I often find myself typing up a comment on somebody’s blog, or a forum, or even very rarely in an IM with a friend. I will get most of the way through said comment, and then delete it utterly. This is usually because part of my brain is telling me that I’m not explaining my (usually controversial) position on the (usually controversial) subject under discussion properly, and it’s better if I just don’t say anything. Part of this is my iron-clad personal rule learned from frequenting World of Warcraft realm forums. The rule runs something like this:

“Never ever ever, no matter how wrong someone is being on the internet, stoop to arguing with them. Never under any circumstances. Always walk away first.”

Now, one of my ways of following said rule is to always try to think ahead, and if I think there’s a chance I can be misunderstood, and thence start a flame war, or even just feed a troll, then I don’t comment. This is probably a good habit to be in. After-all, if everyone thought before they spoke, the world would be a better place with far fewer thoughtlessly hurtful comments. And the great thing about the internet is, if you start to say something mean, hurtful, thoughtless, or just plain ‘ism’y* then you can delete said comment before you send it, and no one has to know what a total scumbag you almost were.

The problem arises when you become so worried about always being nice, polite, thoughtful, and kind to everyone that you begin to silence yourself. There is a difference between thinking before you speak, and just not speaking at all. I find myself doing this frequently lately, and I find it somewhat disturbing. I’m not talking about the days when I’m in a terrible mood, and the first comments that spring to mind are always deliberately hurtful (those usually never make it even all the way down my fingers, though I’m afraid some of them reach my lips). No, I’m talking about the stances I truly believe in which I decide not to take on the Internet because they are controversial. And there is where I begin to silence myself. My worst fear is, someday I’ll have silenced myself so effectively that I no longer have my own viewpoint, I’m just a parrot. And once I’ve silenced myself, it’s a short ugly step to trying to silence others.

Of course, you, dear Reader, may be saying to yourself “Who cares? It’s just the internet.” But the fact is, it is no longer “just the internet.” Now, the internet is where the really important discussions are happening, the ones that may, some day, change the world as we know it. They’re happening on a variety of places, from blogs such as writer Justine Larbalestier’s and Nathalie Mvondo’s, to news sites, to private forums. They happen constantly, and every. single. one. involves real people, with real feelings, and real opinions. Sometimes, those opinions are changed, and sometimes they’re reinforced, but every one of those discussions has an effect out in the “real” world. So, silencing myself on the internet is every bit as harmful as if I silenced myself in any other debate. And silence serves no one except oppressors.

*When I say ‘ism’ I am referring to any and all discriminations by one person or group of people towards another. No one who is fully human is immune to this disease, the targets are just different. All we can do is watch out and catch ourselves before we utter/act on said ‘ism’.

Thought for the Week: “A voice is a human gift; It should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.” Margaret Atwood

Currently Reading: Maskerade by Terry Pratchett



  1. Elle said,

    January 31, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I used to do this too, but now I prefer to just come out and say it. But there are ways of doing it without starting any wars, or so I’ve found.

    A year or so ago there was a blogger who made a post about marriage which I highly disagreed with. It’s the only time I’ve ever disagreed so much about a certain post. But then again, what we think are our own opinions, and even though I just HAD to make a comment, I did it in a nice, polite way – she wrote back saying ‘I really disagree with you, but thank you for commenting.’ It can be done in a civilised way (I kept reading her blog after that!) Then again, I’e seen comments that aren’t meant to sound at all rude come out that way (had one on mine recently). As you say, it may be just the internet but people do have feelings and they might just take it the wrong way! 🙂 Sorry for the rant – this is a great post!

    • Bookewyrme said,

      January 31, 2010 at 5:16 pm

      Thanks! I always try to be as polite as possible, especially on touchy subjects. But when you’re communicating with text, it’s so easy for what you say to be misinterpreted! Plus, though I’m a writer, I tend to not explain myself well (I should work on that….) so I get misunderstood a lot. Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. Kristen L-M said,

    February 3, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    One of my rules of living is: don’t engage with crazy people. On the other hand, I know what you mean about being too shy to speak up during online discussions. When I want to say something but don’t I ask myself if I’m not saying what’s on my mind because I’m afraid I might be wrong or because I’m simply afraid to be flamed. Once I sort that out, it’s easy to decide what to do.

    • Bookewyrme said,

      February 3, 2010 at 1:57 pm

      That’s a great rule of living, for sure! My problem is I’m not always sure which fear is holding me back, especially on those touchy subjects. I’ve resolved to be more certain in future though! And also to explain myself more coherently, of course!

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