Tuesday, February 7, 2006

As If Jesus Was There

I'm often amazed how supposed friends and comrades can treat each other so uncivilly. Visit almost any members-only bulletin board or email discussion list and you'll find the most vile and disparaging comments pointed at not shared adversaries but tried-and-true allies. It certainly doesn't speak well of homo sapiens as social beings!

It doesn't matter what the topic is or the reason the group came together. It also doesn't matter if the group shares a conservative or liberal or some other kind of agenda.

No, what seems to matter most is that we each feel we're dead on right and anyone who disagrees with us or sees things from a slightly different perspective is decidedly wrong. Not only is their idea or strategy wrong, but the very fact that they don't support our [correct] position means that they are attacking the very core of our being. Since they're obviously out to get us or make us look unreasonable to the other members of our group, we then feel justified in attacking not the substance of their proposed idea or strategy but their very existence as a fellow group member.

You know an email list has reached this point when various people try to prove they are more committed to the cause or issue than anyone else. This is where comments like "How can you call yourself an environmentalist or a Christian or a liberal or a conservative?" crop up. The dialogue soon grinds to a halt as various individuals attempt to trumpet their credentials to everyone else.

While this kind of scenario plays out all over the world on all sorts of lists every day, it really galls me that so-called progressive groups fall victim to these machinations over and over again. On the one hand, we share a common vision of a world where people are treated respectfully and with dignity, something definitely lacking in today's society. Yet, on the other hand, our own internal discussions can turn into some of the most vicious cat fights imaginable.

I have a solution for this problem. For just this moment, imagine that someone you revere is a member of one of the email lists you are currently subscribed to. This person could be Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Mohandas Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama or anyone else you look up to. Would you communicate the same way on these email lists if your chosen person was one of the members?

As an example, let's say Jesus is a member of your local peace and justice discussion group. You've just learned that a hate group plans a rally in your community. Via email, various members of your organization decide to discuss what counter measures, if any, your group should undertake.

As the discussion focuses on a variety of different strategies, some of the comments become a tad bit heated. Jesus sends out an email asking people to tone down the rhetoric and reminding members of the group that we should each treat others as we would want them to treat us. If you didn't necessarily appreciate Jesus' comment, would you then fire off an email telling him that he should get his head out of his ass?

If Jesus (or any other inspirational figure) is someone you intimately respected, I certainly would assume you would not dare write such a thing. So why is it you could write such a thing to anyone else? I'm sure Jesus would tell you that writing nasty things to anyone is the same as writing nasty things to him.

Think about this the next time you start to fire off a vicious retort.

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