Tag Archives: rudeness

A Human Heart…and Courage

vicki-sotoWhen a crazed gunman opened fire inside a Connecticut elementary school – murdering 26 children and adults – first grade teacher Vicki Soto responded with an astonishingly selfless act.

Upon hearing the first rounds of gunfire in an adjacent classroom, the 27-year-old teacher went into lockdown mode, quickly ushering her students into a closet. Then suddenly, as she came face to face with the gunman and the bullets flew, she used her body to shield the children.

Vicki Soto was found dead, huddled over her students, protecting them.

We all mourn this unspeakable tragedy.

Yet where did this young woman get the strength and conviction to perform such an extraordinary act of bravery?

-Rabbi Shraga Simmons
“A Hero in Connecticut”

The world we live in is certainly broken. This broken state is causing us to ask questions on ways to begin to fix it. The issues are complex and go way beyond single issues or problems like guns, video games, violence in movies, etc. The generational problems and patterns have brought us to this place. It will take new behaviors and patterns to eventually repair it. It will not come fast, or easy.

I think the world has become increasingly rude and mean. This has devastating effects on our culture—and leads to permanent scars and horrifying behaviors.

I recently read an article by Dr. Douglas Fields entitled, Rudeness is a Neurotoxin, where he states, “A disrespectful, stressful social environment is a neurotoxin for the brain and psyche, and the scars are permanent.”

-Boaz Michael
“Why are Some People so Rude?”

Boaz wrote about one of my “favorite themes” on his personal blog earlier today, but in light of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (which he was obviously alluding to) and the resulting verbal response (onslaught) in the news media and on the web, he probably didn’t take it far enough.

I don’t mean to say that rude people are potentially dangerous and violent people, but on the other hand, the Master had this today about both situations.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)

Does anger equal murder? Certainly anger and jealousy has led to murder, including the first one ever recorded, but in adding rudeness to this discussion, am I taking things too far? Am I exaggerating my issues with rudeness? And what does any of this have to do with Vicki Soto and her courageous and selfless act of heroism?

One of the definitions of “rude” or “rudeness” at The Free Dictionary is “Ill-mannered; discourteous.” When we think of a rude person, it’s difficult not to think of someone who is more focused on their own emotional gratification than on the well-being of others. A rude person shoves and cuts in line. A rude person at a shared meal, takes the largest portion. A rude person reveals an embarrassing detail about a friend in public.

In other words, a rude person cares more about themselves than about others.

Kind of the opposite of 27-year old teacher Vicki Soto who purposely put herself in harm’s way and gave her life for the care and safety of small children. She literally used herself as a human shield, taking the bullets that would have otherwise penetrated the bodies of the tiniest, most cherished ones; our children (and they are all our children).

Boaz says on his blog, Rude people are not godly people. Then he continues:

A reminder from a biblical source:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful …” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 ESV)

A reminder through Jewish wisdom:

It is a mitzvah for every person to love every Jew as himself, as it is written “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore we must relate his virtues. To be concerned about his property the way we are about our own, and about his honor the way we are about our own. If a person glorifies himself in the shame of his neighbor even if his neighbor is not there, and the shame does not reach him, and is not embarrassed, but he compared his good deeds and his wisdom to compare with the good deeds, and wisdom of his neighbor, so that from this it may appear that he is a very honorable person and his neighbor a despicable person. This person has no share in the world to come, until he repents with complete repentance. (Kitzure Shulchan Aruch 29:12)

A reminder through apocryphal literature:

Yeshua said, “Love your brother like your soul, guard him like the pupil of your eye.” Gospel of Thomas 25

Rabbi Simmons summed up the life of Vicki Soto and her inspiration to us in this way.

Vicki Soto’s great act of devotion should inspire us to take 10 minutes today and ponder: “What am I living for?”

Finding the answer is a big project. But there’s no better use of our time and energy. Because if we don’t know what higher purpose we’re pursuing, then we’re living like zombies, just going through the motions.

Vicki Soto was up to the challenge. “She didn’t call them her students,” her sister Carlee told NBC. “She called them her kids. She loved those students more than anything.”

She loved her students so much that she referred to them as her “little angels.” In reaching the ultimate level of devotion and saving their lives, Vicki Soto reached beyond the angels.

