Wednesday, June 02, 2010

If the mouth is open, be sure the brain is in gear

I know I ranted about mudslinging earlier. I know it's politics and that it happens everywhere to some extent during every election. I know it happens everywhere and that it's practically expected behavior. But I just hate it.

It seems our county sheriff's race is this year's designated down-and-dirty fight: there always seems to be one in every election that is especially bitter and nasty. Letters to the editor pop up daily, but the comments -- which can be anonymous through our paper's online forum -- have really been ugly. And the commenters seem mostly to be a handful of unhappy employees or former employees that post on every possible letter or article, interspersed with a few outsiders here and there. (If you're interested in reading the letters or articles, see here. It lists all stories and letters which have garnered comments. You can sort of figure out by title which ones relate to politics.)

It makes for entertaining reading, to be sure -- fodder for writers, perhaps, in that truth is always stranger than fiction. It also is sad to read how full of bitterness and unhappiness some of them are, how some of them seem so stuck in past events that they aren't able to move on or make changes or adapt to what is here and now. Some of the comments reveal far more about the individual's basic character than I think they had any intention of revealing, especially if you read multiple articles and letters and note who is commenting.

Realizing that there are always at least two sides to every dispute, I'm trying not to get unduly upset by what I'm reading about the morale and the disputes within the sheriff's department. And yet, I admit that I'm now a little wary of these men who are our county's law enforcement officers and their anger, their bitterness, and what they've revealed about their character through their words. That's not comforting when you want to regard law enforcement as a safe haven if you need help in a bad situation. That doesn't bode well for the operation of the department regardless of who wins this election: there seems to be such animosity and bitterness that either candidate will have a huge task just to re-unite the department.

Politics in general has for years reminded me of a clique of young teenaged girls who can turn on a friend in a matter of minutes: best friends forever in the morning, sworn enemies in the afternoon.

Words can damage a person every bit as much as fists can. Physical injuries often heal more quickly than emotional ones. Once said, you can't un-say a threat or a falsehood or an insult or a character assassination. And that goes for both sides here, although generally it seems to be the unhappy camp who is getting very personal about naming names, involving employees' family members, and hurling snarling insults that have nothing to do with either candidate.

It's also easy to get caught up in the mob mentality of an online forum, to throw out your own name and say things about others you'd likely not do in most face-to-face encounters, and to allow others to whip up your own emotion and anger through their comments.

But words you say have consequences, sometimes bitter and long-lasting and un-doable consequences. To all who comment: choose your words carefully. If you're tempted to write something scathing and insulting and angry, don't hit 'submit' immediately: write it down, let it simmer for at least a few hours, and then reconsider. If it's something you would say face-to-face, then go ahead. But realize what your words may reap and accept the responsibility for your actions.

I'm good with words. I can be sarcastic and caustic and quick-witted. But I've learned from opening my mouth without having my brain in gear that I need to think twice before I speak, and that most of the time, silence is the better course.

No comments: