A common criticism of the Internet and public media forums is that they remove accountability from individuals posting their comments on a website or blog. Because people are able to leave comments anonymously, they often resort to saying things they would never say face to face or when their name would be attached to it. The result is that discussions frequently deteriorate into mudslinging matches with little or no constructive discourse.
I always teach my students that they are free to disagree with me, but respond with constructive arguments that will lead to dialogue and not simply fling insults. Sadly, constructive debate has been all but lost in our society and has spread into the public arena as well. The story in the Journal news on October 26 see story here of the man who put a tombstone on his front yard with Donald Trump’s name on it with the epitaph “Burn in Hell” is evidence of that. There are two levels of problems here. Not only do I find the tombstone offensive – regardless of whom he was depicting – and an inappropriate lesson for him to be teaching his children, but also people who offered criticisms even said that, while they may disagree with it, this is a free country and the gentleman has his right to free speech.
Whether or not publicly insulting someone is protected by free speech is a matter for courts. But I would like to appeal to a higher authority: human decency. Whatever happened to the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” What has become of “Do not judge, and you will not be judged?” I think it is high time that we begin remembering our basic human decency and learn once again how to respectfully disagree with someone and debate an issue without resorting to insults, name-calling, questioning someone’s upbringing, or any of the plethora of other attacks that are frequently thrown at people when they state their opinion. The media are especially responsible in this area to set standards which other people can follow. When personalities on TV can get away with mean-spirited attacks of an individual simply because they disagree with them, what incentive does that give the common individual to treat others with respect?
I appeal to all people certainly to remain firm in their convictions, but be respectful of others who disagree with them. Offering constructive criticism leads to healthy dialogue and perhaps a resolution of differences. Insults and flinging mud only leads to mayhem.