cour-age (noun): the ability to do something that frightens one, especially in the face of opposition or adversity
Recently, I listened to a well-known radio host decrying what he calls “digital courage”- one’s ability to “say” things online that he or she would never say face- to -face or in polite company. There are many trolls (as they are called) who camp out, waiting for opportunities to berate and belittle news reports, blogs and social media postings. They look for any opportunity to pounce on someone’s pain or vulnerability. And there are those who over-share, make unwise personal declarations or bully others because they feel “empowered” by the digital distance.
As I listened, it hit me. This is NOT courage. Spewing hateful, condemning or personally offensive messages online anonymously or behind the veil of a ‘handle’ is the opposite of courage. A more apt description, I think, is “digital cowardice.”
A digital coward is just like a 3D, walking-around coward: one who lacks the courage to do or endure unpleasant or difficult things. The perceived digital wall makes people like this bolder. Real-world cowards say nothing yet snicker and criticize behind one’s back. Virtual ones say as many hurtful things as possible for all to see. But they do it from a hiding place.
The term digital courage belongs to all the brave out there vulnerably sharing their gifts, thoughts, and wonderings with all of us. How many of us read blogs regularly (raise your hand… you’re reading one right now)? I read them almost daily. Blogs are a large part of the online, global community. We get to experience life with people we may never meet because of the prevalence of blogs today. The same is true with social media sites as well.
Someone pressed ‘Post’ and decided to share some of their innermost thoughts, feelings and opinions all in an effort to make a connection, on some level, with readers. The braves decide that it is important for the message, the art, the music, the innovation to be “out there” in spite of the fact that they may be opening themselves up to challenge and criticism. This is true digital courage. And we are better for it!
Courage does not mean the absence of fear. It is pressing forward in spite of fear. It is deciding that it would be far worse to keep one’s creation to self than to share it and endure the discomfort of negative critique and judgment. And each time, courage presses ‘Post’, someone’s life is impacted. Someone thinks. Someone questions. Someone creates.
All art, especially writing, serves as either a window or a mirror for the observer. Looking through the window, we get a glimpse of the heart and life of the one who shares. This enables us to relate to people, to connect rather than distance ourselves. And when connection happens, empathy is conceived. Then empathy gives birth to compassion. Each time someone exercises digital courage, the viewer may get a clearer image of self, as with a mirror. We get to see ourselves in someone else’s story. And we learn to be kinder to ourselves or at times to push a little harder as not to give up. Too many times to count, I have found my voice, the vocabulary to express myself, because of the words of someone courageous enough to press the button.
This I know for sure: when we are courageous online, as well as off, we give someone else the courage to say “I will share my (fill in the blank), too.” We are here to elevate- first ourselves, then each other.
I vow never to use the screen as a hiding place, but as a place to encourage: to give active help or to raise confidence to the point where one dares to do what is difficult.