A comment on comments and the value of words
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel that with the explosion of the whole interwebs thingy and new social medias, words have proliferated to such an extent that I fear the very value of verbiage is being re-written (<– pun). If words were once a dime a dozen, they’re now a gratuitous trillion.
Still, I keep coming back to my belief that words are just as powerful as they’ve always been, perhaps even more so now that a voice can be heard from anywhere, to anywhere. Indeed, the power of words persists as it always has.
In light of this, and with an eye to some of the crazy shenanigans going down in the comment-sphere of Columbia in recent weeks, it is no wonder there’s been frequent discussion lately on the words we issue forth in cyberspace.
It’s a complex issue, and I’m still trying to figure out my own position—still, there are some core principles which I’ve settled on for the time being, and I’d appreciate your feedback.
In essence, I find that at least three primary values should be considered for guiding our online interactions: integrity, humility, and precision.
By integrity I mean we should consistently endeavor to write online only what we would also write on paper and sign our name for all to see, and/or speak out loud to the ears of another. Regarding humility, well that’s rather obvious and has been examined recently by a fellow Columbian, and much more eloquently than I could. Finally, in precision I suggest that we use our brilliant minds and rich intellectual arsenals to voice our thoughts with more exactness and less sensationalism.
None of these values negates criticism and disagreement, and neither does criticism have to negate these values.
We are some brilliant minds here in Morningside Heights. But much more importantly, we are peers and friends, and we are blessed with free speech and exchange. The people on earth who can claim ownership of a bold statement without fear of significant retribution or even mortal harm is a minority, and we are almost all of us a part of that fortunate minority.
This freedom endows us the ability to speak anonymously, but it also requires of us the responsibility of ownership. Anonymous posts are a great way to encourage free exchange, and we should always protect that option. But an anonymous post that is a cruel post is also a cowardly post. Be brave, say who you are.
Probably none of this is new to you, but don’t good things bear repeating?
When I sit in class, and especially in seminars, I am consistently amazed by the vibrancy of my peers. I’m challenged by the ideas and the words and the questions entrusted to me by my fellow students and my professors.
We must continue to promote this intellectual culture in which the same values of intellectual honesty, respect, and thoughtful engagement are applied to all of our campus interactions, not only in the classroom but also in the dorm room, online and on College Walk, between friends and between strangers.
Whether it is on Facebook or a campus publication comment section, words are powerful yet, and your words are especially. Wield your words, and wield them wisely.
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