The internet is the collective human expression of Self, in all its facets: You can find ANYTHING on here, literally. I for one am very grateful; historical, scientific, archaeological, medical, and general research available online enables writers such as myself to stand on the shoulders of generations gone before and view the wider world from that enriched perspective. You can also find anything for sale or free, an endless knowledge base, or entertainment, or simply a trivial waste of time, available to the entire wireless planet 24/7. It’s a place to express opinions (informed or not), ideas (thought-through or not), philosophies (ditto), creations from songs to videos, crafts, discoveries and more. Wonders to behold, as well as just plain wondering what the heck someone was thinking when they uploaded that.
But with the good come the bad. I’ve gotten spam sidelined; it’s obviously spam when the text is something like, “I think you people just need to lighten up. The writer of this article is just trying to… (blah, blah, blah)”; there are no comments on that particular article yet, which tells me the spam’s originator is just out to stir up dissention if it happens to land on a live and already-active blog. Why? Are people so directionless in their lives that they have nothing better to do than stir up trouble? Apparently.
The anonymity of the internet often brings out the worst side of people; they seem to think that, because they don’t know the person they are responding / reacting to and will probably never meet, that somehow gives them the license to be rude, belligerent, aggressive, offensive, and sloppy with everything from spelling to sentence structure. Whatever happened to Netiquette? Remember that quaint word (I was about to say old, but wait – internet has only been on the scene since 1993) that was an updated version of its predecessor, etiquette? The definition (according to Wikipedia) of netiquette is, “Conduct while online that is appropriate and courteous to other Internet users.” Ironically, the word is exactly as old as the internet itself; the need was quickly seen of reminding people to be courteous within such an anonymous setting. In that most famous of books, the Bible, one guideline is found in Colossians 4:6: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” That’s what’s missing in a lot of the communication online: Graciousness. Salt is mentioned because it is a preservative, and something that adds flavour. Graciousness not only preserves your own dignity, but guards the dignity of the person being responded to, and those that will end up reading it. The danger in unguarded remarks is that they will bite back; it’s all too easy to wear blinders, thinking everyone will agree with our viewpoint while forgetting that we live on a planet of diversity. Rudeness isolates; graciousness invites. It’s the old adage about honey drawing more bees than vinegar.
There seem to be a lot of people out there who have either never learned, or have forgotten the basic rules of Netiquette. On one hand it’s easiest and most comfortable to say that it’s not our place to educate them; after all, they’re strangers, and to each his own, right? I say wrong: Why do I write, if not to communicate what’s important to me? Why do I interact with others online if not to learn something new, or be encouraged by a great story or news item or event in the life of a friend on Facebook? And if I interact, that means addressing issues, comfortable or not. If someone is rude, the challenge is to point it out with graciousness, not reacting to fire with fire, but with water – putting out the brush fires that have potential to do damage… taking the wind out of their sails in a gentle way. And try to use the sandwich technique: A compliment first, the meat of the matter (graciously put, the correction, or rebuke, or however you want to label it), and then ending on another positive note. If they continue a barrage of crudeness, there’s always that “delete” or “block” possibility. Peer pressure is the most effective way of making changes, for good and bad. Let’s become peers for good in this vast cyberworld, one step at a time. And the next time you’re tempted to fight fire with fire, remember the salt of Grace.