Thursday, September 24, 2015

Be Kind (even online)

Kindness is having a moment. Inspirational quotes and books about kindness flood the net.

But I wonder how many people walk the walk when they feel anonymous in the safety of their own homes, staring at a computer.

In a world where so many of us are hidden behind computer screens, kindness can easily take a backseat.

The term "internet trolls" has become popular in the blogging and publishing world as a way to categorize commenters who attack the writer's character or life choices in a demeaning, destructive way.

It's not like writers don't have backbones. Puh-leeze! We risk rejection every single time we submit something. We are sooooo very familiar with rejection. However, there is a huge difference between an editorial rejection based on the topic, essay style, or suitability to a certain publication and flat-out rudeness or character-bashing from a reader.

A friend recently shared a gut-wrenching, honest, real essay about her daughter, and the comments-- the comments!-- were awful. Not, "this isn't high quality writing" awful, or "I take a different perspective" awful-- neither of which are really too awful at all, actually, considering just how bad they can get. Those kinds of comments are matters of opinion and most of us can brush them off to a point.

The comments on my friend's piece crossed the line. Comment after brutal comment was ugly.  I won't be giving the commenters more fuel for the fire by repeating them here.

Here's what gets to me: It was as if these commenters didn't understand that what they were writing would be seen and felt by a real, actual person. As if a soul-less computer wrote the article instead of a mother, wife, woman.

We can all praise kindness as much as we want in person, but without that same mindset online, it doesn't hold any teeth.

There were also some supportive comments on her post, and if she's even still reading them at all, hopefully their support helped her a bit.

Let's remember the Golden Rule when it comes to our online presence-- treat others how we want to be treated. Pretty much a standard you could live your life by, right?

Are you a writer or artist who has experienced cruel remarks about your work? What was your reaction or response? Is it something we should just expect in a "free country," or should there be a limit to extremely negative criticism?

P.S. Galit Breen (a fellow Minnesotan writer!) wrote a great book, Kindness Wins, all about the importance of how we treat each other online. It may be primarily targeted towards tweens and teens (and their parents), but I also found it eye-opening and helpful as an adult who writes and reads a lot online, and as a parent who will have children old enough to be online soon enough!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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  1. There has been a great deal of discussion lately about the importance of being kind. I agree totally that it should be front and center as we interact with others. I heard a remarkable speech given by George Saunders to the graduating class at Syracuse University. In it he advises that as the graduates go out into the world to always "err on the side of kindness." The speech was reprinted in major newspapers and discussed on NPR. Those six words have stayed with me ever since. Also, I think it is important that children be taught how to be kind for even in preschool and elementary school, "They must be carefully taught" as is sung in the song from South Pacific. Children are little sponges and they can be taught to be kind or unkind depending on what they learn and hear at home. We can all be stung whether in preschool or as adults. Let's "err on the side of kindness."

    1. Yes, I love the "err on the side of kindness" quote! I wonder what the world would look like if every single one of us strived to do that in our daily lives. I know one of my husband's and my main priorities for our children is that they be kind to other children (and to each other). We all make mistakes, but I hope that more often than not, they will "err on the side of kindness."

  2. Yes to kindness!! I wonder if it is Schadenfreude that leads people to be unkind or is it deliberate mischief? Either way their own ground is shaky and anonymity doesn't seem to disguise inner voices.My son faced a lot of 'unkindness' at school.Well just like that?! He wouldn't/couldn't act rough like the naughty ones when they did. We were at a loss till his teacher let us know that he turned one of the boys into a friend by telling him spooky stories! Phew!! Maybe kindness could be the next cool thing!
    Oh, and about rejection- you said it so right! And I love ' err on the side of kindness too'

    1. Ohhh Schadenfreude freaks me out-- even the word! :).
      I think one of the hardest things as a parent is to hear that there has been unkindness towards our children. That has been recently gut-wrenching for me as my own highly sensitive boy has started school. He has told me already that someone called him "weird," and another told him he "didn't have any friends." Ugh! So, yes, let's hope kindness IS the next cool thing-- i love that idea!! :)
      Have you read The Highly Sensitive Child, by Elaine Aron? It describes my son to a T, and I'm reading it for the 2nd time right now as a refresher! You might enjoy it too, Swati. :)

  3. I really must read the book now!! Little hearts need a lot of encouraging. I have found that once they make 'constant' friends ,things start to look up.Three years into school and we are finally making some slow progress.Your little guy has you to turn to!! And that is a really good thing.:-):-)

    1. Swati, let me know if you read the book! Every other sentence I read, I think, "Mm hmmm, that's my son... Yes, that's my son there too... Yep, there's my son!" :)

  4. I love your post. You worded it beautifully. I have thought about the comments on my story so much over the last week and a bit and I came to the conclusion that it just made me push my story more so that the positive message got out because there is so much goodness in my story and I didn't want that to be missed. I told myself not to read the comments, but I did in the end. I read the encouraging ones and the comments where people jumped to my defense. They are the ones I will hold onto. But you are so right we need to treat other how we want to be treated. Thanks for sharing! :-)

    1. Becky, this comment just went through. Sorry for the late reply! Yes, you were definitely the "friend" I was referring to in this piece-- your essay touched me, and I couldn't believe some of the harsh comments. I'm glad you were able to retain some positivity from the experience though. Good for you! Power on, Mama!

  5. Oh, yes! I agree with this so many times over. I've been lucky never to experience unkind comments - the nearest has been someone who disagreed with me over some topic or another - and the comment was phrased in such a way that it *could* be interpreted as being a bit unkind, but not nasty, certainly. And I chose to try and assume that the comments weren't meant to be judgmental - and so moved on. And anyway it's so hard to hear "tone" with how things can be written, anyway.

    It does constantly surprise me, though, how completely nasty people can be. And I am at a loss right now as it whether it is people being thoughtless or truly mean-spirited. I think I have been thoughtless in the past, and it's possible I could have left some unkind comments - they were subjects I disagreed vehemently on - but I am sure I have never attacked someone personally.

    Not to trivialize the issue - but I wonder if it comes down to education and what is culturally acceptable. There are all sorts of things that our culture has decided is now uncouth and unacceptable and so, not to compare (what would seem to be a more "trivial" problem of) online trolls with degrading language (thinking of nigger, and kike, and so on) and slavery and segregation (even as we're still working on those horrible issues) - but - our society is in part evolving. And part of our society recognizes doing those things as horribly, horribly wrong - not everyone - but most (hopefully) - and perhaps online unkindness requires education and cultural evolution. Does that make sense? It's early and I worry that perhaps I'm rambling too much.

    On a different note, have you heard/read/looked at Galit Breen's book, Kindness Wins? She published it in the spring, I think, and I really loved it - did a review for it. It's a roadmap to kindness online - primarily aimed at our children, but really there's lessons for us in there too.

    1. I meant to add a note about Galit's book in this post as 'further reading' (I think I will go back and edit to do so)! Because, yes, I did read it, and yes, it is such a great book for children, teens, and adults. We can all learn a lot from it!
      Tone can be tough to determine on e-mails, comments, etc. I admit that sometimes I am probably more hurt than I need to be based on what I'm assuming the tone is versus what they really intended.
      Very interesting thoughts about the idea that online unkindness could be the next 'thing' we have to deal with... I think I get what you are saying, but it's hard to even word my response right!
      Thank you so much for all of your thoughts!


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