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Speaking - or Writing - Responsibly

Saying nothing when you have nothing nice to say isn't enough.

I got the news the same way a lot of other people did. I on the Patch.

At first, it was a severe accident with multiple victims being taken to various hospitals, some in critical condition. The story was soon updated that what had been a terrible accident had become a true tragedy. A man had died, succumbing to his injuries.

At the same time as this news unfolded, I found out I knew who this man was. I didn’t know him personally, but many of my friends and others whom I know and respect did know him very well. I knew who he was because of who he was.

He was a motorcycle rider who has devoted more hours than most of us can imagine attempting to improve motorcycle safety for all riders. He devoted even more of his heart to ensuring that every soldier who was going off to war, had returned from war and those who had died in war received the hero’s recognition they so richly deserved. Again, I knew before it was public that he had just the day before rode nearly four hundred – 400! – miles in the rain to honor a soldier who was killed in action. At the moment of his tragic death, he was on the way to a sendoff for another soldier who was being deployed.

Yet none of that mattered, at least not according to the commentators who flooded the Patch article with their speculations, accusations and blame. Some insinuated, before any details of the accident were released, that his injuries and even his death were of his own making because he chose to
ride without a helmet.

From there, the speculation became ever more surreal. Questions about why the multiple victims were transported to different hospitals were addressed with a tirade on how it is the insurance companies who dictate where an accident victim would be taken. Debate over whether or not a traffic light should be or should have already been installed at this intersection took up dozens of posters' attention. Whether or not this would impede traffic flow or increase safety were discussed ad naseum.

Most sickeningly of all was the response to a family member of the man who died, again bringing up the idea that his death was somehow his own fault for not wearing a helmet.

In response to a family member. I was truly sickened to think that someone who thinks like this, thinks it is not only acceptable but right and justified to make that kind of statement to a grieving family lives somewhere nearby.

I understand human nature is to look at a tragedy and try to convince ourselves that as long as we do not do what that other person did, then we are somehow safe from suffering the same fate. It is one of the less admirable and more foolish reactions, but it is a human one.

What is not human or humane is to publicly voice those thoughts and opinions when there are so few facts known. It is going to take time for the police and authorities to reconstruct the accident and assign responsibility and perhaps blame. At this point, indeed at the point at which all these comments were made, the only known facts were that an SUV rear-ended a car that was waiting to make a left turn, causing that car to crash into a motorcycle.

All that was and still is known, at least publicly, about the driver of the SUV is that he hit the car that was stopped; that he was not wearing a seat belt, and that he was ejected from the vehicle. He sustained life-threatening injuries and was taken to a hospital in critical condition.

The occupants of the car consisted of a family of four; mom, dad and two little children, all who had to be extricated from their vehicle. Thankfully, they have all survived, though the mom is still in critical condition as of this writing.

And the motorcycle driver, who was merely tooling down the road, was critically injured and succumbed to those injuries, leaving a family to mourn.

At last count, there were over one hundred – 100! -  comments in the thread, and too few of them even mentioned the fact that three families are devastated. One family lost a beloved member, by all accounts a true asset to the community, and people are actually arguing over details and speculations that as time has gone by have been proven to be patently false.

It is a certain type of thinking and a certain type of, I hesitate to say person, who anonymously posts on a tragedy with the sole purpose of making their point, a point which is wholly inappropriate and in no way germaine to the fact that people are suffering, a man had died and families are still too much in shock to even begin to grieve.

Most of these families are local, and if not readers of the Patch, someone they know probably is. What the posters fail to recognize is that these families are going to at least hear about all this. At a time when they rightly feel the world should stop revolving because for them it has, too many members of their community are more interested in discussing whether red light cameras are nothing but a revenue generating scam, and attaching their inane conversation to the single most earth shatteringly important piece of news of their lives.

If you are insulted by my statements, I’m glad. If you identify with the type of person I’m referring to, you should be insulted and ashamed. But, I fear shame is not an emotion you will feel, as that would require a level of compassion and consideration for your fellow human beings, a level of intelligence and common decency your words show you lack.

Many people, I’ll even say most people commenting — at least those who use their real names, are not trying to cause further pain and suffering for these families. I absolutely believe there is no forethought of malice; I also believe there was insufficient forethought. Just because you didn’t intend to do harm does not free you from the responsibility that is yours for the harm you did. You didn’t mean to, but you didn’t mean not to. Even if you go back now and delete your comments, this is cyber-space. The words will be forever out there, and the harm they have done cannot be taken back.

