You don't have to always say everything on your mind

Christopher Harris

On Monday, I wrote a story saying it was going to snow on Tuesday. The story ran in Tuesday's paper.

It did not snow on Tuesday.

Some of y'all might have noticed.

In fairness to me, I did not pull this prediction out of thin air. I saw a weather app on my phone telling me this was going to happen. Given that I am not entirely sure I trust computers -- I'm a child of the '80s, so I grew up on Skynet, HAL 9000, and "Shall we play a game?" -- I called up a live human to tell me exactly what the models at the National Weather Service Office in Jackson, Ky., were showing. And I was told that Pulaski County could expect about an inch to a half an inch of snow, with the potential for snow starting around midnight.

At about 1 a.m., I found myself out on a brisk evening constitutional in the rain. My phone said that it was 40 degrees. My reaction: "Uh, I don't think it's gonna snow."

Sure enough, later that morning, you'd have had a better chance of finding the 1990s raggae-hip-hop performer named Snow on the ground in Somerset than actual, you know, snow.

Mother Nature turned me into "Fake News."

I was afraid to look at the comments on our Facebook page relating to the story. I'm sure there was some ribbing, but I didn't need to see it. It was no big deal. I get the humor there. I probably would have laughed at it myself had it been some other publication.

But I also know comments on Facebook can get a little dicey sometimes. There is something about sitting at a keyboard, at a screen, that removes you from a situation. You end up saying some pretty harsh things -- things that I think most of us probably wouldn't say to another person if they were in front of us. Not for fear of being beaten up or anything, but because it just wouldn't feel right. You see someone's humanity better when you're face-to-face rather than staring at their image built out of pixels.

Mugshots are common fodder for this sort of thing. People being booked into jail often produce some rather ... colorful expressions when getting their picture taken. These pictures, which frequently accompany our crime stories, often draw out some pretty brutal comments from readers.

And I get it. The pictures are funny. I laugh at that kind of thing too.

But I think sometimes it's easy to forget we're in a small town. It's not just a meme that gets passed around the Internet. These people are our neighbors. They share the same space as us. They probably know a lot of the same people we know. And despite whatever trouble they might have gotten themselves into, they and their loved ones still deserve better than to read snide comments about them online. Same goes for people in any type of picture, whether it came from the detention center or not.

Like I said, I learned at an early age not to trust computers, whether they're becoming aware, not opening the pod bay doors, or giving access to the wild, wild jungle of social media, where seemingly anything goes. Isolated incidents are shared so often, they turn into full-blown social epidemics as far as the public is concerned. Insults are slung. Rumors are spread.

I'm not suggesting we all become Luddites (though honestly, it wouldn't kill you to keep the same phone for several years and pass on the upgrade). But we should be aware of how technology affects our behavior. And how we sometimes find ourselves saying things in a little box on the screen that you wouldn't say next to someone in a room.

Or maybe you would. My ego was in for a double-whammy to start this week when a city councilor essentially called me fat at a public meeting. Specifically, Burnside Mayor Robert Lawson was joking around with me before calling the meeting to order and referred to me as Bill Mardis, our esteemed editor emeritus here at the Commonwealth Journal. And one of the councilors looked at me and said that it looked like "Bill Mardis has gained some weight."

I didn't quite know how to respond to that. I just shrugged. The mayor, to his credit, tried to break up the awkward moment by noting that most of us have some extra weight around the holidays.

I don't know this councilor's intention, but I don't believe this person was being malicious. I don't know. Maybe they just really hate my guts. But I think it's more likely this person had a thought that came to mind and just said it, rather than holding it back for the sake of decorum.

Can that be blamed on the way civilized communication has changed along with the rise of technology? Has the deceiving anonymity of social media made it so that even in real life, we're less likely to think before we speak?

I'm sure that many people reading this will say, "Well, look at Trump," or whatever politician they don't care for who speaks less than tactfully (no, Trump is not the only one). Indeed, politics is where we're seemingly the nastiest. Every opinion we have has to be shared online, whether it's solicited or not. Anyone who disagrees with us is a bigot or a snowflake or an idiot -- ALWAYS an idiot. Somehow, we always have all the right answers, amazingly.

Did we always think these things? Probably, to some degree. Did we always say them out loud? Not where the whole world could read it in a comments section.

I don't mind poking fun at me for the fact that I didn't have "the white stuff," so to speak, when it comes to weather stories. And while I was made a little uncomfortable by the comment about my weight, I'll live. I am what I am, and that ain't skinny like it was when I was in high school. No one can say I haven't undergone my share of personal growth (in a manner of speaking).

I just want people to think a little bit before they open their mouths. Whether it's in the comments under a story or joking around in person, we could all do a better job of remembering that we're talking to or about another human being, just as deserving as respect as we are. If you wouldn't like hearing something about yourself, probably the other person wouldn't like that either -- so why do it? Because you can? Because the world will lose out on some tremendous gift of insight if you hold back and don't say anything?

The world will be fine. None of us are that wise and all-knowing that everyone needs to hear what we think.

Even me, says the column writer. And if you're gonna make fun of this piece, just make it really funny.

CHRISTOPHER HARRIS is a staff writer. Contact him at charris@somerset-kentucky.com.

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