One strong lesson for me from online chat and communication is how, every once in a while, your true motive of care will be read as its opposite.
This is because, online, TEXT is the online DEED or ACT. We commit deeds with what we write. We “move online with our verbs.” Our nouns are our virtual objects.
Now, most of the time this isn’t a problem. The playfulness and even anonymity of the medium actually seems to free us up. We are compelled by it. Spend hours on here. However, if you are someone who, in the real world, is a little different, if you are subtle, if you use double meaning in the way you talk, if your humour is often based on that subtlety, laced with irony, or if you are just plain clumsy in the use of the medium, there will come a time when someone who is your online “friend” will turn on you for a deed they are convinced is svil or nasty. It may be sudden. It may happen on a word or a short conversation. Nothing you say or “do” will change their sudden turning like a person into a howling werewolf, baying for your online blood.
So you receive their judgement, bemused. For there you are , in the real world, the same caring and gentle person that you have always been.
Also in the real world, when you care for someone, you have to be prepared to give them a bit of a shake from time to time. You occasionally challenge them. There is eye contact, phyiscal presence, the intonation of voice. “Wakey Wakey!”.
It’s easy enough to get that wrong in the real world, let alone on here, where the shaking is borne on the wings of quickly typed text. People read between the lines on here. Words are ever more significant. Even pauses. Once a theory that your “friend” has done the awful deed is fixed, its hard not to see every next sentence as more evidence of the evil intentions of its author. I have seen people post dramatic poetry on here as if they have been murdered on line. The object of this poetry sits there bemused thinking: sheesh! I was only trying to help! Or, it was only a joke! Or, I was worried, so I asked! Or, I was only trying to cheer ’em up!
And, of course, people bring a lot of their anger and fears and unfulfilled needs online which they then project into webspace and then forget they have done that, thinking what they have projected is, in some way, real. It isn’t, it is just projected reality. Hence can three foot tall, balding accounts clerks with halitosis be seen by lonely men and women from England or Australia as the next hunky husband or passionate lover.
One thing I have found empowering (though one has to be careful) is to actually meet my online friends for real, in the real world, and spend some time with them. It can be such a relief to realise that you and they are actually genuinely nice people whose motives online and offline are the same: a sense of goodwill to others. A wish to help and be supportive. A wish to learn and find out what we are all doing on this planet in the first place. You meet up and realise that the online demonisers who made judgements from sentences and phrases are stuck in their own sad fantasies. The glorious possibility of online adventure and chat is also of course, its greatest danger. You sit there, drink tea, and exchange gifts and stories.
I recently read a poem online which (and I confess this has happened about three times before out of many hundreds of online friends and contacts) paints me as cold hearted, nasty, I have evil black eyes (funny eh, they are dark brown and look a bit tired in reality). I have a real sword which I thrust into people with sentences (blah blah). This poem, too, is a deed, and it can be a great support to chat with the online friends you have met for real just for the warm confirmation, that even online you and they KNOW that you do not and never will fit such an awful description made of you. Yet on it goes, they build up their demonic pictures, claiming to be the victims of sentences uttered from viritual motives (the real ones are ALWAYS kind), spreading their picture. It is bizarrely and compelingly creative, in some ways therapeutic for the demoniser, but always ultimately charged more with their own darkness than anyone else’s.
Today I will listen to a friend in need, lose my temper with a bus driver, make pancakes (one day late), chat a little (maybe a lot). And be a devil? No, I think not. It just isn’t me.