Tag Archives: attack dogs

Losing Your Chains

breaking-chains“The Web is a place for unlimited exchange of ideas. But according to an NPR report, researchers have found that rude comments on articles can change the way we interpret the news. ‘It’s a little bit like the Wild West. The trolls are winning,’ says Dominique Brossard, co-author of the study on the so-called ‘Nasty Effect.’ Researchers worked with a science writer to construct a balanced news story on the pros and cons of nanotechnology, a topic chosen so that readers would have to make sense of a complicated issue with low familiarity. They then asked 1,183 subjects to review the blog post from a Canadian newspaper that discussed the water contamination risks of nanosilver particles and the antibacterial benefits. Half saw the story with polite comments, and the other half saw rude comments, like: ‘If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these products, you’re an idiot.’

People that were exposed to the polite comments didn’t change their views really about the issue covering the story, while the people that did see the rude comments became polarized — they became more against the technology that was covered in the story. Brossard says we need to have an anchor to make sense of complicated issues. ‘And it seems that rudeness and incivility is used as a mental shortcut to make sense of those complicated issues.’ Brossard says there’s no quick fix for this issue (PDF), and while she thinks it’s important to foster conversation through comments sections, every media organization has to figure out where to draw the line when comments get out of control. ‘It’s possible that the social norms in this brave new domain will change once more — with users shunning meanspirited attacks from posters hiding behind pseudonyms and cultivating civil debate instead,’ writes Brossard. ‘Until then, beware the nasty effect.'”

-Hugh Pickens
“Why Trolls Win With Toxic Comments”

No, I haven’t been “nastied” by a troll for a bit now (not for at least a week) but in reviewing the recommended posts at Slashdot today, I came across this little gem which seems to scientifically substantiate what most of us in the blogosphere already know: nasty blog posters and commenters know how to ruin a “free lunch.”

If it were just this one article, I’d probably never have written today’s “extra meditation,” but the guest speaker who lectured at my church yesterday morning preached on James 3. That’s right. The “taming the tongue” chapter in James’ missive.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3:5-18 (ESV)

I know some atheists like to bask in the idea that science and religion are mutually exclusive concepts, with all of the “brains” being held on the atheist/science side of the equation, but here we see a scientific study and words of scripture complementing and confirming each other, at least to a degree. Not only do harsh comments on a news story negatively influence people who read the story and the comments, but harsh comments are just plain bad for people, according to James. Harsh comments, as James says, do not show wisdom but bitterness and jealousy and are “unspiritual” and even “demonic.”

troll-face-high-resolutionOK, that may not be exactly true of 100% of all Internet trolls, and there may be other things that motivate a troll to be a troll, but so far, no one has said that there’s any benefit to being a troll on the web or that trolls do anything good for any human being, not even themselves.

The guest speaker at my church last Sunday characterized James’ letter as containing practical pieces of advice rather than being some sort of masterful, theological tome. Frankly, practical advice is probably what we need more of in the online religious space rather than a collection of bloggers pontificating all over the web on various arcane (and sometimes self-serving) topics. I’m not targeting any particular group of people or blogs in this statement, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been guilty of asking for trouble on multiple occasions. Hopefully, I’m getting smarter but time will tell.

At the age of thirteen, one becomes obligated to perform “the mitzvos.”

-Ethics of the Fathers 5:25

Jewish law does not recognize any such entity as adolescence. A child is a minor until the age of legal majority, which is the twelfth birthday for a girl and the thirteenth for a boy. One moment prior to the sunset of the eleventh or twelfth year, the person is a minor; the next moment, she or he is an adult. Parents and teachers still must provide guidance of course, but the “child” is no longer a child, and must assume responsibility for him or herself.

Parents take responsibility for their children’s behavior, but once those children reach the age of majority, they are accountable for their actions. A Jew never has a single moment of diminished responsibility; he or she always advances.

In the general culture, however, adolescence constitutes a “no man’s land,” a period of diminished responsibility. Adolescents are too old for their behavior to be dismissed as childish, yet too young to be held accountable for their actions.

