“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Did you ever hear this line from your parents? It was a classic in my house, along with “Before you play with something, ask yourself–is it a toy, and does it belong to you?” There are four kids in my family, so any saying that could prevent a fight or something from being destroyed was worth repeating.
We learn so many downright useful mantras for living as children. Why do we forget them all when we become adults?
This post was inspired by a wonderful article Grace Bonney posted on Design*Sponge yesterday about negativity on the internet, and specifically about blog commenting. Grace is a great writer and thinker, dog lover, promoter of artists and small businesses, and all around internet heroine, so I highly recommend you read her original post here. She has a rationale for why she believes negativity on the internet occurs and how it can be remedied. I have my own solution, which is less psychologically nuanced than Grace’s, but maybe more straightforward:
Be nice, be constructive, or shut up.
I must confess, I fundamentally do not understand why people leave senselessly mean, unprovoked comments on blogs and other web articles. I just don’t. When I leave a comment, I try to imagine it being read by the person who is responsible for the article (sometimes this is the author, but on a lot of decor/design blogs, it can also be the person whose home is featured), and I want them to go away feeling uplifted. I’m not a saint. I’m not any better or nicer a person than anyone else out there. If I see something I don’t like, I move on. It’s not hard; in fact it’s easy–it only requires that I do nothing.
I’m lucky to have kind and lovely commenters on this blog, and I so enjoy reading your responses and feedback. But I’ve noticed that not everyone on the web is like you beautiful people. I’ve given up reading comments on major news sites almost completely because I can’t stand to see the random and reckless attacks launched in the discussions there. Even the two times I had my work featured in a larger outlet like Apartment Therapy, I was surprised to see how many people chimed in just to say small, needling things like, “It was better before.” Why bother?
To me, the fact that we are all on the internet, in each other’s business, looking at each other’s houses, knowing about each other’s relationships, children, pets, favorite foods, daily habits, etc, means that we have to try even harder to take care of each other. When I taught high school, we all (teachers, that is) made an intense effort to communicate the idea that EVERYONE struggles. We are all fighting the good fight. We would do well to remember that when we get on the internet. If you ever read Love Taza and have had the occasion to look at her FAQs, you may have seen the one that says, “Is life really that perfect?” to which she responds honestly, obviously, “no.” The fact that multiple people have taken time out to ask that question–which can only ever serve to highlight the negative–is extraordinary to me.
I’m not suggesting that people give false praise just to blow smoke up somebody’s ass. Most blogs and bloggers welcome constructive criticism. They want to improve; they want to provide content that speaks to readers. What I want is to stop seeing comments that serve no other purpose than to let a person air his or her personal grievances and prejudices at someone else’s expense. We are better than that.
And after all, if two unapologetic divas like Pepper and Jellybeans can learn to share one tiny lap or cushion (well, sometimes), surely the rest of us can figure out how to play nice is the huge expanse that is cyberspace.
Does negativity on the internet bother you? Have you had experience with it personally?