You Can Say Anything

I love mysteries. Right now I’m reading a great one by Harlan Coben called “Caught.” I won’t give away much of the book, because it’s such a good read, but I do want to talk about something that happens in the book: There’s a series of people who are having their reputations besmirched because of online, anonymous postings about them. The postings accuse them of doing terrible things and talk about them in a very negative manner.

This story interests me because I remember my favorite blogger once telling me that there was no more dangerous combination than online and anonymous. People who are sitting behind a computer can basically write anything they want about anyone and it could be construed to be true. The question I have is, why do people use the opportunity to say such negative things about one another? In my own experience I was once interviewed about an issue and the replay of my interview was available on YouTube. I was aghast at reading the postings that people had put about my interview. They assumed things about me that were simply not true, and in almost all cases had very negative comments. It wasn’t so upsetting to me, because I knew the comments were untrue, but it was startling to me how people who did not even know me could have such convictions about me!

My own experience and then the reading of this book led me to ask the question “why do we want to bring down another person, whether anonymously or not?” It seems in many cases we have a judgment about someone else’s actions or reactions, or our perception of who they are. Rather than give people the benefit of the doubt, in many cases we assume the worst of them. How many of us have had the experience that we make an assumption about someone’s behavior and develop a judgment about them as a result, and then that colors our opinion of them? But then maybe we have another interaction with them or some other experience with them and see another side to who they are. We are left at a crossroads; we have to either revisit our judgment and change our opinion, or realize that our judgment was wrong in the first place.

I think in many cases we all want to bolster our own sense of who we are along with our self-confidence. The way we do this is by bringing other people down. Over time I’ve been interviewed on many topics, but one of my favorite was talking about actor Charlie Sheen and his on-screen and off-screen shenanigans. I was asked why we have such a fascination with the behavior he was displaying. My belief is that we’re fascinated because it makes us feel good about ourselves that while we don’t have the advantages that Charlie Sheen has, we manage to run our lives without having a similar meltdown. In other words, if you are wrong then by default I must be right, and this can make me feel better about myself.

But as I’m reading this book and I’m thinking about our capability to destroy another person by the negative things we say, I have to wonder whether this really brings us higher or instead tears us down, too. I may have a more positive view than most people but I do believe that when I give positive reinforcement to another person what comes back to me is also positive. If I tear the other person down, in some ways I may be revealing something that also lies within me. So tearing others down really isn’t giving us the superior feelings that we hope for.

As you go through this week, you may not be in a position to post things online or anonymously. But you may engage in self-talk about someone else, or you may have opportunity to confront someone else about something they are doing. Whether it is self-talk or interaction with another, consider your motives for the negative reaction that you have. Is it genuinely in response to something difficult that needs to be addressed, or is it your judgment of someone that maybe is misplaced? It’s worth thinking about. We all need a positive word now and then. No one of us needs to read terrible things about who we are – online or otherwise.