APTOPIX Connecticut School ShootingWhen we get into our little “Internet spats” in the blogosphere, in discussion boards, or in social networking applications such as Facebook, we often believe we are fighting for what is really important to us. Somehow, we use that as a way to internally justify our rudeness. But as Rabbi Simmons points out, when we find something or someone, some small collection of “little angels” who really are important, then exhibiting behaviors indicative of selfishness and self-gratification doesn’t even enter the picture. Quite the opposite. Courage, like love, is selfless, patient, and kind. Like Vicki Soto, love and courage bears all things and endures all things.

And it never ends even though life may end.

But everything else we do ends. As Paul says, “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. “ (1 Corinthians 13:8-10 ESV)

I have been trying to stop being so foolish as to participate in online interactions with human attack dogs. Vicki Soto’s remarkable self-sacrifice has provided me another reason not just to cease such fruitless activities, but to strive to become a better person, both in my private life and in my “blogging persona.”

Nothing I can say, no goal I could ever achieve, both professionally as a writer or in any personal sense could equal Vicki’s greatest qualities, which writer Archie Goodwin once described as:

“A human heart…and courage.”

Most of us will never find ourselves in a situation where we have to choose between our life and someone else’s, but as Rabbi Simmons suggests, we can take a few minutes out of our busy day to ask ourselves, “what am I living for?” If you want to give Vicki’s life and the lives of all who have suffered and died for the sake of love, caring, and compassion any sort of meaning, let your answer be to help another human being in some way, great or small.

And, to go Paul McCartney one better, in the end, may the love you make be greater than the love you take.

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.

Attack Dogs

Jennifer Bristol recently lost one of her oldest friends—thanks to a Facebook fight about pit bulls.

The trouble started when she posted a newspaper article asserting that pit bulls were the most dangerous type of dog in New York City last year. “Please share thoughts… 833 incidents with pitties,” wrote Ms. Bristol, a 40-year-old publicist and animal-welfare advocate in Manhattan.

Her friends, many of whom also work in the animal-welfare world, quickly weighed in. One noted that “pit bull” isn’t a single official breed; another said “irresponsible ownership” is often involved when dogs turn violent. Black Labs may actually bite more, someone else offered.

Then a childhood pal of Ms. Bristol piped up with this: “Take it from an ER doctor… In 15 years of doing this I have yet to see a golden retriever bite that had to go to the operating room or killed its target.”

That unleashed a torrent…

“It was ridiculous,” says Ms. Bristol, who stayed out of the fight. Her old buddy, the ER doctor, unfriended her the next morning. That was eight months ago. She hasn’t heard from him since.

-Elizabeth Bernstein
“Why We Are So Rude Online (October 1, 2012)
The Wall Street Journal

People can have diverse opinions. They can have different personalities. They can have different goals and objectives. Even so, they can choose to interact in peaceful ways, and discuss their differences with mutual respect. At times they will work out solutions to their mutual satisfaction, and at times they will not. Nevertheless, they can be calm, and think clearly about the wisest course to take.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Disagree Respectfully”
Today’s Daily Lift, #586

I recently posted a meditation about this very topic, and having to take the extreme action of banning someone from commenting on my blog. While I suppose I could assign the “blame” for the whole difficult experience to the person in question, in fact, the subject of Elizabeth Bernstein’s news article deserves some “credit.”

Why are people so rude online? People will say all kinds of things to other people online that they’d never dream of saying (most of the time) in person. Part of me is amazed that this tendency spills over into the religious blogosphere, but then, I find religious people possess just as wide a variety of character traits (and flaws) as the general population, rudeness included.

One of the reasons for online rudeness cited in Bernstein’s story is anonymity. When you can hide behind a fake screen name and avatar, there’s no sense of personal accountability because your statements aren’t easily traced back to your actual identity (nevermind that we’re not as anonymous as we think online, particularly on Facebook, or to someone with sufficient technical skills). There’s even a suggestion that the effect of being online reduces our inhibitions in the same way as alcohol.

Most of us present an enhanced image of ourselves on Facebook. This positive image—and the encouragement we get, in the form of “likes”—boosts our self-esteem. And when we have an inflated sense of self, we tend to exhibit poor self-control.

“Think of it as a licensing effect: You feel good about yourself so you feel a sense of entitlement,” says Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School and co-author of the study. “And you want to protect that enhanced view, which might be why people are lashing out so strongly at others who don’t share their opinions.” These types of behavior—poor self control, inflated sense of self—”are often displayed by people impaired by alcohol,” he adds.

A sense of entitlement, boosting poor self-esteem, reducing self-control, I don’t think this just happens to people who use Facebook.

