“The true essence of humankind is kindness. There are other qualities which come from education or knowledge, but it is essential, if one wishes to be a genuine human being and impart satisfying meaning to one’s existence, to have a good heart.” (The Dalai Lama)
Over the summer, I wrote a few posts about bullying. I thought I was done with the subject, but one aspect of bullying I didn’t spend much time on is cyberbullying. The more I read and learn about bullying, the more I see how cyberbullying has taken bullying to new and insidious heights. I’ve been shocked to learn about the extent of it and the number of suicides and attempted suicides it has triggered—mostly in children and teens.
My friend Ann shared an excellent article with me from the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of Scientific American Mind. “Virtual Assault” describes the many ways people are bullied online or through social media, and the psychology of people who engage in such poisonous activities. It noted, interestingly, that “contrary to popular wisdom, bullies are not merely compensating for their own low self-esteem,” but often they are “perched at the top of the social hierarchy and demean others to cement their position.”
I also learned that people who engage in cyberbullying and attacking others on-line or through social media are referred to as “trolls.” It’s often up to the on-line community, says article author Elizabeth Svoboda, to establish norms and tell trolls in no uncertain terms that bullying is not acceptable. Svoboda also says one way to counter the damage of bullying is to step in and offer support to the victim. Silence isn’t golden.
The Damage Trolls Do
A front page article in the Seattle Times earlier this month addressed how Donald Trump is effectively using Twitter to outpace his Republican rivals for the presidential nomination. The article strayed from mere politics to describe how last year Trump devastated actress Kim Novak by posting a cruel tweet.
The reclusive actress—a glamorous movie star in the 1950s, now in her 80s—was convinced by friends to make a rare public appearance at the 2014 Academy Awards. As she was on stage making a presentation, Trump tweeted, “I’m having a real hard time watching. Kim should sue her plastic surgeon.”
Ms. Novak was devastated. She retreated to her Oregon home and didn’t leave for months, having fallen into a self-described “tailspin.” When she finally did comment, she called Trump a bully. Many other people expressed their disgust at his comment and he eventually backtracked. Later, he expressed regret for sending the tweet. He said, “That was done in fun, but sometimes you do things in fun and they turn out to be hurtful.” At the same time, he stood by equally unkind comments he has made about other celebrities.
It saddens me that so many Americans are supporting a person who believes sending so public and so cruel a message is “fun.” Just because you may have a “fun” thought doesn’t mean you should send it out to millions of people who, themselves, may forward it further. Words can hurt. Kindness counts.
YOLK Fights Temptation
I have to make a confession here: Ever since I learned that cyberbullies are called “trolls” and subsequently read about Trump’s cruel tweet regarding Kim Novak, I have mentally photo-shopped Donald Trump’s head onto a troll-doll, such as the one at the beginning of this post. Now, when I picture Mr. Trump that is the image I see.
I was oh, so tempted to actually photo-shop the picture that is in my head and post that on today’s blog. There’s no question that it would have been fun, and it would even convey a timely message about bullying, but it would not have been kind. I would be engaging in exactly what I am decrying. Although I am often willing to overstep political correctness for a cheap laugh, I knew I wouldn’t feel good about doing something like this. If I believe we have a responsibility to use the internet and social media for good, I can’t justify sending out an unkind image—however adorable it may be. I leave it to my readers’ imaginations.
Another Segue—But It’s All Still Connected
I recently watched a very interesting TED talk featuring Monica Lewinsky—yes, that Monica Lewinsky. Nearly 20 years after she was involved in one of the biggest scandals in modern American history, she is now an articulate and poised woman in her early 40s. She spoke movingly about her extremely high-profile humiliation in the late 1990s, about the aftermath that nearly drove her to suicide, about her decade-long silence, and her subsequent decision to take a vocal stand against cyberbullying. Many things struck me in her very candid and thought-provoking talk—I encourage you to listen for yourself—and one was extremely simple: our clicks matter.
We can change the unkindness being spread online and through social media by not clicking on it. Not clicking when we see a venomous, cruel, or provocative headline, not clicking when we encounter negative articles and message boards. It’s that simple: we manifest what we give our attention to, and if our attention is on the cruel and the crude, it will foster more of the same. Likewise, we can foster a positive and healthy cyberspace by choosing kindness, making kind comments, and taking the time to encourage rather than berate. With every click, we make a choice.
