Republicans and Democrats. Conservatives and Liberals. Religious and non-religious.
Carnivores and vegetarians.
It seems like everywhere I look online these days, everyone is upset with everyone else. One person shares a political post on their Facebook page, and pretty soon everyone of their friends and even people they’ve never met are commenting with their own laser-accurate opinions.
Friendships have even been lost over these sorts of things, when rival ideologies lead to heated arguments.
1) The human condition
Throughout history, we as a species have always striven to make our lives better. Although this is a good thing, it also means we can often be very opinionated; we want our friends, our country, our world to know how we think things could be better.
And the internet, with its ease of use for sharing, spreading, and arguing about opinions, amplifies our desire – and ability – to do just that.
Too many of us, I think, feel that every news story we read, every photo that is shared, and every comment that is posted deserves or requires our 2-cents.
I fall into that narcissistic trap, as well. Often, I’ll see something that I begin to comment on, but then I stop and think, “Does anyone really care??” And very often, the answer is, “no.”
2) Ease of anonymity
It used to be that if you had a disagreement with someone, you told them face-to-face. Now, you can hide behind a screen name and an avatar and say whatever you want to people you’ve never even met.
You can do it wherever you are, whenever the urge hits you. Thanks to smartphones, tablets, and laptops, you don’t even need to stop and think about what you’re going to say before you say it.
It’s that narcissism thing again; that feeling of superiority over anyone who disagrees with you. Being opinionated isn’t necessarily bad, but when decency is thrown out the window in order to pummel readers with your ranting, four-letter-word-drenched tirade, it borders on cyber-bullying.
And no matter how poorly-written, it’s usually done with a condescending tone of super-intellect. We’ve all seen those.
3) Loss of manners
Not to turn this into a post about longing for the good-ol’-days, but there really is something to be said about the loss of decency and manners among our population.
Strangers call other strangers names, readers jump to conclusions without facts, random people make wild accusations without anything to support them. And when people who disagree then jump into the fray – the intensity level increases.
Part of this loss of respect (probably a good part) is attributable to the first two items on this list. The internet has amplified the human desire of opinion-making while exacerbating the ease with which to do it.
- Over the weekend, a high schooler in the state was accused by his school of writing something threatening on a bathroom wall. His mother defended him, claiming there was no basis for the accusations. An audio recording of the meeting in the principal’s office was made public, and the preponderance of 4-letter-words uttered by the kid did nothing to sway the opinions of the readers who were commenting on the online article.
- A mother and two daughters were found dead inside a home in an upscale residential community nearby. The husband, who owned a gun store, had been charged with assault once a few years ago, but the wife had dropped the charges. Now, readers of the online news story – who are all apparently either criminal psychologists or forensic specialists – are putting their own pieces together as to what happened.
- A woman who runs a very successful food blog often shares vegan and vegetarian recipes, even though she has never claimed to be a vegan. She once shared a recipe and asked readers to chime in with their thoughts on the subject – and the hatred she received spewing forth from vegans who felt she was a “fraud” and was being hypocritical was absolutely stunning.
In each of these cases, people lost all sense of decency and reverted to their most spiteful, smug, and arrogant selves.
Readers who knew nothing at all about the teenager or his family were already convicting him – saying he deserves what he gets and that his mother could never admit “her baby” had done something wrong. Granted, the office recording was rather unflattering, but who are we to say who did what and what happened? I felt bad for him, in a way, when I read some of his comments telling people to stop talking trash about his mother. He told them they knew nothing about him or his family – and he was right.
In the second story, readers were commenting that because the husband owned a gun store, he obviously was dangerous; that even though his assault charge had been dropped, he obviously was a time bomb; that because he was the one who called police, he obviously was guilty. Again I ask, who are we to say such things?
And the third story is a prime example of people trying to be so self-righteous that they end up offending people who might actually agree with them! My wife, who showed me the post, is a vegan with vegetarian leanings (I say that because she does, on occasion, eat honey and locally-raised chicken eggs from a farm two miles down the road) and she was appalled at how many vegans were skewering the poor blogger – calling her names, insulting her, and being absolutely disagreeable.
If vegans refrain from animal products because they are trying to be kind, loving, and compassionate to other living beings – these folks were anything but kind, loving, and compassionate.
Just because you have a right to say something…
Here in the United States, our country’s Constitution states we have the freedom to speak, the freedom to write, and many other freedoms we enjoy.
But with freedom, comes limits. As the old saying goes, just because we have a right to free speech, doesn’t mean we have the right to yell, “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre. One of those commenting on the blogger’s site even claimed, “Hey, she told us she wanted our opinion!” An opinion is one thing; how it is expressed is something else entirely.
I can’t help but think of the other old saying, “Just because you have a right to say something, doesn’t mean you should say it.” However, I would take it one step further, and add, “Just because you have an opinion, doesn’t mean you need to share it.”
I’m not saying we shouldn’t share our opinion now and then – but it’s probably not a bad idea to stop and ask yourself if it’s an opinion worth sharing. Do you have enough facts? Do you have any facts? Can you make your point without resorting to name-calling and four-letter-words?
If so…then I’m all ears!
By the way, if you have an extra 7 minutes, check out THIS VIDEO and learn how a thought can replicate itself like a germ throughout the internet – it’s a very cool concept!
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the #MMPoetry 2015 tournament FINALS are underway at Ed DeCaria’s Think, Kid, Think – only TWO authletes remain, and are tasked with coming up with a winning children’s poem based on the sort-of-random-but-not-really word they were given! Learn more HERE!
ALSO: Irene Latham’s annual Progressive Poem gets underway tomorrow, April 1, in honor of National Poetry Month! Writers and bloggers from all over will be chiming in each day to add their line to a poem that grows and grows over the course of the month…until it culminates April 30 with the final, closing line.
(This year, that line will be written by Yours Truly – no pressure.)