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Reader commentary: 'You say it, you own it'

By Roger Barbee

Linda Ash, editor of this newspaper, says that readers must register at nvdaily.com or be a Facebook member to post comments on the newspaper's website. Their registration is authenticated by email. Thus, if a reader wants to, he or she can post a comment without readers knowing his or her true identity, just a screen identity.

I realize that other newspapers and publications follow this policy, and it seems to be a fact of our age. Not being a technically savvy person, I will trust all of that information to others, but I do want to comment on writing anonymous comments. Please bear with me.

There are many dangerous phrases in the English language. If someone approaches you at work or in a store or at church and says, "Did you hear?," or "Did you know?," or "Somebody told me that....," or "I was sworn to secrecy, but I wanted to tell you...," or my favorite, "Everybody knows that...," then beware, for you are being set up to hear gossip.

The best response you can give in a situation like that is to say, "No, I haven't heard, and I don't want to." If you don't stop that conversation immediately, you will encourage the speaker to go on with his or her narrative. There will be no name for any prior speaker or one who is passing judgment, just the name of the person(s) being ridiculed or criticized. As I heard a Baptist preacher from Botetourt County say, "More churches have been destroyed by gossip than all the homosexuals and drunks combined."

Now, I appreciate the difference between gossip and an anonymous response through the Internet, but how wide is the chasm? If I can write these words disagreeing with the policy of the Daily and do it behind some moniker invented for my email address (which could be registered in someone else's name), then how do I differ from the gossip repeating what he or she was told my some unnamed source or the young teacher foolishly attacking someone before giving him or her a chance to respond? Where is the honesty or integrity in either?

Not long ago in a Sunday school class, the discussion centered on our responsibility to each other as members of the church community. The topic of gossip came up and one member said, "If you say it, you own it." We spent that class, and some others, expanding on his words. We came to agree that we each had a responsibility to ourselves and others to own what we say and what we repeat. Thus, if someone in that class told me something and I repeated it, I would use his or her name as a source and my words would be treated the same. There would be no more anonymous comments to protect the speaker and attack the victim. We came to agree that if we could not feel safe in our community to make an honest, gentle comment to each other, then we were not what we said we were.

It is a fact that not all sources are equal. As a teacher I will give more attention to a comment about my work from another teacher than that from a member of the school board. To know the identity of the person giving the compliment or criticism should matter to the receiver because not all compliments or complaints are equal. When I make a comment to a coach about his football season, he takes it with a grain because he knows how little of that game I understand.
Too often people who have a criticism fear reprisal and want to remain anonymous. I understand and appreciate that, but encourage those people to speak out honestly. If we fear harm from the person we are directly disagreeing with, then where is the health in that situation. Be kind, be open, and perhaps as James writes, "with a little salt."

Honest, thoughtful words may cause some soul searching, even short-term discomfort, but they will in the long term help. So, sign your given name, sit with the person you disagree with and have an open conversation. In the end, you both may not agree, but you will respect yourself and that other person for the honesty.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.

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