It appears that the Golden Rule doesn't apply to social media. We cast stones over the internet and pass judgement of others in ways we wouldn't if we had to see the hurt in their eyes when the mud was slung. Amidst the e-harshness, I rarely see apologies. I almost never see someone write "I was wrong," or "I'm sorry I hurt you," online. Have we forgotten how powerful our words are?
A few weeks ago, my son came home from school and he wasn't himself. He was quiet while he did his homework, he wasn't in the mood for playing in the neighborhood and he was somber at dinnertime. But as we got ready for bed, (BIG things are always revealed at bedtime) it happened.
"Mom, something really bad happened today." His wide eyes filled with tears.
"It's okay...we'll work it out. What happened?"
His story unfolded slowly. Each detail he shared pained him. We had to take a couple breaks to reign in the emotions just to get through it. In the end, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared, but to him, it was devastating and that's what mattered. His experience is ALL that mattered.
Here's what happened: After school while walking past the playground, he'd made a comment to a friend about a man sitting on the swings, waiting for his own child. The comment wasn't kind and the man heard it. He was hurt...my son saw it in his eyes.
"I don't know why I said it. I feel sooooo bad! I wish I could take it back..."
I was disappointed in his choice and I told him so, but my disappointment was no match to his. He was literally sick over the encounter. Among the review of various applicable lessons, I told him that he needed to remember this situation - especially how it made everyone feel badly, including him - and then he had to promise not to do it again.
And then we talked about forgiveness, from God and from himself, and about how some hurts can be made better. While I knew he might not feel comfortable apologizing to the stranger, I wanted him to consider how saying sorry would feel. I wanted him to make the connection between accountability and reconciliation and peace of mind. It seemed like just having the option made him feel better.
The following day after school, my son greeted me with a great big smile. It was the kind of smile that told me that the previous day's burden was gone...that he had owned it and he had fixed it.
"Mom...I did it! I told the man I was sorry about what I said yesterday and he forgave me. He smiled at me. I feel so much better!!"
I couldn't be more proud! He explained his thought process from the night before: if he didn't apologize, whenever he saw the man at school he would feel bad, like he hurt the man all over again. But if he said sorry and made amends, he wouldn't have to feel that way. They would both feel better.
I was so grateful that he got it. He knew that his regret came from hurting someone else. He knew that in seeking forgiveness, the pain he caused the man and the resulting shame that he felt, would be lifted. For him, it was a simple demonstration of cause and effect. And he was empowered.
The ripple effect is real, people. This is simple proof. Our actions, our WORDS - online and in person - make a difference. Whether it's truth or exaggeration, praise or criticism, love or hate. We are responsible for the things we do and say and the way those actions and words make others feel. When we release negativity into the world, it travels much farther than we can ever know. And the same goes for POSITIVITY, except the resulting ripple is much better for us all.
So follow the lead of a brave young boy and remember the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Be considerate. Be kind. And don't forget, when you mess up, OWN it, then make amends.
(Adapted article published in O.C. Register: March 14, 2014.)