I am one of those people who does not make waves. In a public setting, I seldom get upset and if I do, I rarely lose control (when I do blow – about once every 10-15 years and always in relative privacy – I am told it is a sight to behold, however). I can only recall one thing that I said in anger – as a teenager, to my mother – and the hurt look on her face made me instantly regret it. To be fair, I cannot credit myself with better self-control than everybody else; I am simply so tongue-tied in such situations that the words would not come if I needed them to. In many ways, though, I consider this a blessing. I have people in my life who regularly say awful things in a fit of anger. When they have calmed down, they always tell me ‘they didn’t mean it’ but unfortunately, words can and do hurt. And the most hurtful words are impossible to forget.
If I am to be completely honest, however, I have written a few things that I was very sorry to have sent. Where I am unable to express myself verbally, the words come fairly easily if I write them down. Most of the time, I have had the good sense to write my angriest thoughts in letters I never intended to send. And without exception, I have been sorry for the few angry letters I have had the misfortune to put in the mail.
I had been in the work force for many years before the advent of e-mail. While I was as amazed as everyone else with its convenience, I quickly learned that being able to fire off an instantaneous response was not always a good thing, particularly if I was upset. After a few painful lessons, I got into the habit of writing my most difficult responses only after judiciously removing the name of the recipient. I did not want to inadvertently press ‘send’ for a response that might provoke lasting repercussions. I learned to carefully focus on the tone of my responses, and when finished, I would walk away for a time, so that – a few hours later – I could have a final read with a clear and objective mind set. If I still felt my response carried the right tone, only then I would add the recipient’s name and press ‘send’.
I have become increasingly aghast at how easy social media makes it to send rash responses in the heat of the moment. I am saddened when I read people’s vicious, vindictive, angry opinions and I wonder – every single time – what has happened to common civility.
Recently, I was (very) inadvertently the target of a series of vicious, angry Facebook posts. It happened to be on the subject of dogs and puppy mills. Suffice it to say that a few kind and well-intended comments about my own dog’s breeders brought down the wrath of an entire community of dog breeders within the space of perhaps an hour. I was horrified: I do not seek conflict and I am usually pretty easy to get along with. The venom in the responses I received took my breath away and scared me badly enough to block several of the responders’ names (I didn’t know any of them).
I grew up in (relatively) rural Canada. People have always been pretty kind here and most do not like conflict anymore than I do. This easy anger, this casual use of foul language and the increasing number of public executions without benefit of a trial are frightening and upsetting to me. What happened, in such a short space of time, that people feel they have the right to publicly horsewhip a person who does not share their opinions? Or to accuse people who have not yet been found guilty in a court of law?
Just a few years ago, the rule of thumb was that you shouldn’t say on a social media site what you would not say to your grandmother. Now, the ‘anything goes’ rule leaves me feeling vulnerable, sad and very unnerved. This social-media anarchy feels like an out-of-control, run-away train. When did it become okay for the public to execute a person without benefit of a trial, a jury or any semblance of rules and order? I cringe every time I hear of one person having falsely accused another. By the time it becomes known that they have lied, the damage is done and the reputation of the person being accused is in tatters.
I live in a country where – thank God – we are considered innocent until we are proven guilty. While I understand how awful and imperfect that system can be for the victims of crimes and abuse, it does give me a sense of security, knowing that if I am ever accused of something I didn’t do, there is a system in place which guarantees me my day in court to prove my innocence.
Not that it would matter much anymore. By the time the court system did prove my innocence, the social-media court of public opinion would have ensured that I lost my job, my reputation, my friends and my (thus far) good name.
Nobody – not even politicians and certainly not the media – wait for the courts to decide anymore. I wouldn’t stand a chance…
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com