Originally posted October 30, 2012
“Watch your thoughts for they become words.
Watch your words for they become actions.
Watch your actions for they become habits.
Watch your habits for they become character.
And watch your character for it becomes your destiny.
What we think, we become.”
I am drawn to opinion pieces. It is often the first section of the newspaper I turn to in the morning. (Yes, I still get and read a print version of the paper, at least on 3 days of the week. My husband teases me that I am a Luddite, a word I had to look up. I don’t think it’s always such a bad thing to be). I am especially interested in well-crafted pieces that show deep thought and reflection. This is true whether or not I end up agreeing with the conclusions drawn by the author. I think it is fascinating to get glimpses of insight into how people form their beliefs, and what shapes their world view.
I do look online, too. People often send or post links to articles, especially if it is a cause or a belief they are interested in. And this piques my interest. For the most part, these articles are thought-provoking, and, again, even if I don’t agree with the author, I enjoy being challenged. Where I often get stuck, though, is in the comment threads that follow many articles online. I know I don’t have to read them. Sometimes it even takes a little effort to find them. But I often go there, against my better judgement. It is a bit like, as my husband would say, looking under a rock just to see what’s there. You know it is probably a little “icky” but your curiosity gets the better of you.
This is where it gets really really ugly, really fast. The things people are willing to post on comment threads probably shouldn’t shock me, but they do. I wonder, would these people say the same things to someone standing next to them in line at a coffee shop? Or to the person they pass on a walk? Does the faceless nature of the internet bring out the darkness of humanity? It sure seems to. The thinking seems to be: if you can’t see me, and I disagree with something you said, or a belief or conviction you hold, I will unleash all the fury of hateful and hurtful words I have in my mind, and ultimately, my heart. What does this say? What does it say about human nature? Are we only kind and compassionate within the constraints of polite society?
Of course not all comments are viscous. Some are as well thought through as any op ed piece or essay. But it seems like it doesn’t take long for comments to begin to go south. My reactions to the more vile comments vary. Sometimes I just mouth “wow,” and move on. Sometimes I get very close to responding, but stop. “Pearls before swine,” I say to myself. And sometimes I literally shut my computer off and walk away. I walk away with a heaviness in my heart. And I have come to believe that this heaviness is God’s sadness for the hardness and coldness of words quickly typed and maybe even forgotten by the writer, but devilishly destructive nonetheless. I think we all know by now, words do hurt.
I am not naive. I know insults have been around since mouths have been there to speak them and pens (or quills) to write them. I even had a little fun looking up famous insults from years past. Some of my favorites:
“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning” – Catherine the Great
“I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception” – Groucho Marx
“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde
But in these there is somehow a lighter tone, a cleverness that shows at least a little thought went into the barb. It seems most insults today are nothing more than crass soundbites in a loud, brash sea of words.
I know emotions can run high when it comes to convictions and passions. But I want to believe that even in fiery disagreements, which are inevitable, there can be an underlying sense of each others humanity. Or to take it a step further, seeing each other with the love of God. This may be harder in the cold anonymous world of the internet. But it is not impossible. We are still human. We use our eyes to read, our minds to process, our fingers to type. And hopefully our hearts to feel and our souls to act with integrity and character.
I haven’t come up with a solution yet. To save myself the need for a shower or a long walk to cleanse my mind after time on the computer, I suppose I can just avoid the pollution of the comment threads altogether. But I do think there is a lesson to be learned. We will differ, all of us, on some issues. I suppose it is up to each of us to decide how we will handle these differences and how our thoughts, words and actions ultimately not only reflect our character but shape it.