Thursday, May 1, 2014

Digital Courage by Andrea

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.



  1. I love your analysis of our behavior in this new space for human interaction. I for one do not want to live a fragmented life where my persona changes when i can hide behind the virtual walls of cyberspace. Thanks for articulating these thoughts!

  2. Susan, thanks! This is a drift away from 'introspective essay' to use your phrase, but a topic that struck me.It does surprise me how easily we as people can be lead astray from living our convictions, even online. We have to be aware and constantly examining ourselves to be sure our actions are in line with our beliefs. Boy, character is hard work!

  3. courage presses ‘Post’, someone’s life is impacted. Someone thinks. Someone questions. Someone creates...I love that. Inspiring not to keep your gift to yourself and think of the impact that it might have...even if to touch one person. Even if that one person was you and the freedom to write and express.
    Thank you the courage to push 'post'

  4. Shirley, I'm glad that some part of this was able to resonate with you! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  5. Yes, so much wisdom here!! It raises a question that I've been grappling with: when to respond to posts that I find offensive, and when to hold back? Sometimes it feels absolutely necessary, because I can't accept the idea of being a "digital bystander." I feel at times that I must weigh in, and I try to do so as respectfully as possible. I also try to limit the number of "controversial" posts I make, but sometimes I really wrestle with the desire to use the medium of social media to expose my friends to material about critically important social issues that they may not otherwise be aware of. Where do I draw the line? When is it appropriate or helpful to share certain things, especially when I know that my politically diverse group of FB don't necessarily agree with my political views? What would a person with digital courage do? The answers to these questions are becoming more and more complex as I get older and more passionate about injustices in this country and around the world. Hmmmm... Thank you, as always, for giving me the some things to chew on, Greenie! -Andreia

    1. I should add here that when I use the term offensive (as in offensive posts from others) I don't necessarily mean personally offensive, or "un-PC." Better descriptors might be factually incorrect, inflammatory, or demeaning...

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