A few days ago I went to the store with my wife, kids, and mother-in-law. We walked through the sliding glass doors, grabbed a cart, and started to look through the produce. My son made a joke, and we laughed — we were having a really good time together.
Then my phone let out a familiar ring letting me know I had received an email.
Out of habit (a nasty habit) I grabbed my phone and read the two messages in my inbox. The first was an email condemning Halcyon’s work, and letting me know that what we’re doing is horrible; it was signed “pro-choice.” The second email let me know that I was not, in fact, the owner of that person’s uterus or that person’s “choice.”
My initial reaction was to be discouraged. I thought to myself “these women don’t know me, and if they did they probably wouldn’t attack me personally.” This is the internet, I thought, where fake courage determines our actions.
Let me take a second to explain fake courage.
I was listening to a comedy station on the radio, and they played a Louis CK skit on road rage. Here is an excerpt (altered to remove the bad language):
I wasted a lot of time just being angry people I don't know. You know, it's amazing how nasty we can get as people depending on the situation. Most people are okay, but if you put people in certain contexts they just change, like when I'm in my car I have a different set of values. I am the worst person I can be. When I'm behind the wheel, which is when I'm at my most dangerous that's when you need to be the most compassionate and responsible of any other time in your life because you are . . . driving a weapon amongst weapons, and yet it's the worst people get, and I'm, I'm the worst.
One time I was driving, and there was a guy ahead of me . . . [and] he sort of drifted into my lane for a second and this came out of my mouth, I said, “worthless piece of crap!” What an indictment! What kind of way is that to feel about another human being? That's somebody's son!
I was once driving a pickup truck and yelled out my window, “Hey, screw you!” Where outside of a car is that even nearly OK? If you are in an elevator and you're like right next to a person, and he leaned in to you a little bit would you ever turn right to their face and say, “Screw you! Worthless piece of crap!” Literally zero people would ever do that, but put a couple of pieces of glass and some road between and there's nothing you would not say to them.
“I hope you die,” I said that to a person! “I hope you die,” why because you made me [move my steering wheel] for half a second of my life; testing my reflexes and it worked out fine, so now I hope your kids grew up motherless.
I mean what am I capable of? I'd like to think that I'm a nice person, but I don't know, man.
This scenario, which we’ve all probably experienced or committed, is a perfect illustration of how some of us act on the internet. We don’t consider the fact that there is, to use Louis CK’s words, “another human being . . . somebody’s son [or daughter]” receiving your angry message. But our “fake courage,” a bravery that comes out when you don’t have to actually consider the humanity of the person you’re speaking to, dominates our social media conversations.
I think real courage is treating people on the internet like, well, real people. That doesn’t mean you can’t tell the truth or share your opinion — just do so in a way that considers the dignity of the other person.