Trusting the Kindness of Others
When I started planning and setting up this blog nearly a year ago, I read a couple of books and a number of articles about blogging. I also talked to a few experienced bloggers. Out of the many pieces of excellent advice I got, there was one I chose to ignore.
Everyone said to set up the blog so I could moderate comments before they went public, or at least moderate the first comment someone makes, then, if I approve their comment, that individual is “pre-approved” for future comments. The other option was viewed as dangerous: to allow any comments to appear without an opportunity to weed out the crackpots.
WordPress is a great platform and it gives the novice blogger plenty of guidance and plenty of options. During set-up, I clicked the button that allows comments to appear without any moderation. It seemed to me if I was going to commit to kindness, I needed to trust that any readers who might visit the blog and take the time to comment would have good intent. I haven’t regretted it. I will also admit, though, that I did think that if anyone posted a rude or malicious message, it would give me an opportunity to test my kindness resolve—could I be gracious and compassionate if attacked online?
Without exception, the comments readers have made have been thoughtful, wise, and also kind. They’ve inspired me to think, sometimes to laugh, and always to feel grateful for the time commenters have taken to share their thoughts. If there are any crackpots out there, I haven’t encountered them (okay, maybe my husband, but being a crackpot is one of his most endearing qualities).
Through this blog and the WordPress community, I have met countless interesting, funny, wise, generous, smart bloggers. There is so much positivity in this community and I am better for the connections I have made here. That’s why I’m so surprised when I hear about the cruelty and malice some people engage in—usually anonymously. I don’t understand it; perhaps I never will. But if enough of us click mindfully, and choose kindness, perhaps the unkind voices will someday be stilled.
That will news worth tweeting….
“How would your life be different if…you stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…you look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.” (Steve Maraboli)
This is a good post, Donna. I am so often amazed at what people will show of themselves online. Facebook was mind-boggling – real names, real pictures saying every dimwitted, ugly and cruel thing that comes to mind. I see them commenting on news articles, blogs and other forums.
If not just the practice of kindness, the practice of self-respect and circumspection should be important in what is essentially public discourse. The divide between one’s real life and online life is completely imaginary.
Thus far, my experience blogging on WordPress has been very positive. I initially moderated comments because it was a good way to track who needed a response. I no longer do that and with few exceptions, it has worked out well.
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Thanks so much, Michelle. It is amazing what people will say and show online–it really makes me curious to understand their thinking. I don’t do Facebook, but I’ve always gone by the notion that you never say anything that you wouldn’t want your mother to see (even if she’s long gone), and wouldn’t want on the front page of your local paper. Plus, I’m of a generation that seems to value privacy more than some. I suspect that self-respect and kindness go hand-in-hand … hmmm, do I feel a post topic coming on? Thanks for your wise comment.
Reblogged this on Memphis Service Ministries and commented:
Be mindful of what you click!
Thanks, Tim! Appreciate the re-blog. Yes, I think there’s a lot of mindless clicking going on … some damaging, and some just time-wasting!
Trolling is an insidious and hateful practice. It dismays me how many women in particular are the victims. But sadly, it seems that the online world often values snarky comments cloaked in wit more than empathy. Thank you, Donna, once again for a thoughtful piece.
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Thank you for your oh-so-true comment, Nancy. I was unfamiliar with the terms “troll” and “trolling,” but they are certainly descriptive words for these online practices. I suspect you’re right that women are victims more than men. I worry about teens and even younger kids of both genders—they just don’t have the life experience and coping tools to handle this sort of cruelty and abuse. And we all know from having been there once just how cruel kids can be. It’s a heavy burden for the abused and perhaps even one day the abuser. Thanks again, Nancy.
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I enjoyed this article very much, Donna. It came at an interesting time for me, having started my blog relatively recently. It’s incredible how much vitriol one can encounter from strangers on the internet.
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Thanks, Rachel, I’m glad you found it of value. Blogging about political topics and processes will likely bring you some very “interesting” comments. A lot of people still don’t understand that we can disagree with ideas without being disagreeable, and no amount of disagreement justifies attacks and name-calling. Unfortunately, some of the people who don’t get this are our politicians and “role models.” I wish you the best with your blog—I’m looking forward to reading your thoughtful posts.