Monday, March 12, 2018

Anger and Kindness

I have nothing but loathing for the time change this morning. On the other hand, I’m more grateful than ever for that first cup of coffee.

This weekend I was sad to see a valuable member of an online group state that she was leaving because of ill-treatment. Others chimed in, lamenting the toxic environment. I have to say that I don’t think this group is a hotbed of toxicity, but, like any online group, sometimes things go awry.

Why can’t we get this right? We deplore online bullying by teens. And yet we, as adults, right here in Howard County, struggle to keep a Facebook group free from negative personal comments. How can we be good examples for our children if we don’t practice online civility ourselves?

Some people fault admin/moderators for not dealing with outliers more aggressively. While I agree that the role of moderator is a valuable one in steering an online community, it isn’t their job to be everyone’s police officer. It’s rather like blaming the teacher for one’s own bad behavior. Being a moderator for an online group is hardly a paid, full-time job. People have lives. They can’t be watching every minute, ready to pounce on transgressors.

I think that most of us do a good job of policing ourselves, with the occasional slip up if the conversation gets heated. I also think that all of us could use some basic training on how to interact online. We recommend such training for kids—did we ever have any? The Howard County Library System has addressed issues like these in their Choose Civility initiative, but I suspect that the people who attend such events are the kind who already care about how they interact on social media.

How do we get beyond preaching to the choir? Is there a way to reach trolls that could get them to buy in to a different way of interacting? How do we drive home the point that, when you log on, you don’ t leave your basic human kindness behind. You bring it with you.

For every member of a group who articulates publicly why they are leaving, there are many who leave silently or simply stop engaging. Just because we don’t read about it doesn’t mean it is not happening. This particular member did the group a service by starting a conversation about problems that we all need to face. She didn’t owe us that, but I’m grateful that she did.

Board of Education Chair Cindy Vaillancourt shared this piece over the weekend. I highly recommend it. The author, Ann Bauer, closes with these words:

Be angry if you must, but be kind as well. The two are not mutually exclusive. Contribute a little joy to the world. It’s the only way I see out of this chaos we’re in.

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