August 23rd, 2012

Yes, the world is bigger today than it used to be.  Than it was when I was a kid.  Than it was before televisions, or telephones, or airplanes.  Than it was before industrialization.  It is much, much bigger.  But bigger itself isn’t a problem.*  They are the byproducts of bigger that have significantly changed the way we experience life.**

With “bigger” have come the suburbs.  With “bigger” have come fewer community ties and relationships.  With “bigger” has come the internet.  And with “bigger” has come a life that affords us more anonymity within our daily lives than any culture has ever had.  And again, anonymity itself isn’t bad.  It’s what we do with it that can be.

Anonymity is a tricky thing.  For some people, it is immensely freeing.  For others it is an incredible yoke.  And for all of us, to some extent and at some time, it creates opportunities to behave badly.

I can cut you off in traffic because you have no idea who I am.

I can leave a snotty comment on your blog post because I will never see you face-to-face.

I can be rude or aggressive to you over the phone because you’re some faceless person in a call center somewhere.

I can deny you the respect you deserve as a fellow human being because our relationship isn’t a relationship at all, but rather one fleeting, momentary interaction in an endless series of similarly fleeting interactions.  But would I do these things if I thought you knew me?  Would I behave differently if someone I know were watching?  Do I temper my actions when my children are watching?  Would I be ashamed to tell a friend or colleague or pastor of my actions?

We can all answer yes to these questions some of the time.  But I fear that there is a growing trend in our society today that would have us answering yes to these questions more of the time than is right or good.  I’m not saying I don’t slip up.  I do.  You do too.  But I’ve also been on the other end of other people’s slip-ups.  So have you.  We know how bad it feels to be disrespected.  And we know bad it feels to disrespect someone else.  Both are pretty miserable.

I like myself better when I am kind.  When I am patient.  When I am gracious.  When I am thoughtful.  When I am tolerant.  When I am courteous.  When I am the kind of person I’d want to be seen being, even when no one sees me.  I do not want to be a doormat or  a pushover or a victim.  But I want to behave in a way that comports with those values.  And I can’t help but believe that we’d all be happier if the people around us did too.

A big world makes certain actions easier.  But it doesn’t make them right.


*Well, it can be, of course, when it comes to matters of disease, food supply, and other matters of the human condition, but that’s not really my point today.

**And when I say “we” I mean first-world, industrialized-nation people.

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