The impressive words of Mr. MLK feel particularly relevant following the 2014 Teen Internet Safety Conference. My cousin was a panelist at the conference, and so I watched the live broadcast to hear my favorite 17 year-old voice her opinion on P-interest, Instagram and Twitter. She did an amazing job.
The conference got interesting when the moderator asked the panel if websites should allow anonymous comments. While the majority of the panel agreed that anonymous comments were harmful, one teen stood up and said anonymity makes it easier to be kind.
When asked to elaborate, he explained that he felt uncomfortable chatting with strangers and giving compliments to friends in ‘real life.’ On the anonymous web, however, the social pressure was gone and he found it easy to make friends and share generous thoughts.
But do we really need anonymity to be kind? Research by David Rand suggests that we have an instinctive desire to strengthen the community, but that we often suppress the impulse upon reflection. Why the change in thought?
It might have something to do with Dale Miller’s self-perpetuating theory of self-interest. Miller believes that self-interest is a cultural norm that leads Americans to “conceal their more noble sentiments.”
The teen panelist made me think we should overturn the Darwinian theory of self-interest by using the Internet and social pressure to make kindness the new normal.
Aristotle says that information goes viral if it simultaneously evokes ethos (ethics), pathos (logic), and logos (emotion). Stories of kindness definitely fit that bill, and that’s why we’ve all heard about the diner who left a $1,000 tip, the homeless man who returned a diamond ring, and the enormous support San Francisco gave Batboy.
If you see someone doing something kind, share the story, pass it around, and make a fuss about the awesome work of do-gooders. Keep sharing stories of kindness until the behavior is ‘normal enough’ for teens and adults to be openly generous and compassionate.
What are your thoughts? Do you find it easier to be kind online? Do you like anonymous commenting?