David Carroll column mug

Sometimes I need a little fresh air. Certainly it’s good for my physical health, but it’s much more than that. When I walk away from my television or my computer, my faith in humanity is restored.

Remember when we depended on our neighbors? We borrowed from them, we talked to them and we helped each other out. We are far more insular now. Sure, we may wave now and then, but we don’t have nearly as many conversations out at the mailbox.

Has the neighbors’ new grandchild arrived? We don’t ask them, we’ll wait to find out on Facebook. How’s your neighbor recovering from surgery? Hopefully his wife will post something soon. This is what we’ve become.

As a news reporter, I am frequently on social media. I comment on other folks’ lives and they comment on mine. We are friends, sometimes even in the traditional use of the word.

But in recent years, a once-faint foul odor has developed into a toxic stench. It hit “code red” status last week following the death of Senator John McCain. The old adage Mama taught us, “If you can’t say something good about a man, just don’t say anything at all,” has fallen by the wayside. In 2018, it is now, “If you can’t say something good about a man, hurry and post it on Facebook.”

The same goes for, “Don’t say anything about a person that you wouldn’t say to his face.” That rule is also out the window.

As McCain often admitted, he wasn’t perfect. He owned up to more of his mistakes than most of us ever will.

So when tributes to the fallen serviceman and senator began pouring in, the social media sniping began. Many of the remarks were hateful, and often profane. McCain had said or done something they didn’t like, and now he was dead. What better time to spew their venom?

This is nothing new. When Dolly Parton helps families who lost their homes to forest fires, or donates a book each month to preschool children, there’s always someone who says, “Well, she ought to do more than that. We have made her filthy rich!”

If the weather forecaster marks a beautiful day by using the phrase, “Not a cloud in the sky,” you can count on at least one Facebook grouch to pipe in with, “Well, come to my house. I’ll show you one.”

Social media has given a voice to people who once had none. Unfortunately, many are showing their true colors. They exist only to argue and complain.

As depressing as this is, it encourages me to step outside and breathe. It is like rebalancing a piece of machinery that has gotten off track.

I look to my right. I see my longtime neighbor who is a retired ophthalmologist. I have no idea how he leans politically. He had a great career, he and his wife keep a clean yard and they don’t bother anyone. A few years ago, I had an eye problem. It was nothing major, but I probably should have gone to the doctor. My neighbor, who had retired a couple of years earlier, had kept the tools of his trade. We were both outside and I asked him to look at my eye. He took me into his basement, checked it out and assured me the problem would resolve itself. It was a neighborly thing to do. I have never seen him post a rant on Facebook. He’s too busy enjoying life.

I look across the street and see another retired neighbor. We bought insurance from him when we moved in. He answered every question and honored every claim. Many years ago, there was a problem with our furnace, and I was at work. (True confession: even if I had been at home, I would not have known what to do). My wife called in a panic with two small kids and no heat. I told her to call our neighbor. Within minutes, he bundled up, crossed the street and made our home warm again. He is not the type to attack people on social media. He simply helps them in real life situations.

The next house over is quiet. My 99-year-old neighbor just passed away. He was a retired military officer, who took care of his mother until she died at age 103. He mowed his yard and cut the brush until he was 97. He played golf into his 90s too. He never had a computer. “I’m too busy for that!” he would laugh.

For me, these people are “the real world.” They’re not cutting people down, they’re lifting them up.

Whenever the social media crazies get you down, go outside and look for the good in people. It really is a breath of fresh air.

David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor, and author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best columns. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Rd., Chattanooga, Tenn., 37405, or at 3dc@epbfi.com.