the new normal

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?

19 thoughts on “the new normal

  1. I can see both sides of the anonymous debate. I think the internet would be a much different place if no one could hide behind anonymity — maybe not better, but at least quieter.

  2. I suppose that I agree with both Allyson and Kerri before me who can see both sides. If the only way that an individual is going to feel comfortable providing acts of kindness is behind anonymity, then I support it. Anonymous kindness is better than no kindness 😉

    With that being said, I think that one of the elements we strive for as humans in the world is connection, with other ideas and other human beings. Behind the mask of anonymity, it is possible to make the connection of ideas, but more difficult to make the connection with individuals if they are a “guest”.

    In the end, I would probably side with supporting the idea. Anything that adds more kindness to the world has to be a good thing 😉

  3. Kindness should be the normal. It’s sad that we hide behind biting words and anonymity so often. I can see why that teen felt like being anonymous makes it easier to be kind, but I feel like the bad outweighs the good on that one. I very, very seldom see kind, uplifting comments left from people named “anonymous.” Instead I see hateful words spewed everywhere all hidden behind that anonymous name. Maybe if kindness were the normal then that teen wouldn’t feel the need to hide his identity when he is kind to others.

  4. Such a beautiful post with some great encouragement. How interesting that this kid chooses to be kind anonymously! I think that speaks to his genuine desire to simply be kind, rather than a desire to “be kind with benefits/recognition.” I’d love to see more people like that in the world…who are simply kind because kindness is right. Thanks for sharing, girly!

  5. This is a really intriguing post! I never thought of the flip-side of being anonymous. Usually when I think of being anonymous, I immediately go to using it to be cruel. But I suppose just like everything else, there are two sides to every issue. I still think that being cruel or kind, you should do it as youself, not as a hidden character. But this definitely got me thinking.

  6. being kind should be something we all do…sadly, that’s not the case. but it makes me happy and whether it’s anonymous or not, i’ll continue to do it!

  7. I have always thought that if the media focused more on the GOOD stuff…the HAPPY stories…the KIND actions…than all the negative things, the world would, in turn, respond with more GOOD, HAPPY, and KIND to report. Emotions and actions snowball – we can all try to make it a pleasant snowball rather than a negative one.

    Great post! I love your commitment to posting POSITIVE blog posts! They are uplifting.

  8. Hmmm.. Growing up, it was – don’t be boastful and that God wants us to do good without recognition, but on the other hand – the more we do good and talk about it, the more it spreads, which is so necessary today. Every time I see you do a sweet deed, it reminds me to be creative and do more too. As far as posting online, I feel like it depends on how shy you are. If you say something online with your name attached, you could get called out in person and some people might not want that attention (even a thanks!).

  9. This is super interesting!! I’m not a huge fan of anonymous comments; or really, of social media for young teens in general. It can be so easy to say anything to anyone, whether anonymous or not, if you don’t have to do it face to face, and the result of saying hurtful things online is potentially more damaging. I can see the panellist’s point about it sometimes being easier to be kind anonymously, but I totally agree that kind should be normal, and shouldn’t feel embarrassing or weird!

  10. It is easy to be kind but I think it’s easier being myself and be kind. Have you heard of the new iphone app “secret” everything is anonymous and people post their secrets and you can anonymously reply..

  11. I agree with that teen, sometimes when no one knows you it is easier to be kind. To help a total stranger, someone who will never know you. Maybe it helps to not attract attention to yourself, rather the person who you are complimenting. But I can also see how mean people would rather be anon, so no one can know them, track them or remeber them. Actually, back to the kindness, maybe you don’t exactly trust the person you are complimenting. But you still want to praise them, so being anon makes sense. Same reason we don’t use our real names in virtual games and such. Also, *high five* GO, KINDESS BECOMING THE NEW NORMAL!

  12. I think that’s very true about the anonymity of commenters. That’s no good… but I guess all we can do is be kind ourselves to everyone and hope it rubs off on others. 🙂

  13. Wow I got a lot from this post. I love spreading a positive message whether anonymous or publicly but reading what the teen panelist said was certainly interesting (and evoked a lot of thought.) Thank you so much for sharing, much of what you wrote today is valuable for everyone, bloggers and non-bloggers alike.

  14. If only kindness were the norm – both in ‘real life’ and online! Though I don’t usually agree with Darwin or his theories, I would agree with his theory of self-interest, in that I believe that human-nature does lean towards being selfish. However, I find hope in the fact that we have choice and can choose how we want to live, and so though for many of us it takes some effort, kindness can be the new ‘normal behaviour’ if we choose it to be – online and in every day situations. It can be scary though – by being kind we make ourselves vulnerable to be hurt back, and so sometimes anonymous kindness can remove that vulnerability. Humilty, I guess is the key to kindness.

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