I'm not talking about the football stickers (an odd mix of Ravens, Redskins, and, inexplicably, Steelers) or the political stickers ("Obama 2012" on almost every Prius) or the stick figure families (moms, dads, dogs, cats, a parade of children with soccer balls). No, the sticker I see most is the "Choose Civility" sticker, green and white, a bit sad, maybe, because so often, we do not.
Having worked in retail, I can attest that HoCo citizens do not always practice their civility. Driving 'round the mall, too, is an exercise in avoiding those who've lost their civility somewhere between the food court and the parking lot. And, increasingly, the blogging and social media worlds have been infiltrated by those who, if they had it once, have lost their grasp on politesse.
That said, there are many incredible voices for civil, free discourse online. Because the blogging community in Howard County is small and somewhat insular, we've become aware of how our voices can weave or fracture over issues big and small. What The 53, Village Green/Town Squared, many, many others write - those words become a part of the Howard County cultural landscape. I truly think that the online presence of HoCo citizens plays a huge role in how we imagine this place - and how we imagine ourselves as a part of the community.
Even so, because bloggers can inform and be informed by politics, infrastructure, community struggles, diversity ethnic or economic, the onus of civility is on us. Petty spats, closed mindedness, snobbery, inflated senses of superiority - they should have no place here within our writing or our conversations. I'm not saying that we are the be-all and end-all of moral or ethical role models - we're bloggers, not superheroes - but because our writing is public we are rightly burdened with the task of civility. We must show what we demand - respect, honestly, kindness, even in disagreement.
But what of those who read our writing and respond free of that burden? What of those who attempt to interact not with civility but with nastiness?
In other words, what do we do about the haters?
I've never received snotty comments on this blog - mostly because, I'm sure, it is a personal blog rather than a community one, and because I have a small readership. I don't write about hot-button HoCo issues - I usually write, as you know, about my individual journeys with mental illness, religion, or whatever impolite thing is on my mind. But, whoo boy, I've seen some vastly negative comments on other blogs. Just today I was made aware of some less-than-pleasant commentary, and I reacted to it immediately. How odd, that people feel the need to resort to petty name-calling. How pitiful, how sad.
At one time, I would have been infuriated, especially as the original blogger is very close to my heart. Also maddening is the fact that the blog post in question - as well as responses to the negative commenter - was quite civil, quite honest, respectful, and polite. In no way did the blogger rely on the tactics of the reader; she kept her cool. She was asking for opinions in a trusting and trustworthy way.
But I have no doubt that it stings, a bit, to be denigrated in what should be a safe space. The blogging community in Howard County must remain civil and open - to every opinion, every assertion, every honest question. We enter into the online world hoping to have our voices heard and to appreciate others' - so we must maintain that safety which comes only from respect.
I've been ticked off in the past by commenters, as I have written before. I mean, sometimes I read a comment and I'm upset by it - but I've learned to let that go, in part because I have realized that people who come online just to be nasty are probably a lot less mentally stable than I am. I have good days and bad, but being mean on the internet is never in my repertoire because, seriously, I have better things to do with my life. And I don't understand the mindset of those who delight in petty schoolyard antics within the comfort of anonymity - who has time for that? Who benefits from it? Does it make those people feel better about themselves?
Don't they see that it is ridiculously counter-productive?
I'm all for opinions - even differing opinions. The blog post in question was actually very clearly about opinions! If we want to have a rich community, offline and on, we need lots of voices. We need involvement, we need commitment, we even need disagreement. I welcome the opportunity to hear new information, new perspectives, even and especially if those require me to reevaluate my own. But how can I really respect an opinion which is couched in inflammatory language? Being mean is giving ground - taking cheap, personal shots makes your views less valid, in my eyes, because all you seem to possess is infantile pouting and adolescent lashing out. I cannot trust an opinion surrounded by chaotic, juvenile ramblings. Nope, nope. So if you, as a Howard County citizen, want to engage in a valid and valuable dialogue - if you want to make a difference in this community - you'd better grow up, learn respect, and practice civility.
Civility isn't just a bumper sticker, and it isn't just the way you say please and thank you. Civility is in real life and on the internet. Civility is having some semblance of respect for yourself and others - not lowering yourself to the level of a giggling child tying someone's shoelaces together. Come on, HoCo! We can do better than that. We must be civil, we can be civil, we will be civil. Let's practice that mantra daily - before we log on, before we click send, even before we pour that first cup of coffee.
And to the haters? All we can do is feel sorry for them - because, by their own actions, their own petty language and limited discourse, their voices will not be heard. And that's too bad. Maybe, just maybe, they might have something valuable to say.