Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words, Hymn no. 232
Let us oft speak kind words to each other. At home or where’er we may be;
Like the warblings of birds on the heather, The tones will be welcome and free.
They’ll gladden the heart that’s repining, Give courage and hope from above,
And where the dark clouds hide the shining, Let in the bright sunlight of love.
Let us oft speak kind words to each other; Kind words are sweet tones of the heart.
– Joseph L. Townsend, 1849-1942
It seems to me that online conversations in the form of blogs, instant messages or emails follow slightly different rules of human discourse than face to face or even telephone conversations. Civility, it seems, is not a requirement and many contentious and confrontational exchanges happen online that would never happen in a more personal encounter. There are websites such as http://www.atra-tr.org/netetiquette.htm , http://www.albion.com/netiquette , and http://www.the-eggman.com/writings/etiquitte_1.html that address the issue of etiquette and rules of engagement on the Internet.
Elder M. Russell Ballard wrote this in the current issue of the Ensign:
“As you participate in this conversation and utilize the tools of new media, remember who you are-Latter-day Saints. Remember, as the proverb states, that “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). And remember that contention is of the devil (see 3 Nephi 11:29). There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the prompting of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven.” Elder M. Russell Ballard, “Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet,” Ensign July 2008
So why then do we read Latter-day Saints on the blogs and on the internet in general who are not nice to one another?
Here are a few reasons I came up with. Some are typical Internet reasons and some uniquely LDS reasons.
1. Anonymity – The computer gives us a power to say or write anything we want without having to look the other person in the eye. Body language and emotions, as expressed in one’s face, have a lot to do with how we converse with one another. The blog and internet is devoid of this, except for using capital letters, smiley faces, etc. We are willing to say things that we might never say in person because we do not have to look the other person in the eye. I even notice this in phone conversations at work. Now that we have gone to a more dispersed workforce where you may work with someone you have never met in person, you tend to, if you are not careful, express yourself in much harsher ways you never would face to face. Even though some of us use our real names and do not hide behind pseudonyms, we are still anonymous to 90% of those we chat with over the internet. We will never meet them, so there is no need to be polite.
2. Written Words – Written words can be very flat emotionally and it takes a skilled writer to write in such a way that reflects the proper emotions. It is likely that the way something is written is misinterpreted by the reader in terms of how the writer feels about what he/she has written. Most of the time when a message is misinterpreted, the writer is accused of being mad or upset because of the way it is written. Sometimes they are, but usually they are not. Other times a message is just a flame and serves no other purpose than to invoke anger.
3. Anger/hostility – Much like politics, no other subject invokes emotions like religion. On the Bloggernacle, there are many that are upset/mad/hostile to the LDS Church and their messages reflect that. On the other hand, those who are strong believing members can be very intolerant of those who struggle with their testimony and how they feel about the Church itself. Each group needs to approach the other in the spirit of understanding and, as Latter-day Saints, extend the hand of fellowship, no matter what the circumstances. Having said that, those who feel wronged by the Church need to be respectful to those for whom the Church means a great deal. Insulting remarks about the church, church leaders and its history has no place among the blogs, no matter how strong the feelings.
I am constantly amazed that LDS people cannot be civil with each other on the blog. Maybe I am overly sensitive and it is not a problem. Some of the 300+ messages about SSM in California proved to me that we have a problem.