The problem is that once youths experience a period of diminished responsibility, they may never advance to a sense of full responsibility. Similarly, Western legal systems abound with legal factors that diminish individuals’ culpability for misbehavior. It stands to reason, therefore, that once people have a window of lessened responsibility, they have even less reason to take full responsibility for themselves. This may be one factor in Western civilization’s worsening problem of individuals and groups blaming others for their problems and shortcomings.

Today I shall…

…hold myself accountable and responsible for everything I do or have done.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Nissan 5”

No, as I’ve said before, this doesn’t mean we can never disagree with one another. It does mean however, that we must take personal responsibility for every word we speak or type. It does mean that during disagreements, we must take great care to speak or type in a manner that is only edifying, illuminating, and uplifting. Not always easy to do on the Internet.

If you read a really “juicy argument” in the religious blogosphere, the hostile comments really do create an atmosphere of polarization, of people “taking sides,” of people who sincerely believe they are disciples of the Master and servants of the Most High God violating everything James, the brother of the Master, was trying to say to us. No one who behaves this way can possibly be happy with themselves or secure in their own identity, and every time we argue (me included), we expose our personal faults to anyone who has Internet access, which is a whole lot of folks.

Do we really want to do that?

One of the greatest Sages of the 20th century, the Chafetz Chaim, writes: “Torah prohibits us from endangering our health. We must be more stringent in these matters than other prohibitions.” (see Mishnah Berurah 472:11)

Lack of happiness is dangerous to one’s health. A wide range of psychosomatic diseases are caused by emotions like sadness, worry, envy, anger, and anxiety. The connection between our emotional and physical health is an idea that is gaining in popularity. The Torah has known this for centuries. As Rabbeinu Yonah (17th century) says in his commentary to Proverbs 17:22: “Happiness will heal a person from illness.”

Don’t wait to become ill. Increase your level of joy TODAY!

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #762, Happiness is Healthier”

Sometimes it may appear that there is a place where, according to all considerations, G‑dliness can’t come. An obstacle that prevents you from accomplishing something beneficial. A friend who cannot be approached to help do a favor. A gathering of people that seems meaningless.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Not If, but How”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

girl-dancing-rainThe point of this blog post isn’t to ask people to be “nicer” when commenting on my blog. I’m not pleading for myself, I’m pleading for you, my brothers and sisters in Messiah. You can’t live a life that’s completely consistent with your faith if you have to blog or respond to blogs out of hostility, anger, or malice. You cannot live the life that God designed for you or even preserve your mental and possibly physical health if your general attitude is one of a “troll.”

People don’t become happier and healthier or inspire that in others by repeatedly saying and writing negatively and harshly. We become more like what we think and say, whatever that happens to be. If we lift up others, we will be lifted up. If we show kindness and compassion, we will experience kindness and compassion in return. Maybe that’s why we should treat our neighbors as ourselves, because how we treat our neighbors is how we do treat ourselves and will be treated by others. Even the newest Pope recently kissed a long time adversary.

A person constantly goes from one level to the next. If you’re not going up, you’re going down. It is impossible to remain on one level.

In what ways can you go up today?

-Rabbi Pliskin, “Grow Ever Higher”

If you need to beat someone up on the Internet, no matter how justified you feel in the action, maybe it’s because on some level, you feel beaten up, too. It’s time to let go. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

26 Days: Are You Waiting For Me to Leave?

leavingHow many days you have left, and how many more article can you milk from the dry turnip?

-A comment to me on one of my recent blog posts

A person who is serious about self-improvement will be grateful to anyone who points out his faults! (Whereas a person who does not have a strong desire for self-improvement will deny that he has any faults – even those which are blatant.)

Utilize the criticism of others as an opportunity for introspection.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #1123, Accepting Criticism”

It’s just amazing how people will address you when the Internet stands between the two of you. I’ve written before about how rude people tend to be when communicating on the web, and how (in all likelihood) they’d be a tad bit more civil if they had to talk with you face-to-face.

I started the “Days” series in part because of my internal response to Internet “crankiness.” After all, who wants to put up with a collection of people who continually complain at you (me) because you won’t fully endorse their opinions on a topic you have in common? Not me. Of course, there are some folks who say that it’s not “crankiness” or complaining that motivates them, but rather the use of “challenging discourse” as a method of learning. I set aside that particular excuse for rudeness awhile ago.

