A while back I wrote a post that some readers found disputable and felt compelled to discharge a barrage of nasty comments—my official initiation into the world of public hate mail. It wasn’t my first experience with it, but it was the first on my own blog.
I appreciate passion—without it we’d still be living in the stone age. Passionate people create great art and literature and build cities and save lives. And even if they accomplish none of these great things, passionate people are at the heart of the small things that make a difference in the daily lives of creatures everywhere.
Which is why I want to hear from them. I don’t expect every reader to agree with me—blogging isn’t about accumulating a thousand “friends.” But even if you disagree so fervently that it causes you to feel abusive, there are still guidelines to observe in order to be taken seriously. These basic rules are stated on almost every comment section of online news sources, message boards, discussion groups, and chat rooms. A few simple golden rules that many people, obsessive about their own views, choose to completely ignore.
Some of the mail I received was unprintable, and caused me to switch to moderating all comments instead of only those I have not previously approved.
The comments were passionate, yes. But civil, tactful, or even coherent—no. The unmistakable outcome can only be the exact opposite of what the raging, sarcastic commenter wants me to embrace. I read a wide assortment of news and blogs every day (no TV) because it’s important to consider all sides and remain open to changing my mind. In fact, sometimes I want to be swayed—I’m just seeking good reasons why I should. But hostility is the last tactic on earth that’s going to magically transform anybody’s thinking.
How easy it would be to edit nasty comments and print them! Some came from bloggers who fancy themselves respectable. But once you catapult that condemnation into cyberspace, you no longer have control of it. I could take that comment, now fully in my possession, and twist it to make the sender appear to be a criminal, comically deranged, or a pervert. Or worse yet, I could make the commenter agree with me.
I don’t do those things because I believe you reap what you sow, and I want better than that. There is a time to attack. You attack to protect yourself or somebody you love from harm.
Reckless comments can plague a person forever. And if you truly believe in your passions, your aim should be to persuade me–with logic and reason–that you’re right and I’m wrong. Use your passion to influence, impress, seduce. It’s why presidents have speechwriters—so they don’t make jackasses out of themselves on videotape. Before you go public with your passion, consider the most effective way to convey your view. You might feel brief satisfaction after a furious offensive, but it’s a hollow victory because you haven’t accomplished a thing except to expose your own intolerance. And that’s not going to convince anybody.