As a writer, I love to talk about myself. It is not just because it is my favorite topic and I am very narcissistic (which are definitely contributing factors), but it is also because whenever we talk about ourselves, or give our own lives as an example, we are standing on fairly firm ground. When you tell the truth about your own experience (known to some as “authenticity”) you are telling the truth about things in a very fundamental way.
In many ways, the dramatic growth of the internet in the last 20 years has allowed everybody all over the planet to tell the truth about themselves in a more public way. Did you see the YouTube video that went viral a couple of weeks ago where a man confesses to killing another man… online?
Personally, I am somewhat in love with honesty. I find it sexy, heart opening, admirable, often humorous, and altogether contributing to a better world.
But being honest about yourself on the internet has its drawbacks, in a way that being honest at a dinner table might not have. For example, a couple of years ago I wrote a post called “Why it is Wise to Worship a Woman.” In a nutshell the post is about how deeply I love my wife, how powerful it has been for me, as a man, to learn to love without defense, and why I would heartily encourage other men to cultivate the art of loving or “worshiping” a woman too.
This is obviously a slightly controversial topic. “Are you sure you mean ‘worship’?” some people asked me. “Don’t you mean, ‘friendship’ or ‘respect’?” The post that I wrote is actually about a feeling of religious worship which you can bring not exactly to another human being but to the mysterious source of life, intelligence and creativity that you can discover by paying close attention to what is flowing through another human being.
It was a risky topic to write about. It is vulnerable, it is personal, but I also felt it is important. That post was published on Huffington Post as well as my own blog site, and has been read, and liked, and shared, and tweeted tens of thousands of times. Some people loved it, and a lot of people got upset.
It is exactly how people get upset on the internet that I want to focus on here.
For example let us take my friend “Rambo Robson.” I call him a “friend” because I am not sure what else to call him. He is someone who obviously takes the time to visit my blog, read an entire article, and then, God bless his cotton socks, to actually use his valuable time and life energy to type me a comment. If that is not a friend, it has got to be pretty damn close to one. Here is what my buddy Rambo Robson wrote to me recently about the love that I feel for my wife and my little article about it:
Just for a moment imagine that this entire exchange has shifted from a comment on the internet, publicly visible to everybody, to a dinner party, with maybe 10 or 12 people. I am there, my wife is there, maybe my sons are there with their girlfriends, and a handful of close beloved friends, including my dear Rambo Robson. Rambo lives in Hamilton, Canada, near the border with Buffalo in New York State, but let’s imagine that he took a trip to visit me.
At the dinner party (simply a smaller version of this blog post after all), the conversation winds around to the love we feel for each other, and in a moment of wildly vulnerable extravagance I confess that the love I feel for my wife sometimes approaches a pitch of religious fervor, and I actually have feelings of worship.
Staying within the context of this fictitious dinner party now, you can imagine a variety of appropriate responses that these people might have.
“Wow Arjuna, that is beautiful. You really love your wife that much?” Yep, you can certainly imagine that being said at a dinner party.
“I don’t know, Arjuna, “worship” seems like a strong word. Don’t you mean you just like her a whole lot?” Also an acceptable response among friends talking together.
But can you imagine somebody, at a dinner party, saying, “Anything to get a book deal, huh, Arjuna?”
When we meet face-to-face we generally do not talk to each other in such a cynical aggressive or confrontational way. Why? Well, because it is unkind for one. Because it is hurtful. Because it does not further an intelligent conversation between friends. Whoever “Rambo Robson” may really be, I am almost entirely certain that if he and I did sit down for a meal together, and I told him about how much I love my wife, he would not respond in this way.
So does the internet bring out the worst in us? A couple of years ago I spent New Year’s Eve with the celebrated poet Coleman Barks. You maybe know him because he has translated most of the editions of Rumi that have been published in the last 20 or 30 years. He is a big burly man from the deep South, a retired lecturer at the University of Georgia. We were talking about writing on the internet together, and the conversation came around to the comments people post.
“What, you mean those things people type at the bottom of the article?” asked Coleman in his thick, Southern accent. “Oh no Arjuna. Don’t read those. Don’t ever read those, they’re terrible. You’ll never want to write again.”
There is some truth to it, isn’t there? We have come to view the internet as a medium where we can meet each other, ever so slightly anonymously, but still ever so slightly traceable, and spew cynicism, hatred, and insult, at each other in a way we would never do face-to-face. Except if we were drunk football hooligans in Liverpool.
YouTube, by the way, for reasons I do not completely understand, is by far the worst. It seems to be akin to the ghetto of the internet, where taking a stroll through the comments is like wandering unarmed through the roughest neighborhood of Detroit, looking for thugs, with whom to discuss your most sketchy and radical opinions. Here are a few of the comments I have got on my YouTube channel, which were also on the same topic of… wait for it…. LOVE. They have been cleaned up a little to be publishable here. I very much doubt that the writers would offer these same comments if we were to meet face-to-face over a meal.
- This video is a load of cr*p.
- You fags need to get testosterone injections because you’re all virgin b*tch*s who should just get a sex change
- lol you f**king losers are a disgrace to mankind
- You make me barf in my mouth
- I know where you live. I am going to come over put a bullet in your head.
Come to think of it, I might not invite all of these writers to dinner. Especially not the last one. He sounds like he might be having a bad day.
So what do you think? Has the internet helped to connect us globally, shifted the discussion about important issues from pundits on television, and given the common man and woman a voice?
Or has the internet reduced us to our lowest animal instincts, and brought out the worst in us all?