But my critic hit the nail on the head. I have 26 days left in my self-imposed countdown. Do I disappear then to avoid the “challenges” of “crankiness” on the Internet?

On the one hand, life would be a little more calm without the continual “noise” of social networking, but amid the noise, there’s occasional “signal” that is beneficial. Should I put up with those who have a particularly low signal to noise ratio because I benefit from others who possess a much higher ratio? Is it worth it?

On the other hand, I don’t like being pushed around and I don’t like bullies. If someone doesn’t like the content I generate, they don’t have to visit my blog. I’ve stopped visiting the blogs and websites of nudniks because it was foolish of me to engage people who would only talk at me and never listen. Disagreement is fine and I can certainly live with it. Hostility for its own sake I can live without.

There are people who do gracefully criticize me when I get things wrong, and as stinging as it can be, I actually appreciate it. On the other hand, these are people who can bring such matters to my attention without behaving as if my error or ignorance has personally insulted them. I’m finding that’s a rare and special gift among human beings.

If someone is critical of you in a harsh tone of voice, try telling them the following:

“I appreciate your strong feelings about the matter, but I would appreciate the comments more if they were expressed more pleasantly.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #304, Soften Criticism”

I don’t like to “call out” individuals on my blog. It’s happened to me on numerous occasions on more than one blog and I find it ungracious and offensive. On the other hand, I couldn’t illustrate my point without quoting what one of my critics said to me earlier, so to my critic, I apologize if I caused you embarrassment. I really do just want to point out that if your criticism of me is out of a sincere desire to help me become a better person, there are more constructive ways to go about it.

I have to consider that there are some people out there who can’t just leave my blog alone and who really do want me to give up and pull the plug at the end of the month. Frankly, if I bother some folks that much then I suspect they may need to get another hobby or maybe even a life, since I’m not that significant in either the blogosphere or the human race.

But if there are people who want me to leave, that’s probably a good reason for me to stay. Remember, I don’t like bullies. If you don’t like me, don’t read my blog. I don’t read your blogs and I certainly don’t comment on them. I don’t need to hang around people who suck the joy out of life and living just because they can.

If you have a suggestion on how I can be better that is motivated by a sincere desire to help and you can express it without hostility, please let me know, either in a blog comment or via email. If you are complaining about me just because you can, I invite you to go elsewhere.

Thank you.

76 Days: The Encouraging Shepherd

Realize that if you ever feel discouraged, your attitude of discouragement is a greater problem than any external hardship.

You can change your attitude.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #607, At Least Don’t Be Discouraged”

A kind word can last forever. An encouraging word can be the foundation upon which many constructive years will be established. Enhancing the self-image of a child with a brief but powerful comment can create a magnificent human being. Words that inspire function like the fuel that enables the rocket to fly high and far.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #608, An Encouraging Word”

Thanks for that, Rabbi. Maybe I ought to buy your book and read that every day rather than some of the more discouraging content found on the web. But on the other hand, even in the midst of contention and chaos can come a small thread of hope.

drschiffman: Dan that’s your opinion but you state it as a fact. I wouldn’t deny you your right to your opinion but I must ask your forgiveness that I can’t continue the discussion at this time. I’m dealing with very serious health issues and am just not up to it right now. I respect you and am sorry but this is how it’s got to be for now. Be well.

Dan: Praying for you Dr.

drschiffman: Thanks Dan, I appreciate it

-from comments on Drschiffman’s Blog post
Messianic Judaism and Christianity: Two Religions With The Same Messiah

If you take the time to read the content of the blog post and the entire discussion in the comments section below, you’ll see that Dr. Schiffman and Dan are not exactly in agreement on the topic in question. On the other hand, the second that it became clear Dr. Schiffman was dealing with a serious health problem, the disagreement was set aside and Dan’s compassion became immediately evident. In fact, looking at the quote of their conversation, both of these men, even in disagreement, remained courteous and respectful toward each other.

