done better,” you say. And I say you’re right. But I think back to the day I was so frazzled by my ten-year-old son that I threw a box of cookies across a room in front of him and his darling friend Aaron. Fortunately for me, there was no technology that encouraged Aaron to run home and get his mother to put my misstep on Facebook. I was safe from being MSpa’d. In those days, the neighborhood gossip mill is the most damage we could do. If Aaron’s mother had MSpa’d me, I might not have been able a few years later to get the job teaching high school students that gave me years of joy.
We all have our dark moments, our times we wish we could take back. And though the spa owner has issued an apology publicly and privately, her business has, I fear, been grievously wounded unless people can forgive and move forward.
The President interceded in the Travon Martin killing and suddenly everyone changed their pictures on FB to them in hoodies. Mitt Romney misspoke at a private dinner and FB shouted he hated the poor. Susan G. Komen, an organization that has saved hundreds of thousands of women, was cyber-excoriated for its stand on Planned Parenthood and again we all became experts with a vengeance. It’s dangerous to think that one innocent indiscretion becomes a history of bad behavior and gives us a scarlet FB.
Lizzie Borden took at axe and….Or did she? Did anyone know? And if not, should anyone have gossiped about it? We can do better than carrying tales so often false and hurtful. As Jack Webb so often intoned in Dragnet, “The facts…only the facts.”