|Image courtesy treehouse1977
via Creative Commons.
Periodically, an essay I write elicits a lot of comments, and when that happens it’s a pretty sure bet that among the thoughtful responses will be a few comments full of vitriol. A recent essay, “Since other animals are predators, why shouldn’t we eat animals?”, was one of those. One responder wrote:
“I truly do feel that you should be free to eat poop. Please start immediately. With any luck for the rest of us in humanity, it will at the very least cut down your time on a keyboard.”
This was mild (and at least vaguely amusing) compared to some comments I’ve received over the years. Every time I read such commentary, though, I always wonder: Who are these people who write such nasty things? Who resort to name-calling? Who are so full of hate? If I met them, would they be rude and nasty to me in person?
I doubt it.
The great majority of us treat each other civilly when we meet and interact. We are generally polite. But behind our screens and on our keyboards, such civility often eludes us. We feel free to spew our nastiest thoughts at one another. I know how it feels to want to pen my angriest, most judgmental thoughts. I have never written anything truly nasty, but I’ve been sarcastic and snide in writing. I used to make sure that I waited a few hours before sending a letter to the editor about something that made me angry or upset. Often, after calming down, I’d see that my writing wouldn’t advance my cause, that it was reactive, not productive; and I would then modify it before putting it in the mail.
But now our “letters to the editor” are instant responses in the comment sections of Internet sites. Many (most?) of us don’t even proofread our comments; don’t even read them through once before sending them out into the world to do their damage. And they do damage. They prevent real dialogue and discussion. They hamper deeper thought and reflection. They crush creative thinking and problem-solving. They create us and thems and foster hatred.
When next you read something that makes you angry, challenge yourself to respond, not react, with your very best, kindest, and most thoughtful communication skills. Imagine saying those same words if the recipient were looking you in the eyes. Use your words as a gift, not a punishment. Remember the saying: “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.”
Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDxConejo talk: “Solutionaries”
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach”
Get tickets now for the October 13 NYC debut of my 1-woman show — My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl — at United Solo, the world’s largest solo theatre festival.
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