Last month, I promised you a monthly feature on "Random Acts of Kindness," so true to my word, here it is. It's part of my job, day in and day out, to stay tuned into what's happening on the Internet. I read the online news daily, have favorite blogs and Web sites, whether it's the spot-on parody of The Onion, the addictive bargain hunt of eBay, the inside jokes of Homestar Runner and his gang, and, until this past weekend, the official site of a particular Chicago baseball team...
But as we all know, there's a lot on the Web that is unkind, slanderous and hurtful. As a "Web Services Librarian," I struggle with my personal and professional belief in freedom of speech and the free-for-all environment of online publishing. You've probably noticed that many mainstream news sources, such as the Chicago Tribune and the Daily Herald, allow people to comment on their online news stories. When you take a moment to peruse the comments, you can lose a lot of faith in your fellow human beings. The poor spelling and grammar might make you chuckle or shake your head, but the racist, misogynist, violent language used in many posts is a source of deep dismay. It's as if the playground bully is all grown up and lurking on his/her computer, just waiting to steal your good name and your lunch money. (Am I the only person who cringes at those, "My kid beat up your honor student" bumper stickers?)
It's one thing if you choose to seek out that kind of information on the Web - while I can't go there with you, I respect your right to create and use information that runs counter to my own beliefs. (As long as the information is legally acceptable.) But it does disturb me to find these "comments" posted on what I long thought were credible news sources -- and typically posted anonymously, when these same news outlets would be heavily criticized for using anonymous sources within the articles themselves. It really hit home for me recently when I found a front page story on a woman who had been brutally murdered, a woman I "know" only from the unhappy circumstance of singing at her funeral. The comments left after that article were so disappointing and insensitive, many of them suggesting it was the victim's "fault" for not buying a gun and killing her assailant first. I couldn't imagine how her family would feel, seeing these comments published for all the world to see.
Have you noticed this trend? How do you feel about it? Go ahead and leave a post here -- but please remember that the Des Plaines Public Library respects all people, all points of view and is a place where children should feel safe and comfortable, so we can't accept posts filled with obscenities and hateful speech.
So, how does this fit in with "Random Acts of Kindness?" First of all, there's lots of good stuff online, so take the time to find it and encourage it! A coworker, Heather Imhoff, recently forwarded this blog to me: The Happiness Project. In this blog, writer Gretchen Rubin test-drives "every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study" on happiness she can find, and shares her successes and failures with readers. So it's positively-focused, but not Pollyanna-ish - Rubin brings along a realistic world view and a heaping dose of intelligence. Check it out and see what you think - if you know if similar blogs or Web sites, devoted to a more positive way of living, please use the Comments space here to make your recommendations.
Secondly, perhaps we can start a trend of courteous, meaningful, intelligent public discourse, to loosen the powerful grip of the anonymous hate-speakers out there. Use those Comment forums on news articles to flex the muscle of your mind and your vocabulary, rather than resorting to name-calling, bigotry and even downright falsehood. The current Presidential campaign is certainly a public forum where it seems that intelligent, truthful conversation has been all but forgotten - can we challenge our candidates to turn that situation around for the good of our nation, for the good of our children? I believe we can.
Your comments are welcome.