He would say: Make [God’s] will your will, in order that God make yours God’s. Nullify your will before God’s, in order that others’ wills be nullified before yours. Hillel says: Don’t separate from the community; Don’t trust yourself until the day you die; Don’t judge your fellow until you’ve stood in their place; Do not say something that shouldn’t be publicized, for in the end it will be public; And don’t say, “When I have a free moment I’ll make a difference’ – maybe you’ll never have that. -Pirkei Avot 2:4
Roughly two years ago, the Facebook world was inundated with the viral video Kony 2012. The internet didn’t know how to handle it. Everyone shared the video and celebrities chimed in hoping to end Joseph Kony’s atrocities. Days later, the attitude changed to reflect concern over the video’s producers- their spending practices, military advocacy. The list went on and on. While the plight of thousands was still a very real concern (and still is), it was as if the internet screamed out a loud, “Oops!”
Fast forward to these past few months and we find daily examples of cyberbullying. I’m not even talking about the millions bullied deliberately, repeatedly, and in a hostile manner. Sometimes the world of social media becomes an over-competitive battlefield, with judgement as our weapon of choice. We send a clear message of bullying when we as a cyber community barrage those in the public sphere. While we may not think celebrities or public figures see those tweets or status updates, our collective negative energy creates a bullying effect.
The past few days have focused on John Travolta’s mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name at the Academy Awards. After articles were penned and interactive games created to show how Travolta may butcher your own name, the thought finally hit someone that pronouncing Menzel’s name as “Adele Dazeem” probably meant that Travolta suffers from dyslexia.
Last week, Richie Incognito, the Miami Dolphin football player who has been the center of a bullying scandal the past few months, sought help for his recent seemingly irrational behavior. It was revealed that Incognito has suffered from multiple mental health issues, including depression.
Are these individuals “off the hook” for their actions? Great question, but it is not up to me to publicly judge. There are unspoken demons we all struggle with. Our criticisms, especially those posted through social media, remain a constant red flag to those we know and those we may never know, that they are not welcome. We mock the struggles they endure day in and day out. We belittle. We may be wise to be more sympathetic, not too quick to pull the trigger to hasty judgement.
Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, states, “Don’t judge your fellow until you’ve stood in their place; Do not say something that shouldn’t be publicized, for in the end it will be public.” There are countless blogposts, articles or status updates that have formed in my head, when in the end I’ve held back pressing the “publish” button (this article had about five more paragraphs at one point). Maybe I felt what I wanted to get across had already been said. Maybe my mind wasn’t made up. Maybe I felt that I didn’t need to be the first to post, but rather the first to listen. While we may never find that free moment to make a difference, we shouldn’t give up on the chance to free up moments, to capture impulses for positive difference-making experiences that are only possible when we no longer fill our time with scathing or even mocking commentary. Being quick to anger and judgement, beating up the bully, satisfies our frustrations temporarily. We win no award by being the first to post. We win no argument by being the first to judge.