Uncivil Discourse


Before I begin this discussion, let me just say, I have been guilty of this very thing.  There have been times when I have gotten all in a huff over something somebody said, some opinion they’ve expressed, some thought they had, some issue they were processing and for some reason or another, the way they said it or the way they think about that issue that upset me so I acted ugly about it.

If you have followed this blog for any length of time (I’ve been at it since 2005) you all have borne witness to my ugly-acting ways. I wish I had set a better example. I so wish I could always be loving, always be kind, always be thoughtful, but the truth is, I’m not.

I hate that for you. And for the people who have to live with me. They get the worst of me. Poor things.

That said, I have grown increasingly dismayed and disturbed by the lack of civil conversation on the Internet, which, let’s be honest, has set a pretty low bar for civility. People are just downright hateful sometimes.

Good people.

Kind people.

Well-meaning people.

People who would give the shirt off their backs to  a shivering dog will say the most unimaginable things online. It’s like the keyboard is a black abyss we all fall into sometimes. It can bring out the worst in us.

Like I said, I am guilty of this, y’all know it, too, so don’t think I’m up on a high horse over this. I’m not. I’m just bringing it up for discussion.

I do that a lot. Bring up topics for discussion. You may have noticed that if you’ve spent any time here at all.

This blog is where I come to process things. This is where I came when my mother was dying. It is where I came to when my daughter struggled with infertility. It is where I came to in the wake of Sandy Hook and the death of James Foley. This is my hang-out. I come here to gather with you, because you help me understand myself better. You help me understand the world better. You help me understand God better. Having the freedom to process life here on these pages has been a gift in the middle of dark nights. I knew you all were sitting up with me.

I know you don’t always agree with me. I have made it clear, I hope, that that’s okay. I don’t always agree with myself, for that matter. I have always said that is my goal as a writer to make people think, not to tell them what to think.

For many years I had a policy on this blog that I would not delete people’s comments no matter how belittling, mean-spirited or unkind they were. I no longer hold to that view. I censor the comments that go on this blog now. I had to get to that point because I refuse to create an environment like so many places online that have become breeding grounds for hatred and ugliness.

I have taken the same approach online on my Facebook page. I may post something that I am pondering and open it up for discussion. When the discussion grows wearisome or tired, I delete it.

Discourse ought to be a way for us as a community to process and to grow. What happens too much online, however, is that when we disagree with others we resort to name-calling and finger-pointing.

I probably get more than my fair share of it because I am always writing about things in the news or hot-button topics. Probably if I spent my time putting up recipes and decorating tips for the modern woman, I would get a lot less flak from folks. But it is like that line from the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, when Shep Walker tells his gone-crazy wife: “I knew when I married you it was a crap shoot.”

That’s what you get if you hang around this blog long enough. A crap shoot. Some days, I’m at my best. Other days, I’m at my worst. But even on my bad days, I’d still like to keep the discourse civil. That’s how I imagine it when I’m writing. That I will say what I think, and you will tell me what you think, and we may agree or disagree but when it’s all said and done, we will have thought long and hard about something and come to a meeting of the minds along the way.


It matters to me.

If you spend any time here, I know it matters to you, too.

But let’s take this latest post on Harper Lee for example. I said what I thought. I posted it online. Shared it on Social Media and then entered into discourse with many people as a result.

Some of you disagreed with me. Some of you said you hadn’t thought of it that way before. Some of you said you needed to think about it some more. Some of you said it didn’t matter what anybody thought, you were buying the book and looking forward to reading it.

But then there were a few who hurled unkind accusations at me. Some said I was an idiot. Others said I was a gossip. Others said I wrote the post so that I could be viewed as the rescuer/defender of NHL.  Some said I was exploiting NHL to raise my own public profile. Some even went so far to block me on Facebook as a result of my post. (Keep in mind that these are people who asked to friend me in the first place, not people I sought out. It is rare that I ask to be anyone’s friend on Social Media any more. In a large part because of this phenom of uncivil discourse.) One even said I was a click-whore. (And yes, he was a man).

It troubles me deeply that in the online community the thing we do when we can’t be articulate and can’t reason together is we throw stones at one another. We literally stone each other with words. Like I said, I’m guilty. So I’m preaching to myself on this. But why do we do this?

Why do we talk ugly to one another simply because we disagree over something?

Why can’t we agree to disagree without name-calling or shoving people around?

What is it about this online community that makes us act like a bunch of bullies sometimes?

And yes, I really do want to know what you think. Just keep it civil.

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


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