It’s cool to be kind—face to face and on-line

animal“Some of the comments on You Tube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.” (Lev Grossman)

A couple of years ago my younger son wanted to make a You Tube video, and my first thought was to protect him from the “naked hatred” that this would open him up to.  With all the talk about on-line dangers, I felt like I should be involved, at least in the very first forays (given that my kid was ten-years-old at the time).

It was languid summer, and the issue of coming up with fresh, non-expensive and sugar-free activities made co-creating a You Tube video sound like a diverting possibility and a teachable moment.  Firstly, we discussed the point of making a You Tube video in the first place, which got into an exploration of communicating, versus self-expression versus “trying to be popular.”  This latter concern got us talking about how many “hits” some You Tube videos got, and how it had triggered a win-the-lotto fantasy of posting something that would suddenly get millions of hits, perhaps making the ten-year-old videographer quasi-famous and rolling in big money.

Our most recent previous paradigm of this sort was Tony Hawk and the idea of practicing skate-board kick-flips with the fantasy of becoming a sponsored super-star of just doing whatever you happened to feel like doing.  In my generation this was throwing a tennis ball against the garage door while imagining one was pitching in the world series: the games change, the fantasy that everyone is watching remained essentially the same.

We decided to make a “message” video (and since I was always saying that “it’s cool to be kind” and that people who were mean generally felt badly about themselves, we decided to make a simple claymation where one figure is mean and the other says, “I’m sorry you’re feeling bad about yourself.”)  I figured that we would draw mean comments no matter what we posted, so I thought I’d take first responsibility so that at least it would be my own idea that got attacked—and one that was clearly meant to be sincere, nice and encouraging.  Our plan about dealing with any naked hatred would be to post the response “I’m sorry you’re feeling bad about yourself” to every mean comment.

The most fun was in making the video, getting our hands messy with clay, writing the “speech bubbles” for the  lumpy characters and in laying one of the kids’ original garage band tracks over it.  

And then we posted.  

And then people said things like “Die you faggot!”  

It gave us much opportunity to share the feeling of being nakedly hated, to explore why someone would go out of their way to throw daggers at naive attempts at kindness, self-expression or even at a naked plea for attention.  We also got to talk about cruelty in general, and about homophopia (which is typically confusing to my kids because we have so many gay friends).  It was interesting to discuss the dread and distrust of feelings, compassion and kindness and how these can provoke rage—particularly in people who have gotten less than their fare share of these things.

My personal theory remains:  people with low self-esteem and emotional wounds may choose to try to “give away their unwanted feelings.”  Making children feel ashamed, hated, embarrassed and even frightened is, I believe, a snapshot into the burningly shamed, and oft-ignored, hearts of the legions of marauding virtual flamers and haters.

And while there is a lot of negativity on the web, I suspect that the majority of the hate is perpetrated by a minority of the on-line population.  And with the anonymity of the web, timid but wounded souls are free to assert the pseudo power of cruelty;  the hatred may be “naked,” the the hater cowers behind the mask of anonymity itself.  Like cruelty on the road, on-line cruelty may tend to devolve and erode the general standards of the group, yet if every time we encountered raw hatred, on the road, on line, and in our homes (i.e. when siblings’ claws and fangs come out) we were somehow able to keep the wounds (rather than only the vitriol) of the hater in mind, we might be steadier in our spoken, or merely thought, response, which is that it truly is cool to be kind.

And for parenting, we are well-served to keep our goal “good feelings that last,” because even if our video goes viral, after the infection clears up, and after we’ve spent our Google-bucks at Target or In-N-Out, what are we left with?  It does less good to characterize the group as malevolent than to recognize the self as both dark and light.  If we can recognize hurt, and naked rage, as emotions that are hard-wired into ourselves, then we will not be so freaked out by the on-line stranger who materializes out of the murky web to mirror our own dark impulses and aggression.  When we transcend our fear of castigation and mocking, and equally transcend our desire to be universally loved, seen and showered with cash; we enter into the great potential space of being fellows amongst fellows.

So, let’s dedicate today to expressing what we actually feel (as opposed to what we think others want to hear), but also to listening to what others actually have to say (be it that they feel badly about themselves, that they have hate in their hearts, or that they love us), and let’s at least question the assumption that everyone has to watch and listen to us for this to matter.  And in doing this let’s be as kind as we can, while still being authentic—in honor of all our collective children.

Namste, Bruce



2 Responses to “It’s cool to be kind—face to face and on-line”

  1. Donna Bird Says:

    Dear Bruce,

    I must commend you for speaking out with the “cool to be kind” thoughts, especially as they related to your younger son.

    I’m married to a much older YouTube participant. He is a guitarist and once his choice (out of nine videos) was posted, he decided to stick with the one that would appeal to a 25+ audience. But guess what? Even he receives “nasty” comments that are 100% off-subject. I assist with his replies, as he dictates to me. We do not reply to these offenders, we just permanently block them.

    Your theory says it all:
    My personal theory remains: people with low self-esteem and emotional wounds may choose to try to “give away their unwanted feelings.”

    When I was age 10, I had no idea how to deal with those who were unkind. I would take it personally and cry my eyes out.

    At least your son could see for himself, they are out there, and with your help, he should be able to handle his emotions much better than I did.

    So once again, your writing captured my attention.

    Thank you,


  2. Mary Ellen Walsh Says:

    Hey, thanks for the wonderful this website for parents and high five on Mothers Emerge Worldwide.

    Right back at you.

    Anything I can do let me know.

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