RERUN: Op-Ed: Where everybody knows your name

January 28, 2011
[Reprinted from June 2010]
by Olga Seham

I’ve been reading the on-line comments about the Greeley graduation speeches and some of those comments – especially the anonymous ones – strike me as a little bit ugly, kind of hot-tempered and snarky.

They put me in mind of one of my husband’s favorite stories.  It’s a story about how being known – not being anonymous – makes you a little more careful about what you say and do.  My husband will be so mad I’m using his material, but since he’s away, here I go.

About ten years ago at a softball game, my husband slid into third base.  His body kept sliding, but the base and his foot stayed put.  His ankle was shattered.  It was a long recovery, but once the doctor okayed it, my husband, still with bandage and cane, resumed driving.  But now, he drove really cautiously, by that I mean he drove at the speed limit.  One Sunday morning, the driver behind us on Route 120 wasn’t too happy about this.  He was on our tail, flashing his brights.  My husband, partly because of his condition and partly because he is stubborn, refused to speed up.  The tailgater would not slow down. 

“That’s it,” my husband said.  He stuck his hand out the window and gestured to the side of the road.  He pulled over and the tailgater did the same.  As both drivers prepared to get out of their cars, I braced for the worst.  I didn’t think there would be bloodshed (this is not New York City after all), but I knew there would be a barrage of profanity from both sides (I mean, this is Westchester).  My husband emerged with his cane.  The tailgater emerged already spewing, “What the . . .”

And then he stopped.  He looked at my husband.  He shut his mouth.  He looked down, and then, to his credit, he looked my husband in the face and stammered, “Um, I know you.  You’re from my church. . .  Um, um, sorry about this.” 

My husband recognized the other man too and shut his own mouth.  Then, taking a deep breath, he tried for some measure of grace. “That’s okay.”

Both men, chastened, got back in their cars and drove very gingerly all the way home. 

Anonymity lets you let it all hang out.  By contrast, knowing the people around you and being known by them makes you suck it up.  It makes you stop a beat before you open your mouth or start to type.  It makes you part of a community, which doesn’t stifle debate, but makes you more thoughtful about how you conduct it.  And since I’m stealing everyone’s material today, I’ll just say I think that’s a good thing.

Olga T. Seham lives in with her husband, two sons and canine daughter.
_____________________________________
Related articles in today’s edition of NCNOW:

NEW: Editorial: Will I put my name on this, and if not, why not?”, January 28, 2011, by Susie Pender, Editor, NCNOW.org

NEW: Letter to the Editor: The impact of anonymity in editorial comments in NewCastleNOW, January 28, 2011, by Hildy Sheinbaum


Comments(7):
We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

Bravo, Olga!  Societies (and communities) move forward when people take stands for their convictions, and draw others alongside them for the challenge of the progress.  We know the names of those who have inspired us to move forward - Lincoln, Ghandi, King, to name just a few - and all of these paid the ultimate price for standing for their ideas.  So, if someone feels strongly enough to have something to say in a public forum, they should have the courage of their convictions to put their name with it.

On the particular issue of the graduation speeches, I applaud Ben Zinberg for being willing to take a personal stand in light of the “anonymous” critics.

By Bill Spade on 07/02/2010 at 10:19 pm

Cheers, Olga!  I can’t speak to the Greeley Graduation but, as a Chappaqua resident and, today, first time visitor to this website- I am stunned to find so many anonymous (pseudonymous?) commentators.  I would think that citizens with such compelling insights, well researched data and, especially, highly personal vested interests in the weighty issues at play here- would want to (proudly!) identify themselves.  (I must be missing something LOL)

By Gary Portnoy on 07/06/2010 at 10:02 am

Olga—exactly right!

And your perspective is even more telling in our small town.  We are all community neighbors and should want to have candid (and identified) discourse.

By Michael Kaufman on 07/07/2010 at 3:47 pm

Olga,

Although you have an interesting point, most people would not agree with you. If you look at the recent posting of Chappaqua Crossing on the Front Page, you will see that as of today, there are 36 comments and only two people identify who they are. The majority of these comments are worthwhile, and provide a platform for open discussion without back-lash. People are comfortable expressing how they feel, without being thrown to the wolves.

Your comment that someone should think twice before expressing how they feel is a bit concerning. Do we want a community where everyone has the same opinion? Also, the mention of “bloodshed” for New York City, and your husband motioning another driver off the road is not something that represents the views of most Chappaqua residents.

Freedom of speech is something everyone is entitled to. The fact that an individual needs to identify who they are when expressing their thoughts is purely one person’s opinion.

By Anonymous on 07/18/2010 at 12:19 am

there is no “one size fits all” solution to the problem.  i think in some cases anonymity is desired and required eg. the chappaqua crossing debate, the 250k gazebo, teacher compensation etc. etc.  posting your name might work when discussing putting up a traffic light downtown but of that, i’m not even entirely sure.  i have been subject to nasty responses by an e bully/nut for my views and maybe this would be tempered if posters had to reveal their names but i have no doubt there could be, at a minimum,  social consequences to individuals and their families, for having a different viewpoint.  as it stands right now, the fact that we can use anyone’s name in posting, is a disaster waiting to happen.

By consequences to printing your name on 01/31/2011 at 7:35 am

Anonymity allows New Castle residents to share their unwashed, unsanitized opinions.  Anonymity, like it or not,  allows New Castle residents to express themselves truthfully (ugly as it may be sometimes) rather than have to whitewash them so as not to appear politically incorrect.  Sure, statements will be made under the guise of anonymity that would not be made if the author’s name were to be published,  however,  wouldn’t you really rather hear how people REALLY feel,  for better or worse?

By "Hot tempered, ugly, and snarky" on 01/31/2011 at 9:20 am

Friends,
There is research (which, if people are interested, I can cite ad nauseum, beginning with the work of Sherry Turkle at MIT and moving on from there) that shows that anonymity does not improve real, substantive discussion but encourages uncivil discourse.
Rather than allowing us to share our “unwashed, unsanitized opinions” it allows (and in some cases encourages) bullying and discourages the open communication which would benefit all of us.
I would like to hear how people really feel and know who these people are. I don’t expect my elected officials to respond to unattributed comments-to my mind that is not a good use of their time, especially when those who make the comments refuse to step forward and “own” them.
Do we really live in a community where there are “social consequences to individuals and their families for having a different viewpoint?”  And this is why we post anonymously, so that we can be someone different on line from who we are socially?  Don’t we want to model authenticity for our neighbors, friends, and children, or do we want to live in a community where we can say one thing anonymously and live a lie?

By Connie Knapp on 03/29/2014 at 7:49 am


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