Imagine you are sitting in a college class of about 300 students. The professor is at the front presenting his lecture, when all the sudden, a guy stands up and starts yelling, “YOU ARE AN IDIOT! WHERE DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL, THE COLLEGE OF STUPIDITY? ANYBODY WHO BELIEVES THIS CRAP DESERVES TO GET AN “F” NOT ONLY IN THIS CLASS, BUT IN LIFE!”
You are completely shocked that this just happened! You look around at the other students, your mouth agape. You can’t believe that some random guy just stood up and totally insulted not only the professor, but every other student in the class.
Because this man is at the front of the class, you cannot see his face. But you can see his back. And on his sweatshirt, in big block letters, is his name.
Do you think this would ever happen? Not likely, right?
But it does happen, every single day. Not in college classrooms, but on the Internet.
People sit behind their computer screens and spew all kinds of rudeness and hatred in the forms of comments on blog posts and status updates on Facebook and other social media.
Here’s the strange thing. They are not hiding. We know their names, whether they comment as “iamsorude123” or use their actual names (like on Facebook).
These people are not even TRYING to stay anonymous, but they feel some sort of protection because they are shielded by their computers or phones.
But then there are those commenters who do choose to post their comments anonymously. This is usually a huge tip-off that the person KNOWS they are saying something inflammatory or insulting.
What’s even more confusing is that I bet most of these people are actually nice in real life. I bet they have kids and co-workers and parents to whom they would NEVER speak so rudely.
I am ashamed to admit that even though I consider myself to be one of the “nice” people, I have participated in this sort of online insensitivity.
Once I was part of a review group for a book that was yet to be released. Several videos had been produced to go along with the book, and as reviewers, we were asked to post in a group on Facebook what we thought of the videos. I watched about two minutes of the first video and offered my “helpful” opinion. I didn’t like it. I thought it was poorly made and that the random activity being displayed was distracting and annoying. The author of the book replied that my assessment had been harsh and that I could have at least said something nice before being so critical.
She was right. If she and I had been in a board room together, I NEVER would have expressed my opinion in this way. I would have led with something complimentary. Then I would have honestly, but thoughtfully and carefully shared my opinion about the videos.
What’s even more telling is that I came to this conclusion AFTER WATCHING ONLY THE FIRST TWO MINUTES OF ONE VIDEO!
How dare I? How dare I form an opinion without getting the whole picture? How dare I act so arrogantly as to assume that all the rest of the videos would be like the first? How dare I act as though I were superior to those who had produced the videos?
People, how dare we? Have we sunk so low?
I have noticed that the blog posts that receive the most vitriol and invective are those that have any kind of religious or spiritual bent. Whenever I have read a positive article sharing feelings of gratitude or explaining a person’s beliefs, I feel sickened as I scroll through the comments. Invariably, an all-out brawl has started with no punches pulled. My heart literally hurts at the brash, unapologetic attacks against the person who wrote the article, and everyone else who shares their beliefs.
And let’s not even get STARTED with anything having to do with parenting or politics. Invariably, a figurative gun fight will be raging in the comments with heavy casualties on both sides, but no winner.
Is this the Spanish Inquisition? Are we becoming judge, jury and executioner? Are we so bold, yet so cowardly as to wear a mask of megapixels while we say things to strangers that we would never say to our spouses, children, and friends?
We are better than this. Much better. We have been taught to be kind. We have been taught how to respectfully share our ideas and beliefs, and to respectfully listen to others’. We were taught in our youth not to call names and not to assassinate character. We all remember the instructions, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
We are better than we have been. We will no longer feel that the freedom of speech gives us license to skewer others. We will not be like the guy who stands up the college class and spews his venom without regard to the souls of his hearers. If we do this, we convict ourselves rather than those we are attacking.
A great society is born by the exchange of ideas, not by the exchange of insults.