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Gena Bigler: Just ’cause you can isn’t good reason to make negative Internet comments

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” This is a popular phrase. I’m sure I heard it as a child, but honestly, sometimes not nice things need to be said.
A lot of good has come from not nice discussions. Child abuse and domestic violence have both come into the light and by shining a light on those not nice topics, things are beginning to get better.

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Shelters and support organizations are available to those who need help. Sexual harassment wasn’t even a phrase when I was born and now we have laws protecting employees,and every large company has reporting and prevention policies. That’s all because Anita Hill took a stand and said some not nice things.
There are also times when holding your tongue is the prudent choice. If you have the urge to criticize someone who is working to improve our world, please hold your tongue unless it is a constructive suggestion. If your words serve no positive purpose, why share them?
Recently, I read about a member of Congress who spent the night in a homeless shelter to better understand what those constituents’ lives are like. This wasn’t a publicity stunt; the politician has been a longtime advocate for the impoverished. The night was spent talking with the shelter residents and hearing their personal stories. Comments following the article were at best unhelpful.
Many of those commenting criticized the one night stay and I wonder how many of them would be willing to give up their comfy bed and Internet connection for one night to better understand their homeless neighbors. What purpose did their criticism serve?
Did it alleviate some guilt or make them feel superior while allowing them to take no action of their own? The anonymity of the Internet has allowed plenty of not nice people to say not nice things without any purpose other than to cause pain and harm. If you aren’t willing to help, please stay out of the way of those who are helping.
This also applies to our political system. If you aren’t willing to run for office, please don’t needlessly disrespect those who step up and run. It takes courage to run for political office, especially in today’s scandal seeking climate. Some of our most respected past leaders wouldn’t stand a chance of getting elected today.
Politicians today have to be prepared to explain and defend every mistake they may ever have made. Some of those mistakes warrant investigation and we should continue to examine our leaders. We should analyze their proposals with a critical mind and judge their sincerity by their example. We should not ask what designer they are wearing.
We, as a nation, seem to have lost the ability to separate the policy from the person. Instead of analyzing the political ideas, too often we attack the person, their style, their family and/or their history. I wonder how many brilliant political minds never get a chance to shine because they inhaled in college or they stutter or they are just too shy to handle the personal criticism we heap on public figures.
As you think about our representatives or prepare to offer a comment or share a thought, consider if it is kind and what purpose it serves. If it is not nice, is a greater good served by sharing it? Sometimes it is, but sometimes criticism is just mean. As we are separated from each other by our various screens, it is more important than ever to hold on to our civility.

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.


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