Last week, I wrote a blog about emotional abuse. It was pretty personal; I detailed some of my own experiences of emotional abuse in my last relationship. To say that writing it was difficult is an understatement and it's fair to say that on some level, putting it out there into the public domain was a little scary.
The response was largely positive and supportive and for that I am incredibly grateful. However, one comment sent chills down my spine when I read it. That comment suggested that I'm incapable of caring for anyone but myself. It said I have a "cold, tiny heart." It told me that I was only considering my needs and feelings and I had no consideration for my poor ex.
Except... Well, if you read the blog, you'll see that whilst in the relationship, I put my ex's needs and feelings ahead of my own time and time again, to the detriment of my own well being. I believed him, supported him and was abused in return. My "cold, tiny heart" belonged entirely to him, unconditionally and with all the support he could have asked for.
Still, my thoughts when I read the comment (after I had stopped feeling physically sick and shaking) weren't for wanting to defend myself - after all, I have done nothing that requires defence, Instead, there was one question in my mind: Why?
We're all humans, with differing views. Anything we read, watch or listen to, we are able to form an opinion on. That opinion may be coloured by our past experiences. That in itself is fine. I'm certainly the last person in the world who's going to sit here and write a blog in which I suggest that having an opinion is of itself a bad thing! I'm also absolutely not going to suggest that expressing that opinion is of itself wrong. To do so would not only be inaccurate, but stupid - I'm writing a blog! I express opinions all the time!
However, there is a line that I don't believe should be crossed.
If you've got an opinion, by all means share it. But before you do, consider who you're sharing it with and consider how you're sharing it.
The Internet is an amazing thing, connecting people from all walks of life. But the safety of sitting behind a screen can dehumanise communication at times. Every now and then, someone seems so intent on expressing their opinion, that they don't take the same consideration for the person they're speaking to that they might normally. Instead of saying "I disagree and this is why," as you'd hope they would in reality, a person online might simply bash out the words: "YOU ARE FUCKING WRONG! I HOPE SOMEONE BEATS SOME SENSE INTO YOU!"
Would we do that in reality? Or is it just that "talking" to someone from behind a screen gets rid of all those inconvenient social niceties that prevent most of us from being cruel or inappropriate?
Or is it that in this fast-moving world, we no longer have the time to sit and consider our reaction before we hit "send?"
Whatever the reason, it's my view that words are powerful. We can use them as tools to educate, or as weapons to destroy. After all, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can cut much deeper.
Having an opinion is our right. Expressing that opinion is equally our right. But before we furiously hammer the keys on our computer, putting our views out there in the most thoughtless way possible, perhaps we ought to remember that whilst we can't see the person on the other side of the screen, it doesn't mean they don't exist. It doesn't mean that our words can't touch a nerve.
There is no sense in hiding behind a screen, firing off vitriol at a person we probably haven't even met (and more than likely never will), simply because we disagree with their views. Jumping to insults is, after all, the quickest way to lose an argument.
Somewhere out there, sitting behind another screen, is a person reading your words. Hiding behind a computer might make it very easy to metaphorically shoot that person down. But it being easy doesn't make it right.
That's not to say that I don't approve of debate. I love debate. Discussion and debate is how we learn, how we move forwards and, done well, can actually be a healthy way to show respect for someone whose views we disagree with. You're giving that person time to air their views and you're giving yourself a chance to respond. That is brilliant and in no way am I suggesting that healthy debate should be discouraged.
But it's the all-too-frequent reliance of some people on negativity, insults and even threats that I feel needs to be stamped out. If you disagree with someone over a trivial matter in "real life," would you respond by threatening to physically attack them? If not (and I really hope the answer to that is a resounding "no"), why is it acceptable to respond that way online?
The answer is, simply, that it isn't.
So, be proud of your opinions and express them at will. But remember that you're not just flinging random letters into the ether. Debate, discuss and argue by all means. But the second you resort to judgements, insults or threats, your point, however valid, is dismissed. The argument - regardless of who is truly right or wrong - has been lost.
Let's not hide behind our screens, throwing hate out into the world. Let's really read the words people are putting out there and respond with a little respect and maturity, whether we agree with them or not.