â€œI seriously doubt whether there will be anyone in the celestial kingdom who is not kind.â€
â€œAn important measure of our efforts for the celestial kingdom is how we treat others.â€
(Elder Jensen, Regional Conference meeting, September 7, 2008).
Elder Jensenâ€™s talk for the Utah/Wasatch County, Utah regional conference meeting last Sunday was inspiring. He told two powerful stories, one about his disabled brother. Neighborhood children took his brotherâ€™s ice cream cone and let a dog lick it before returning the cone to the innocent child and laughing as he continued eating it. The cruelty of some makes me cringe. Elder Jensenâ€™s other example of unkindness was a woman who bore her testimony and commented how grateful she was that Heavenly Father â€œtrustedâ€ her to raise her three children. Perhaps she did not know that there were couples unable to have children in the audience or perhaps she simply did not consider what her words implied. She likely did not mean to be unkind, yet she still hurt others.
I wish my short re-telling of a few quotes and his stories could come close to conveying the message and Elder Jensenâ€™s sensitivity. I donâ€™t know how anyone could walk away without feeling dedicated to being more kind and compassionate.
So I was a little surprised to receive a demanding email from a student today because all my students should have been attending the same regional conference. But I wasnâ€™t too surprised because demanding, bossy, insensitive, and/or rude email is relatively common. In fact, when my colleagues and I get together, we inevitably discuss pushy students. One teacherâ€™s solution is to print a copy of the email, call the student in for a conference, hand the paper over, and invite the student to read the message out loud. To date, no student has been able to make it through his/her email message, no matter how short. That tells me that sometimes it is the form of the message that makes the difference.
Of course, itâ€™s not just BYU students and email. Itâ€™s blogs and text messages and IMs and whatever else we can figure out how to work. The casual familiarity (read: rudeness) bred by technology is almost too clichÃ© to discuss. But Iâ€™m wondering why we do it. Iâ€™m just naÃ¯ve enough to believe that most of us are trying to be kind and charitable, so why does that all break down when we use technology?
All Iâ€™m saying is that I would never walk up to a casual acquaintance, introduce a volatile topic, and proceed to argue my point vociferously into the ground, name-calling and mud-slinging if need be. I wouldnâ€™t do it to a friend, either, and certainly not to someone whose name I didnâ€™t even know. Weâ€™re trying to be good people, right? Then why is it so easy to be mean online?
For what itâ€™s worth, it turns out that the email didnâ€™t come from one of my students. A young BYU freshman wrote a demanding, bossy email to an unknown library instructor and somehow mistakenly replied to the entire faculty of freshman writing courses. Does it make it better or worse that the rude student didnâ€™t even know the person to whom he was writing and, in fact, ended up sending his message to close to 40 people he doesnâ€™t know at all?