What’s wrong with forwarding a mean-spirited e-mail?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 25, 2012


“Some folks don’t care about the truth; all they want to do is forward, forward, forward.”

“Some folks don’t care about the facts; all they want to do is yell, yell, yell.” At least, that’s how one modern paraphrase of an ancient Jewish proverb goes.

I’d like to update that wise saying even further: Some folks don’t care about the truth; all they want to do is forward, forward, forward.

One of our readers was so incensed by an example they recently received of this moral failure, that they gave me a heads-up on a piece of hate-mongering political propaganda that’s been making its rounds on the Internet lately.

Obviously, the author of this piece of malicious madness hadn’t embraced a value that’s so important to me, the principle of “speaking the truth in love.” (See my “New Ears” resolution column of Jan. 4 on Clarity, Verity, Charity.)

Countless recipients of the offensive e-mail, caught up no doubt in its fear-mongering and catchy phrases that played on their suspicions and biases, became willing accomplices in its stereotyping and character assassinations every time they forwarded this tasty tirade to everyone in their address book.

Not wanting to become an accomplice myself, I’ll avoid going into specifics and simply say that the rant in question was just one more instance of the mischievous misinformation and misrepresentation that all too often conspire to hijack our inboxes and blogs and pervert our hearts and minds.

Typically, such trash reeks of racial and religious bigotry. And this includes cartoons and photos as well as text. Xenophobia goes to bed with willful ignorance to conceive the twin tyrants of the Lie and Violence.

About these evil twins Alexander Solzhenitsyn spoke so eloquently in his 1970 Nobel lecture. "Violence does not always, not necessarily, take people by the throat and strangle them,” he said. “Usually it demands no more than an oath of allegiance from its subjects. They are required merely to become accomplices in the lie."

The Lie and Violence succeed in their tyranny, according to human rights advocate and fellow Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, with the assistance of their comrade, Indifference. About this treacherous conspiracy Wiesel declared, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.”

In the matter of forwarding these kinds of evil e-mails, Indifference infects the thoughts of the unwary like a vicious computer virus. It disables the “firewalls” of common sense among normally rational folks and convinces them to spread preposterous – and almost always defamatory – accusations without first checking out the facts or considering whether further dissemination of the questionable e-mail is for the common good.

Quite frankly, the result is nothing more than hi-tech gossip.

Gossip by any other name, whether we call it an e-mail, a Tweet, or something else, is still gossip. And when we willingly and uncritically forward such tripe, we are most certainly not speaking the truth in love.

In fact, as cyber gossips, we open ourselves deservedly to other kinds of nasty labels.

If what we forward is a lie or an unsubstantiated rumour that defames the reputation of another, then we are liars, libellers and slanderers.

If what we forward promotes racism and bigotry, then we are racists, bigots and hate-mongers.

If what we forward results in physical violence, riots or death, then we are thugs, hooligans, murderers and assassins.

And if – and here I’m addressing my remarks specifically to those of my fellow Christians who somehow feel morally obligated to pass on the stuff as a “warning” to others – if our uncritical forwarding of such e-mails in any way tarnishes the Good Name of the Truly Righteous One we claim to follow, then we are Antichrists!

Shame on us!

But we can choose not to be hi-tech gossips.

We can choose instead to be agents of truth and compassion. We can choose to set aside our indifference that plays into the hands of the Lie and Violence. We can choose to hit the Delete key instead of the Send key.

And if we’re really concerned about making a difference in our community and in our world, whether in our political choices, religious preferences or ethnic diversity, we can – to paraphrase my New Ears resolution – choose to forward the truth in love.

As Solzhenitsyn so rightly said in his Nobel lecture, “One word of truth outweighs the world.”


© 2012 Warren Harbeck

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