“If you spent as much time practicing your saber techniques as you did your wit you'd rival Master Yoda as a swordsman.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, to Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones
When stumped for an answer to a question, I sometimes jokingly lament that there’s no pocket-sized device that can immediately access all of the world’s information – but, oh yes, here’s my smartphone! It truly is wonderful to be able to connect instantaneously with so much information and with so many people. In the past, most of our social contacts were friends, family, coworkers, teammates, and other members of our communities Now, the global nature of the internet means that strangers can become friends “virtually” even if they never meet, see one another’s face, or even know their real names.
As many of us have discovered at conventions, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve made many friends via Twitter, and I can honestly say that my favorite part of Star Wars Celebration Anaheim was getting the chance to finally meet and spend time with them in person. I’m glad that everyone that I have befriended online was as warm and personable in the flesh as they portray themselves on the popular social media site.
However, there is a dark side to this as well. Due to the relative anonymity of the internet, many people are downright nasty to one another – even to the point of abusive language and criminal threats. Just because it’s not always quite that bad doesn’t mean that all is well, though. In my opinion, the far more common issue of concern is sarcastic, rude, and disrespectful speech.
As a disclaimer, I can be a very sarcastic-thinking person myself. I’m actually quite good at it, and in the past I used sarcasm as tool. If I wanted to look clever, or get a laugh, I could usually find a quick barb to throw at someone else. Of course, not only did the target suffer, but I did, too – it was a cheap form of humor that reflected poorly upon my character. I knew that I needed to better myself by letting go of my villainous ways.
My mother used to say that it’s not what you say, but how you say it. I say that it’s both. In the past few years, since my decision to walk the Jedi path, I’ve been very careful about my choice of words, though I admit freely that it is still very much a work in progress. While there are many instances of our fictional Jedi quipping to one another in desperate situations (as noted at the top of the page), Jedi were also trained to be negotiators, diplomats, counselors, and healers. None of these roles called for sarcasm or hateful speech. One of my favorite sayings in my Marine Corps civil affairs unit is that the first rule of civil affairs is… to be civil. We deal with other nations’ civilian populations, and very little can come from alienating other people. The same is true everywhere you go. Obi-Wan Kenobi certainly knew this, as he remained generally polite even when facing conflict.* Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is a fantastic book on this subject that is as spot-on now as it was when first published in 1936.
So how does this pertain to users of the internet in our profane world (pun intended)? Surely there will be disagreements, but it’s preferable to disagree without being disagreeable. In the past year, StarWars.com has made many announcements concerning canon, the new upcoming movies, Star Wars Rebels, new books and comics, etc. All of these have sparked abundant discussion online. While most of the people I follow on Twitter are generally positive people, there’s a fair bit of disagreement that happens. Most of it is nice; some not so much. There are situations when the desire to win, to be “right,” or to be funny can be overpowering. When this happens, in the grand scheme of things, winning an argument over the internet with a stranger is at best a hollow victory. If the disagreement is with a friend – well, that’s even worse indeed, because the relationship can obviously suffer if the participants are caustic in their speech (or intent).
Contrary to what kindergarten teachers may say, we do not HAVE to listen to or respect others’ opinions. One of the best parts of being thinking individuals is the ability to walk away from many situations we don’t like. Others’ right to free speech doesn’t imply our obligation to listen. However, I believe that if we DO choose to participate, then we can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. We can listen actively, rather than waiting for our turn to talk. Our word choice can soothe rather than incite (and if in person, our body language and tone count, too!). We can avoid snarky comebacks, or make the decision not to participate at all. Far too often, people chime in on a conversation that they weren’t involved with from the start, with nothing truly helpful to add. Additional viewpoints are great, but not if presented rudely. We can, again, disagree without being disagreeable. I find that I usually learn something new in the process, too. The certain point of view from which I view the world is not the same as others’, so listening to different (or opposing) opinions only serves to educate me further and allows me to take more steps into a larger world.
For the first time in my blog writing, I have homework assignments for my readers:
1) The next time the opportunity to type a zinger presents itself, consider saving the post/comment/tweet as a draft. If it’s worthwhile, it will probably be fine to wait and press “send” later. At the very least, pretend that the recipient was standing right in front of you when you said it. Would you still do it?
2) Reach out with a positive message to someone you know online, or respond supportively to someone’s post/tweet. It’s harder than just pressing “like” or “favorite,” but it means so much more. Many times, the more personal a person’s post is – and possibly less in line with your own interests – the more important it is to them. For example, quitting smoking, passing a test, setting a new personal record in the weight room, or finishing a degree are so very important to that person, and they could really use your support!
Let’s be supportive to one another as a fandom and as fellow humans. Everyone is fighting their own battles and could use others’ help. Resist the urge to tear others down simply to get ahead. Save that energy for fighting Sith Lords – “this time, we’ll take him together!” Until next time, thank you for reading, may the Force be with you, and remember –
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* Another great quote – “I want you to be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.” – Dalton, Road HousePowered by Sidelines