That’s sort of the model I have been hoping to follow in my “blogosphere” transactions with the folks who disagree with me. I’ve had similar conversations with Dan in the past, and as much of a “firebrand” as he can be at times, his ability to put that all to one side and express warmth toward others including me, seems rare in our little part of the world of religious blogging. He’s not the only one, and to be fair, I’ll assume that most of the people I disagree with are good people who only desire to do the will of God, but those few voices that don’t seem to give a rip about anything except “winning” (in a Charlie Sheen sort of way) speak (or yell) so much louder.

That’s why it was important for me to quote from the brief exchange between Dr Schiffman and Dan this morning. That’s why their words are linked back to Rabbi Pliskin’s brief commentaries on encouragement. That’s why the encouragement of others is so important and why we must encourage, rather than discourage, each other:

Hi James. Don’t let a small number of people sour you on blogging and transparency. That, my friend, would be awarding them a very undeserved victory.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
from a recent comment on my blog

I have keep reminding myself that as loud as discouraging voices can be, there really are just a few of them. It’s not disagreement that’s the problem, it’s the joy killers and the attack dogs who are the real adversaries, not necessarily to me, but to the purposes and plan of God.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)

Admittedly, it’s difficult to have a conversation where you’re building someone up while also disagreeing with them on the purpose and mission of believing Jews and non-Jews in God’s plan, but as we’ve seen in the transaction between Dr. Schiffman and Dan above, when something immediate and important comes up, the disagreement can be easily set aside and the “building up” instantly comes to the forefront.

It’s such a pity that not everyone in the body of believers can see that this is how it should be. It’s why I’m looking at the next 76 days and wondering what will happen next.

Actually, I feel more refreshed as I write this than when I pounded out the previous entry in this series, so there is hope. I’ve received a fair amount of encouragement, not just in blog comments, but also in emails and on Facebook, so I know that there are many more voices supporting me than tearing me down. I think that’s the important part to remember and it’s what I keep returning to. Only a few people see me as making “wrongful criticisms,” as if my motivation were one of malice. I’m not above admitting that I’m wrong, and I’ve done so in the past, but there’s a difference between that, and accusing me of bad motives and desiring to hurt others.

Really, in all that I’ve written to date, my desire has been to preserve, restore, and uplift others, not just believing Jews, but we non-Jewish Christians as well, illuminating the path we each must take, and showing how we all have a glorious mission and future in the plan of God. It just doesn’t have to be an identical path for the different parts of the body.

The goal is the same though, as is the Messiah, and as is God.

Behold, He stands behind our walls, looking through the windows, and peering through the lattices.

Song of Songs 2:9

“Whether God watches through the windows or through the lattices,” said Rabbi Yisrael of Salant, “God watches over us. The difference is that sometimes it is through a window, and then we can see Him just as He sees us. At other times, it is through a crack in the partition, where He can see us, but we do not see Him.”

Both in the history of the nation and in our personal lives, there have been times when Divine intervention was manifest. There have also been times when we were in great distress and felt abandoned, but even then, though God seemed to be absent, He was watching over us. The Torah foretold that there would be times of anguish when we would feel that God is not among us. At such times we must strengthen our faith and declare, “Behold, the Keeper of Israel does not sleep nor slumber.”

Commenting on the verse, He does great marvels alone (Psalms 136:4), our Sages tell us that “alone” means that only God is aware of some of the miracles He performs for us, because we are unable to recognize them as such. Those who failed to see the protective hand of God when the Iraqis rained scuds on Israel were morally and psychologically blind; anyone should have been aware of God’s protection. But even when His intervention is less evident, we must know that He watches over us, albeit “through cracks in the lattices.”

Today I shall…

try to reinforce my faith in the everpresent watchfulness of God over Israel as a whole, and over me as an individual.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 28”

To adapt Rabbi Twerski’s lesson just slightly, I’ll say that God watches over not just Israel, although this is certainly important, but He also watches over us all, as a mother hen might watch over her precious chicks. He never slumbers or sleeps, and it is the Good Shepherd who guards his flock, all of us, and though we are from our different sheep pens, we are all his.

If we truly know his voice, we will follow him in peace.