In the last two to three years, I have witnessed beauty and acts of kindness that have made me believe in the power of the internet, online “community”, and the goodness of people. When Matt Logelin lost his wife the day after his daughter was born, people from all over the world reached out, offered help, and sent words of comfort so achingly beautiful, that my faith in people—strangers moved to do good things—grew exponentially.
Through the blogs I follow and writers I love, I have watched as total strangers have “circled the wagons” around families in need, rallying at warp speed to arrange fundraisers, support, supplies- and whatever is needed to help. I would read accounts like this late at night and go to sleep believing that despite everything else, the goodness of people outshines some of the dark headlines and random, horrible events that take place every day.
I still believe that, for the most part. But, I have seen the alternate power of the internet this past week—the power of words and anonymity that combine in cyberspace to do a deeper harm than it seems words should be capable of.
Part of the beauty of the world wide web and all pages we all stop and drop in on, is that the world is at our fingertips. We can “visit” cities that are a half a world away, we can learn about any topic under the sun in vivid detail, complete with photos, firsthand accounts, and historical data. We can read the words of prize-winning journalists mere seconds after they complete their keystrokes.
It is all incredibly powerful.
And while reality tv and that mindset have invaded our living rooms, we all feel it is our right to peer a little more closely into the lives of others, and with each breaking news story, we are offered details, photos, and minute by minute accounts in real time. We now expect it. Immediately. We demand it. It is almost surreal that as natural disasters happen around the world, we see the footage instantly, as it is happening, wherein the past we would have had to wait for the next day’s newspaper, or a news report on television at only 6pm or 11pm. This is nothing short of miraculous, even though it seems more commonplace than extraordinary as we have all grown accustomed to the technology that makes it happen, and our ability to access it.
We read articles on cnn.com or yahoo.com, or our own local newspaper or television websites, and not only can we process the words and form an opinion, we can also comment—share our views and beliefs in a forum where thousands and even millions will see it, our words just under those of the journalists who penned the articles. I have been moved in the past to make comments, especially in the early stages of the online availability to comment. But today, if you go to cnn.com and pick ANY article and scroll through the comments, you find very little substance, but plenty of hate, provocation, and a whole lot of nonsense meant to inflame, not to inform. It’s one thing when these idiots comment on a travel article and spew drivel about what a stupid place a certain area is to visit, etc. But it is another thing entirely when the story involves a death-the murder of someone’s child- and people belittle the loss as deserved or the fault of the parents. Especially on a local level, when one’s own neighbors and community members are the commenters, the words take on a new meaning. The power is immeasurable, the pain deep and brutal, and the ability for these people to remain anonymous in their viciousness only makes it easier to take the cruelty to another level.
I have watched this past week as Katie Granju has suffered because of the words of strangers. Katie lost her son last year, and amidst the pain and grief of losing her oldest child, she has had to fight to get authorities to conduct a proper investigation into his murder while being treated in such an appalling manner by so called “public servants” that I have been enraged and brought to tears more times than I can count. Her son battled addiction, and she has been open about his struggle, and her family’s struggle to help him with the battle he ultimately lost. Because her son Henry was an addict, heartless, uneducated people have told her such things as he “deserved” to die, and have said such other horrible things to her that I have found myself gasping reading the words, and doubting humanity.
I believe that everyone deserves to have an opinion. And maybe even readers of my blog who have linked to Katie’s blog and the other sites that detail Henry’s story and his case disagree with Katie, me, and her other supporters. That is fine, and while I am passionate in my beliefs, I respect that others may disagree. However, no one should have the right to say such wicked things that have no bearing on their opinion or the case at hand and have the comments released in a public forum alongside a news story or video. Maybe that sounds simple and ridiculous. And maybe it is. But I believe in kindness and compassion for a mother that has lost her son-- a mother that has never once portrayed herself, her son or anyone in her family to be without flaws, imperfections, or moments they wish they could take back.
In seeing this happening to Katie, I began to look at other news sites. I spent hours a few nights ago going to random news sites all over the country and clicking on articles featuring all kinds of stories, cases, crimes, and topics. And almost without fail, the comments sections made me nauseous. Maybe some of the comments had merit. Maybe some of these anonymous people knew a great deal about the families involved. But every subject of every story is someone’s son or daughter. Every person on this planet has parents and came from somewhere.
Katie and Henry taught me about my own perceptions of addiction, and educated me in ways I am so thankful for. And once again, because of Katie and Henry, I am learning a huge life lesson. I am a passionate person, and my opinions are rarely tempered. I believe that I am also compassionate and tone down my words in the right situations, but even moreso now, I understand the lasting power of my words, especially in cases and situations where I don’t know the whole story. While I don’t align myself with the people that have posted ridiculous rants about the outfit a grieving mother chooses to wear, or hate-filled sentences clearly meant to cause pain, I will always think before any comments in a public forum about the real people behind the story, and what those words will mean to them when they read them.
As powerful as all this access and technology is, kindness is more powerful. Kind words and acts in the face of deliberate hatred are breathtaking and inspiring. Thankfully, Katie and her family have also received a great deal of kindness and beautiful acts of love and support from friends and strangers the world over. I have watched through this last tough week as one day seemed more painful than the last, and the “army” of supporters rallied around her family on Facebook, her blog, and her other sites. I hope our words of kindness are ringing loud and clear, drowning out the other voices and hateful words.
I hope we are all learning the power we have-- the power of our words, the power of our love, the power of kindness.
The photo for this post is one of "Ben's Bells"--part of a project that Ben's family started in the face of tragedy to encourage kindness in their community. Learn more here.