If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

Even as I start typing this, I realize it’s probably a waste of bandwidth; after all, I’m not saying anything we don’t all know: the Internet tends to be a pretty uncivil place. In fact, it seems to breed incivility as though it is a mark of honor to be the first to post something negative or ugly.

But, as I read the first comment on this Lifehacker post about making ice cream in coffee cans, I heard my mother’s voice speaking through the ether: if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all. This was usually in response to something mean I had said about my older sister or perhaps a smart alecky reply to a simple question. Now, it echoes loudly as we live in a world that seems to celebrate saying mean stuff for no apparent reason other than because you can.

This ice cream quote is a pretty minor example, but it demonstrates that even the most inoffensive posts can garner negative comments, a chance to be sarcastic the way I was with my mother. A friend on Facebook posted something about Garrison Keillor and I was surprised at the vehemence and strong language used by one of his friends to describe Keillor. Just ugly, ugly language and there was no way to avoid it as I scanned my news feed. It was like your crazy uncle who said inappropriate things at the dinner table and then looked around grinning to see if anyone would call him on it.

I worry that these every day examples make us less sensitive to the larger examples. For instance, the news this week revolved around the Cheerios commercial that features a mixed race couple. The YouTube version had to have comments turned off because they were so ugly and racist. I find myself wondering if these really were people who were against mixed marriage or if the hate speech was just more of the same Internet invective without any real beliefs behind it…a chance to say bad words and ugly things because there isn’t any accountability?

I worry that we have come to expect and accept that this is part of the world and I don’t have any answers for how to solve it: unfriend people? reply back with kindness? engage in constructive dialog? I’m sorry to say that I have a sense that none of those things will work but simply up the ante on the original poster: you though that was bad, I can be much worse!

I wish I had a nice closing paragraph with the tidy solution…anyone? anyone? Have you dealt with this in some productive way or do you just press delete or unfriend?

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