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Monday, May 19, 2014

Are You a Coward?

The world has changed. It is definitely not the same place it was when I was young. And that's nothing compared to the changes that have happened since my parents were kids. Can you imagine how much it has changed since when our grandparents were kids? Good gracious! There are both positive and negative changes: the civil rights movement, the abortion movement, the internet, smart phones, Facebook, Facetime, Skype, cell phones, computers, game systems, gay marriage equality movement, etc etc etc. The world has become so much smaller in so many ways, and yet in other ways it is more distant than ever. Despite having more ways than ever to connect to people, we have become more and more disconnected from each other. One of the side effects of this disconnection is a flare in cowardice. Allow me to explain.
"POTUS=Piece of terrible ugly sh*t or it means president of the United States. Can't remember which."

"Brigham Young was an adulterer and a whoremongerer just like Joseph Smith. Mormonism is of Satan. Joseph Smith was a false prophet and a freemason."

"What a whiner! You should be ashamed to stand on the shoulders of relatives who suffered in life yet worked hard. How dare you co-op their experiences. Clearly they had more character than you do. You had nothing to do with their noble lives and deserve no credit."

"Tal Fortgang is a pretentious brat who just confirmed the weakness of a white heterosexual man who believes the entire world doesn't admire him and think he's awesome."

"Without Europeans, the world would be one big Sudan or Afghanistan."

These are a few examples of the dangerous trend that has abounded on the internet: cowardice. The trend of anonymity has created a generation of people who don't know how to have constructive disagreements; a generation of spineless annoymous trolls; a generation of hateful, unsympathetic, cruel, careless, unthoughtful, belligerent and hostile people.

I was reading a Facebook thread of a dear friend. She has always been one to provoke some drama on her Facebook (which I shan't deny, I rather enjoy at times). She is part of a particular feminist movement (OW) in the LDS (Mormon) church that has been receiving more and more attention as of late. Reading the thread of comments on her various posts has become quite exacerbating and disheartening. Now, I will not be taking a particular stance on this social issue--or any other in this post, just the one at hand--but let me tell you what I found. I saw some people trying to share their opinions, stances and beliefs. Then I saw a younger generation who refused to stay at the issue at hand. They, instead, preferred to lead an onslaught of attacks on anyone who's views differed from their own. Apparently to disagree is to be a homophobic, sexist, racist, evil incarnate so egregiously diabolic that no one ought tolerate anything they have to say... This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. It is ok to disagree. No one can agree on everything. That is not realistic, it's not human, it's not interesting and it's not desirable. In this thread there was a young gay man who decided that every comment was homophobic, everyone was out to get him, and everything was offensive. People continuously tried to apologize to him and say that they should have the right to their opinions just as he has rights to his. But, he was constantly offended. This was the response of someone who came to his defense (which he surely didn't need...he had everyone whipped).

"If a person of colour (not the spelling) says you have done something that hurts them and feels racist, you have, whether you meant to or not. If a woman says you have done something that hurts them and feels sexist, you have, whether you meant to or not. If a gay person says you have done something that hurts them and feels homophobic, then you have, whether you meant to or not. You don't have to intend to be hurtful to hurt someone."

This is such a dangerous perspective on reality. The only thing that I agree with in his statement was "You don't have to intend to be hurtful to hurt someone." Other than that, it's complete crap. Dangerous, self-serving, bigoted and intolerably immature crap!

I know people are going to be offended by my opinion. I know I have the right to my opinion. I know that in posting my opinion I open up the door to people criticizing my opinions. I have no problem with people disagreeing, I have no problem with people criticizing and pointing out any flaws in my logic. I have a problem with people deciding to be offending and switching the conversation to base name calling, insults, prejudice, and cowardice.

I conduct many choirs. I have very high standards for the choirs that I conduct. For instance, one's music must be memorized to sing in the concert. This last year I had a girl who refused to memorize her music. She refused to participate actively in rehearsals, and refused to follow instructions. At our dress rehearsal I told her if she wasn't completely and fully memorized by the day of the concert she would not be singing. The day of came around, and she was not memorized. I informed her she would not be participating in the performance as per my conditions. She was very upset. She was very offended. She said that I was only doing this to her because she is black. WHAT!?!?! I was completely blindsided. I informed her that there were other black people in the choir that would be singing in the concert because they fulfilled the conditions that were outlined at the beginning of the semester. "They're a different kind of black" was her response. "This wouldn't be happening to me if I was white." I was so outraged. She was using her--as she puts it--minority status as a method to deflect responsibility and blame me as the "privileged white male." This tactic frankly disgusted me, and I promptly left her to deal with my much more sympathetic assistant conductor.

How was this a valid argument? How did those dots get connected in her brain? Why is it that ever time someone is hurt or disagrees with something it's because the other is bigoted, sexist, homophobic or racist?

I was raised to debate. I debated with everyone every chance I got. I loved the mental process. I loved the adrenaline. People no longer debate. People no longer have productive arguments and disagreements. In short, people no longer fight fair.

Dr. John Gottman (a leading authority in couples therapy) explains this phenomena. He calls them the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. While he uses them to explain couples not fighting fair in a relationship, I would say that three of these horsemen have become intensely present in online communities: constant criticism, contempt/cynicism, and defensiveness.

I hope that we can all look at the way we address each other on online communities and ask ourselves if we are exhibiting any of these horsemen. Are we choosing to be on the defensive and/or offensive? Can't we just  look at someone's potentially offensive comment and say "Gee, he's an idiot" then write a sad poem in our journals, and move on. And if you really think that your negativity is going to change anyone's opinion on the internet, then you're just having delusions of grandeur. That is never the way people have a lasting change. Inspire people to be better, inspire people to stand taller, to be braver, to be kinder and to be classier. Then the online world will be a much better place for all of us to be.


  1. Love this post. I wish we all could be just a little bit kinder, a little less quick to jump to negative conclusions, a little less likely to take offense. I hope your blog post here will help people move in that direction (including me).

  2. Thank you, Lee. I love reading your blog. It is so refreshing, honest, and unapologetic.
    I wish I had something to debate with you, but I completely agree with what you've written. It reminded me of David A Bednar's October 2006 Conference address "And Nothing Shall Offend Them". To be specific: " ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you... To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else." (shortened only for word count without removing essential detail or meaning) They way other people "make" us feel is a matter of choice and unfortunately it seems there are many who would rather let someone else dictate their own matters of agency than take responsibility for it themselves. It is cowardly and, in my opinion, pitiful.