Two years ago, the 7th blog I wrote as Head of School focused on a historical time I was reading about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It’s archived on this website for those who missed it the first time around. And now, only 48 months later, I think it’s a topic I need to revisit; in this month of October where everything is Pumpkin Spice, Halloween and Hocus Pocus themed, we need to remember that this event in history was a serious one. While Salem, MA today might be the Halloween capital of the United States and while they sport witchy icons on all of their signs…the actual events that took place that year are grave, heart breaking, and not in any way fair, to any of the men and women persecuted and then executed for witchcraft.
Twenty people murdered; convicted on “spectral” evidence, with little to no opportunity to defend themselves. The manner in which the trials were conducted was appalling, even for the time period. If one was accused and pled guilty, the punishment was excommunication from the Church and yet your life was spared. However, if one maintained his or her innocence…and of course we know full well that not one of these men or women were guilty of witchcraft…then the punishment was death..by hanging or in one extremely disturbing case, by pressing to death under boards and stones. Death…the punishment for not admitting to a “crime” that one was not guilty of committing. Life, for lying in what served as a court in 1692…how could this have occurred in our nation’s history? And why, I have to wonder, does it never once get more than a paragraph in a history textbook and/or the text of The Crucible in a literature textbook. (When I taught American Lit, I ALWAYS taught Miller’s work, precisely because I felt it was a time in history my students needed to be more familiar with).
It happened more than once, too…did it not? Did we see a rise of this behavior in the McCarthy trials a little over fifty years ago? And today, 326 years later…what do our young men and women in America truly know about Salem, MA? In my heart, I feel, not as much as they should know. The men and women who faced death rather than admit to a crime they did not commit should be considered some of the very first martyrs of our nation…and in the years between then and now, we have had many.
For, in the world of 24 hour news channels, easy access to internet/email at all times, and social media, people are judged daily. And where are each of us and our children being judged? Well, of course on social media, on talk radio, on talk shows. All of these venues serve to “spin” a story for the public…long before anyone of us has had a chance to truly examine whatever the hot button issue is.
How can anyone maintain their innocence when our society is ready to judge them in an instant? How can any one of us not be guilty of “something” because somewhere, be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc, someone is “convicting” us of something based on our opinions, our beliefs, our personal life choices. Lately, it seems that, largely due to social media, our society has perhaps become more and more reflective of Salem in 1692. We seem to operate in a world where we assume everyone is guilty of something, or wrong about something, or not supporting this cause, that movement or the other issue …and in doing so, we tear each other apart, we scold and reprimand behind the guise of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, et, al and in doing so we are effectively destroying each others reputations.
Let’s stop allowing people to judge us on social media . Let’s teach our children not to judge people via social media. Let’s stop letting the internet replace common sense, intelligent thought, and weighty discussions. Let us together, teach our children to believe in what America is about…fair trials, evidence and support, and not essentially public “executions” of our very reputations on social media. Otherwise, are we any better than Salem, 1692?