It never fails – your mother is always right. I remember my mother telling me as a child that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. In this day and age, it is a childhood scolding that would do us all a bit of good to remember. Over the past few weeks, you can’t turn on the TV, flip through stations on the radio, read the newspaper or a magazine, or participate in water cooler talk without hearing debate about the political tone of our nation. But this tone goes far beyond the political arena and has infiltrated almost all of our non-personal interaction.
For example, this past weekend I sadly watched the defeat of my beloved Patriots to the New York Jets. Feeling a bit sorry for myself, I took a few minutes to catch up on Facebook. What is usually a pretty enjoyable experience of peering into the daily happenings of friends was filled with mean-spirited posts about a simple football rivalry. Granted, I did not want the Jets to win, but I was surprised by the tone of the posts I read. I am not casting judgment on my Facebook friends because I am sure that I have posted things that may have left a bad taste in the mouths of others, but instead it made me think about how easy it is to write something negative or insensitive when you don’t have to look the other person in the eye. This electronic dialog has taken away from the art of debate and turned differences of opinion into personal attacks and down-right vile discourses that have moved from the computer screen into daily interpersonal communications.
The tone seems to get even worse when people are able to post anonymously. In April 2010, the New York Times published an article about news organization rethinking anonymous online comments. The article referenced the 1993 New Yorker cartoon featuring two dogs with the caption “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
My question is – should it matter? There have been too many headlines over the past few years about hateful speech having negative consequences because the “dog” posting the comment or video forgot that the target was an actual human being with feelings and emotions. Whether posting a comment anonymously, through social media or even when having a good old face-to-face difference of opinion, we may all want to remember the wise words of our mothers – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.