Every day I walk my three small dogs around the block. It never fails that my youngest, a Shih Tzu named Littles, becomes Mr. Fearless when we get to one particular fence. Just as we round the second corner of our walk, Littles lowers his head, sticks his tail straight out behind him, and runs as fast as he can to a fence where a big dog lives. I have to drag my other two dogs to keep up with him. It's a tall backyard fence and near the bottom, there is a small peephole about the size of a silver dollar. By the time we reach it, the big dog is usually already barking and even howling as he shoves his nose into the hole. Littles comes along and shoves his own nose right back at the big dog's, barking into the peephole while jumping at the fence and wagging his tail. This same little dog, who freezes up and drops his tail between his legs at the park when a big dog approaches, becomes the aggressor when he's behind a fence. The peephole is his safe view into the big dog's world and he loves to use it for a brief ego boost.
When I got home from our walk the other day, I was reading an online article about a local man who was murdered. In the comments below the article, some woman made an inappropriate, heartless joke about his murder. She didn't know the man. The joke was more about his occupation and she tried to cleverly relate it to why he was killed. I can't imagine she would have said this in the physical presence of the readers, as most people would attack her heartlessness, but behind the safety of the computer, she had no threat. It made me think of my earlier walk with little Mr. Fearless and the protective fence. The internet was this woman's fence, and her peephole was the small box on the website that said: "Post your comment here."
Bullying and serious internet aggression are something altogether different. This incident was more on the level of your average person getting a whim to post something she wouldn't be held accountable for. The woman struck me as someone who just got a quick dose of courage to throw out an outrageous comment. It's like my dog Littles. He's not a bully, but a really nice dog most of the time. He just likes to take that brief opportunity every morning to feel big and strong. I'm not sure what the woman online was trying to feel. Funny? Cool? Or maybe she just wanted to be noticed. I don't know her, so I can't know her heart. Judging her is useless, but using her as an example can be worthwhile. Have I ever been tempted to write something online that I wouldn't say in person? Of course. While her particular joke wouldn't have been my choice, I am certainly capable of voicing opinions that don't need to go out there. If I'm willing to stand behind my comments, and my intentions are pure, then I can speak my mind in good conscience. But if ever my thoughts and motives resemble Littles barking into the peephole, pretending he is something he's not, I will try to recall how pathetic false courage looks, and keep those comments to myself.
There are plenty of positives having this computer peephole to the world. Everyone now has a voice, and the safety behind the computer gives people courage to speak out. That in itself can be a good thing. It starts getting negative when the little Shih Tzus out there lose all sense of their usual decorum for the sake of a quick ego boost, or a laugh, or even just an opportunity to be heard. I think it's a good idea while online to pretend that at any moment, the peephole could open wide up. Face to face with my readers, it would be best to choose words that feel right while looking into their eyes.