“We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Or as I liked to boast in past dating profiles : “I strive to be truthful, to be kind, to be authentic.” The choice of the word strive being deliberate, of course, as it lets me off the hook whenever I fail miserably.
A couple of days ago, I called someone an asshole on a Facebook thread. It wasn’t someone I knew personally; he was the friend of a friend, and, according to my friend, not a very nice person anyway. Nonetheless, I asked her permission to let him have it, and she gave it to me. It felt good at the time, to unleash my disdain and not have to worry about any face to face recrimination. But later on this week-end, as I reflected on the types of articles I had been posting following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, about responsible freedom of speech, it began to bother me. I had accused him of being without empathy and compassion but hadn’t my self-righteous nastiness amounted to the same thing? The truth is, I could have used kinder words to get my message across, or better yet, said nothing at all.
My days as an angry, ranting and raving union rep are long over, but sometimes I slip into old habits. Back then, I learned the hard way, that the people you want to change the most eventually stop listening. And there’s the rub, people. We tend to expend the most amount of time and energy trying to convert people who won’t be moved, at least not while we are being rude and belligerent.
Is it still worthwhile to speak up? Absolutely. But as a couple of manager friends often remind me, if you want to be heard, stay respectful, and come up with some practical solutions while you’re at it.
I wrote to a journalist friend of mine, a confession of sorts, and asked him how he coped with the unpleasantness of it all. He suggested “that our concern over hurting these people is not a sentiment they waste on us.” He also reassured me, to paraphrase, that I was loved regardless, by the good people, which I take to mean the people in my life who count the most.
But even as his words relieve my conscience, a nagging voice in my head and heart tells me I can do better in my striving — to be truthful, kind and authentic, particularly in situations (like posting online) where it is easy to avoid accountability. Perhaps we all can for that matter.