Those who post anonymously know that exposing your true self, your true identity, would cause you to be an object of ridicule, condemnation and ostracization by the rest of us. You may lack the common sense to not write such hateful things, but you do have enough intelligence to know this to be true; it is why you hide behind what you alone think are witty or pithy pseudonyms.

Ask any fifth grader and they will tell you that if you don’t want people to know what you’ve said or done, you probably shouldn’t say or do it. The next time the question comes up “Are you smarter than a fifth grader?,” you can honestly say no.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

justme July 17, 2012 at 06:54 PM
I was at a send off for a young man who will go into the armed forces in 2 weeks over the weekend. His group came to give him a send off. If what I am reading about this man is correct, he was on his way to that send off. I have to tell you - it was so amazing watching those riders ride in and there wasn't a dry eye among us when they addressed his mom and then told him to "come back safely". They let him know they "have his back". What a moment it was for me. I seem to remember them saying something about someone who hadn't shown up yet and they weren't sure if they should wait for him. What this man did for members of the community just can't be put into words. All I can say is a thank you to him for this tireless devotion to the troops, and a heartfelt sorry to his family.
LMS July 17, 2012 at 07:32 PM
My heart has been breaking for all involved, but I disagree with some parts of this article. In particular, this: "I understand human nature is to look at a tragedy and try to convince ourselves that as long as we do not do what that other person did, then we are somehow safe from suffering the same fate. It is one of the less admirable and more foolish reactions, but it is a human one." People need to process frightening information. Discussion is one part of that process. Some comments are regrettably horrid, but other comments are made by people working towards preventing future tragedies and feeling safe. Those impulses aren't foolish, etc. If the comment section is to be filled only with comments expressing family support and prayers, fair enough. State that in the article, or disable the comment feature. As far as posting anonymously, there's no WAY I'd use my full name here or anywhere completely public on the internet. To me it's a matter of safety, but to each his/her own. I didn't comment on any of the articles about the tragedy- I just said my own silent prayers for all involved. Even so, I feel this latest article has harshly and unfairly judged many kind-hearted people trying to process frightening/upsetting local news reported in a public media source. In light of your grief and admirably strong feelings of empathy, I'm not judging you for it though. The entire situation is heartbreaking, and some of the comments were pointless and cruel.
Jerry July 17, 2012 at 08:03 PM
LMS, maybe looked at as an isolated comment or string of comments on the previous article regarding this accident I could agree with you. Trouble is, if you look at the individuals who make these insensitive, heartless comments it is often the same people doing it over and over. No matter what the story or how tragically the lives of a family are effected, the same few people repeat the same kinds of behaviors over and over to the point where it becomes unexcusable by any explanation. Many, I think, do it for shock value, some just for the attention it brings. Even negative attention is better than no attention. As for your comments about using real names, I agree with you and for the same safety reasons. I use my real name, but not my full name, and I think people that try to call others out for not using their full names are misguided.
Denise Williams July 17, 2012 at 08:13 PM
LMS, I'm sure the family and friends appreciate your kind words of support, as do I. I understand and respect your right to keep your identity to yourself, but your post is not the sort of anonymous rant to which I was referring. Saying something nice and kind and choosing not to be publicly recognized displays the polar opposite character trait of someone who throws out vicious, mean spirited comments, then hides behind a silly pseudonym. Yours is the act of a kind, generous and humble soul; you are not seeking attention for being nice. The other is perhaps seeking attention, but is truthfully nothing more than a small minded, weak, cowardly bully who doesn't even have the courage to put his or her name on their diatribes. I agree that discussion is part of the process we as humans go through in our attempts to make sense of the senseless. However, there is a time and place. Imagine you are standing with a group of people, having this discussion. Would you do so in front of the grieving family or would you recognize that it was not appropriate? The only difference is because we are in cyber-space, we can't see the faces of those grieving, yet they are as present as you are. We have come to a point in this society where we allow, condone and even defend bad behavior and poor manners at the expense of all else. We are so afraid of not allowing someone to 'express' themselves, we have forgotten the lessons of living in a community.
Jacki McHale July 17, 2012 at 09:42 PM
We written indeed. Most people hid behind their comments, and too many get off track of what REALLY happened. Thank you for reminding everyone to REREAD what you type and ask yourself if you would say this to that persons face. If not don't type it.

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