Recently I have been struck by how increasingly negative our society has become. The anonymity and informality of online communication allows us to say things to people that we would never say to their face. Now there is a time and a place for that kind of increased confidence, such as providing an avenue for introverts to invest in friendships that might otherwise have not developed, but aside from a few exceptions, I believe the internet has created an unhealthy interpretation of “freedom of speech” that can lead to serious issues in our society.
Cyber bullying has become a widely discussed issue in recent years, and I believe this entire issue can be traced back to that same false idea that words read from a screen have no effect, or less of an effect, on the person reading those words than if they had been spoken aloud. In my eyes, the issue of cyber bullying is not just about cruel people who continuously ridicule their peers in a harsh way that leads to serious emotional damage or even, in the worst cases, suicide. The phrase “cyber bullying,” to me, can be applied to even the smallest cases of taking joking (or what internet-savvy teens would call “trolling”) one step too far. Many things need to be considered when teasing people over the internet.
Firstly, remember that sarcasm doesn’t always translate over text. Everyone knows it is difficult to convey tone through the written word. This can lead to hurt feelings or worse. Secondly, you have to consider your REAL LIFE relationship with the person with which you are speaking. For example, if you wouldn’t make an inappropriate remark about someone’s appearance in the workplace, because such a comment would border on sexual harassment, don’t make the same comment to your boss via social media. There is a time and a place for jokes, but the relationship stays the same regardless of venue. Thirdly, and I believe absolutely most importantly, please, please, think before you type. More specifically, think about the comment you are about to make and whether or not you would make that same comment if the person was standing right in front of you. Would you shy away from such a comment to avoid conflict? If so, why are you inviting conflict into your relationship online? Would you keep these thoughts to yourself because you’re afraid it would hurt their feelings? If so, realize that just because you can’t see them and might not have to deal with the consequences of your rudeness, they will still be hurt. On one of my favorite shows, “How I Met Your Mother,” Ted describes breaking up with a girl over the phone because he didn’t want to see her cry, to which his friend Lily replies, “Well, guess what. She cried. You just didn’t have the sack to face those tears.” Words can hurt whether or not you stick around long enough to see the outcome.
These are not thoughts directed at anybody in particular, but simply musings on a topic I feel passionately about. It bothers me that people say things online that they would never say in “reality,” all the while forgetting that reality doesn’t stop when you turn on your computer. There is, however, a way everyone can help change this. Aside from the obvious advice I’ve already given (thinking before you type, realizing the complications involved in internet conversations, etc.), I would love to see positive people changing the whole spirit of the media (and the “real” world, as well) by going above and beyond these simple precautions. I have decided that once a week, I will publicly (via Facebook) encourage one person in any way I choose. Sure, I could do this privately, just to make someone’s day a little more pleasant, but I think there is something important about making a public statement of encouragement and love for everyone to see. Not only will it effect the person being encouraged, but it it may even bring a smile to the face of a stranger, simply by witnessing a rare act of selfless, unreciprocated kindness. We’ve all heard “pay it forward” stories, and this is such a simple way to initiate this positive behavior. It only takes a moment of your time to extend an encouraging word to someone you care for, and it could create an amazing ripple effect.
So, to conclude, I would like to encourage you all to encourage others, in whatever way possible. In the beginning of this post I mentioned freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing our country has to offer, but it was largely created for protection from persecution. It is not something to be abused or taken lightly. Use your freedom wisely by choosing to spread love and encouragement with your speech. When you step into the grocery store after a long day of exhausting work, take a moment to remember that the cashiers have had just as long a day as you have. Give them a smile, a kind word, or a “great job.” When you see someone having a tough day, even if you have no idea what’s going on in their life, let them know they’re in your thoughts or prayers. Take a little lesson from the seven dwarfs and whistle while you work (or, if you’re like me and can’t whistle, a simple smile will do) because attitude, whether good or bad, is contagious. When you encounter trials, remember that life is huge, and your hardship is just a moment. Your trials may just be those classic “third world problems” like losing your wifi connection, or they may be serious burdens on your heart, but I guarantee there is someone out there suffering more than you and there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long that tunnel may be. Don’t let the little things (or even the big ones) steal your joy. You can be sad. You can be hurt. You can be angry. But above all of those things, in the midst of them, even, be joyful. And take heart! For Christ has overcome the hurts and trials of this world, and He is right there beside you, guiding you through each and every one.
I hope to remind you all that you don’t have to donate thousands of dollars to charity in order to make a difference in the world. “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” Start stepping in the right direction in your everyday life, in your community, in your family, and even simply within yourself.
Cheers to creating a kinder world.