I often find myself typing up a comment on somebody’s blog, or a forum, or even very rarely in an IM with a friend. I will get most of the way through said comment, and then delete it utterly. This is usually because part of my brain is telling me that I’m not explaining my (usually controversial) position on the (usually controversial) subject under discussion properly, and it’s better if I just don’t say anything. Part of this is my iron-clad personal rule learned from frequenting World of Warcraft realm forums. The rule runs something like this:
“Never ever ever, no matter how wrong someone is being on the internet, stoop to arguing with them. Never under any circumstances. Always walk away first.”
Now, one of my ways of following said rule is to always try to think ahead, and if I think there’s a chance I can be misunderstood, and thence start a flame war, or even just feed a troll, then I don’t comment. This is probably a good habit to be in. After-all, if everyone thought before they spoke, the world would be a better place with far fewer thoughtlessly hurtful comments. And the great thing about the internet is, if you start to say something mean, hurtful, thoughtless, or just plain ‘ism’y* then you can delete said comment before you send it, and no one has to know what a total scumbag you almost were.
The problem arises when you become so worried about always being nice, polite, thoughtful, and kind to everyone that you begin to silence yourself. There is a difference between thinking before you speak, and just not speaking at all. I find myself doing this frequently lately, and I find it somewhat disturbing. I’m not talking about the days when I’m in a terrible mood, and the first comments that spring to mind are always deliberately hurtful (those usually never make it even all the way down my fingers, though I’m afraid some of them reach my lips). No, I’m talking about the stances I truly believe in which I decide not to take on the Internet because they are controversial. And there is where I begin to silence myself. My worst fear is, someday I’ll have silenced myself so effectively that I no longer have my own viewpoint, I’m just a parrot. And once I’ve silenced myself, it’s a short ugly step to trying to silence others.
Of course, you, dear Reader, may be saying to yourself “Who cares? It’s just the internet.” But the fact is, it is no longer “just the internet.” Now, the internet is where the really important discussions are happening, the ones that may, some day, change the world as we know it. They’re happening on a variety of places, from blogs such as writer Justine Larbalestier’s and Nathalie Mvondo’s, to news sites, to private forums. They happen constantly, and every. single. one. involves real people, with real feelings, and real opinions. Sometimes, those opinions are changed, and sometimes they’re reinforced, but every one of those discussions has an effect out in the “real” world. So, silencing myself on the internet is every bit as harmful as if I silenced myself in any other debate. And silence serves no one except oppressors.
*When I say ‘ism’ I am referring to any and all discriminations by one person or group of people towards another. No one who is fully human is immune to this disease, the targets are just different. All we can do is watch out and catch ourselves before we utter/act on said ‘ism’.
Thought for the Week: “A voice is a human gift; It should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.” Margaret Atwood
Currently Reading: Maskerade by Terry Pratchett