We live in an age when people have enemies. When people disagree violently.
This is not new.
But we also live in an age in which disagreements can be communicated instantly, before we have time to think. Consider. George is pissed at something Alexander said to him this morning while Alex was on his way to the north field. But George has to cut some wood before lunch, and then he has to do some hoeing, and by the time he sits down with a candle and a quill, it’s twelve or fourteen hours later.
George has had time to cool, even if he’s spent some time rolling Alex’s words around his head during the day.
And by the time George’s missive (if he even writes one) reaches Alexander the next day or the next week, Alex has also had time to think that perhaps his words were ill-considered. Maybe there’s a grudging handshake. Maybe there isn’t. But perhaps.
Today: Al says something nasty to George as the two pass. George whips out his cell phone and fires off a smart answer to Alex; Alex, gobsmacked by this, now realizes that his words were ill-advised, but since the original incident has been broadcast on Facebook or Youtube, he’s in no position to back down. He hits back…
When I do mediations with young men and women at local high schools, this is a pattern I see frequently. When I worked helping putative adults file temporary restraining orders (TROs) I saw much the same thing.
Speed can be a poison; human beings don’t think well at the speed of electronics.
Thousands of years ago, a man whose birth we celebrate at this time of year knew the dangers of haste. When a group of angry people surrounded a woman they had caught in adultery and prepared to execute her, this man stopped them by asking them to look inward first. He suggested that before correcting others, we correct ourselves.
It behooves us to do this always, but especially at this time of year.
So when someone next offends you online, stop. Ask if there is a chance that the offense was unintended; ask if it might be in recompense for some offense you had given. Ask if it will do you (or anyone else) any good to strike back. Oh, and do all of this with your phone in your pocket and your hands behind your back. Then wait an hour or so before responding.
It could get to be a habit.