The Bernstein article also states that, according to Sherry Turkle, psychologist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of the social studies of science and technology, our inhibitions are lowered because we can’t see the reactions of the people we’re addressing with our comments. Because we can’t “see and focus on what we have in common, we tend to dehumanize each other,” Dr. Turkle states.

I’ve heard there are two topics that can guarantee you will immediately become involved in an enraged conversation, both online and in-person: politics and religion. Here’s an example of both happening at the same time:

Over the past few months, Mr. Bolcik lost two real-life friends because of online political spats. The first friend got mad at him after he posted a status update asking people to debate whether Mormons are Christians. (“You are so off base you don’t know what you are talking about,” she wrote on his page, followed later by: “You’re an idiot.”) Mr. Bolcik blocked her from his page. “I will allow free discussion until you irritate me,” he says. Sometimes, he erases entire conversation threads.

Cause, effect, and consequence all rolled up into a single paragraph. Post something controversial on your blog, or on Facebook, twitter, or some other social networking platform. Someone will invariably react rudely or even in a (verbally) violent matter. Then, as Mr. Bolcik stated, “I will allow free discussion until you irritate me.” And I’ve also seen people eliminate entire conversations on Facebook before.

Sometimes a “battle” will start between two people and then others will be dragged into it, sort of like calling up reinforcements:

…he says—he privately messages one of his “attack dog” friends and suggests he or she join the discussion. “I will say, ‘Gee, this discussion doesn’t seem right to me, what do you think?’ ” he says. “Then they will go on there and berate the person who is upsetting me, and I will look like the good guy.”

Taken to an extreme, this could be sort of like a miniaturized version of a flash mob, at least if you have a popular blog and a lot of online friends with similar points of view and an equal capacity for responding aggressively.

Most of us don’t have really popular blogs (I mean thousands or even tens of thousands of regular readers) or very large numbers of online associates who are willing to fly into a rage at a moment’s notice, but we can marshal what resources we have to be, if not a menace, then at least a nudnik.

What can be done about this unfortunate tendency to lose our sense of compassion and courtesy once we sit down in front of a keyboard (or when we are on our mobile) and start browsing various social networking venues? It’s no secret and I suppose the answer is what we euphemistically refer to as “common sense.”

Stop being rude. Exercise self-control. Speak with humility. Most importantly, if you are a religious person, behave consistently with your stated values.

Learn to disagree without creating an unpleasant argument.

A mature disagreement is when two people both listen carefully to the other’s position in order to understand the position and why the person feels that way.

The Torah obligates us to treat each person with respect – even if you disagree.

I’m not sure Rabbi Pliskin is basing his commentary on Internet conversations, but I certainly hope so. It would mean that there’s hope for those of us in the religious online space, and that we are not condemned by our human nature or the dynamics of web communications to behave like a group of jackasses.

Religious people present themselves, their faith, and their God online and, especially Christians, say stuff like, “Jesus is the answer.” Then when someone disagrees, the religious person proceeds to call their opponent every name in the book except a “child of God.”

“There was a time when I used to say: that man’s a Turk, or a Bulgar, or a Greek. I’ve done things for my country that would make your hair stand on end, boss. I’ve cut people’s throats, burned villages, robbed and raped women, wiped out entire families. Why? Because they were Bulgars, or Turks. ‘Bah! To hell with you, you swine!’ I say to myself sometimes. ‘To hell with you right away, you ass.’ Nowadays I say this man is a good fellow, that one’s a bastard. They can be Greeks or Bulgars or Turks, it doesn’t matter. Is he good? Or his he bad? That’s the only thing I ask nowadays. As I grow older – I’d swear this on the last crust I eat – I feel I shan’t even go on asking that! Whether a man’s good or bad, I’m sorry for him, for all of ’em. The sight of a man just rends my insides, even if I act as though I don’t care a damn! There he is, poor devil, I think; he also eats and drinks and makes love and is frightened, whoever he is: he has his God and his devil just the same, and he’ll peg out and lie as stiff as a board beneath the ground and be food for worms, just the same. Poor devil! We’re all brothers! All worm meat.”

-Nikos Kazantzakis from his novel
“Zorba the Greek”

We can do this better. We need to do this better. Angry religious people are not just discrediting themselves, they are dragging God’s Name and reputation through the mud along with them. We can either sanctify the Name of the Holy One or desecrate it. It’s your choice. It’s my choice. What will you do next time you read something on Facebook, twitter, or on someone’s blog (or a comment on your own blog) and then feel the anger rise within you like an enraged, blazing Phoenix boiling and then vaporizing the calm, cool waters of your spirit?