As a mama to kids who tend to blurt out every single thought that comes into their heads, I have learned to say “Honey, just because you think it, doesn’t mean you should say it.” They’re both on the single digit side of ten and they are learning. So they most often get a pass and a gentle correction. I am not a parenting expert, but that seems to be the most effective way to teach them to guard their tongues.
I have slightly less patience for anyone over the age of majority who still hasn’t learned that “just because you think it, doesn’t mean you should say it.”
I don’t want to be accused of being vague, so I will give examples from the last two weeks of the portion of my life that intersects social media.
In October of 2018, a teenage girl was taken from her home in the middle of the night a little over an hour from where we live. Her parents were murdered in cold blood, each by shotgun blasts. This little girl disappeared into the night without a trace, leaving a stunned and terrified community. In the wake of jarring tragedies like this, questions arise in people’s minds. Those questions, however, do not need to be aired all over social media. “A lot of times when parents are killed, the kid is involved” was suggested both before and after this little girl was found alive. In fact, her brave escape from her captor and path to safety a little over a week ago was met with more, not less speculation. People I genuinely like and admire commented that “I hope she wasn’t involved,” and even more directly “I hate to say it, but she could have been in on it.” (Hint: If you preface it with “I hate to say it,” please pause and realize that perhaps you shouldn’t.) I cringed inwardly every time I read one of those comments, praying that this little girl doesn’t come across them on social media now, or if she Googles her own name in ten or twenty years. I hope anyone who said anything to that effect goes back through their social media history and deletes it with extreme haste.
Time and law enforcement due diligence has proven that this little girl had no connection to her captor. In fact, he pulled up behind her school bus one morning on his way to a temp job in her community, he saw her, and he decided that he wanted her. And so he set about getting her. The details are too gruesome and, frankly, too upsetting, so I won’t share them here. Chances are you’ve already read them, anyway, as the case made national news.
But all that speculation, all those off-handed comments implying that she, a girl these people had never met, might have had a role in her parents’ murder fell FIRMLY into the category of “just because you think it doesn’t mean you should say it.”
Fast forward a week or so to a video clip, under a minute long, of a teenage boy supposedly part of a mob “targeting” a Native elder singing a peaceful song. I will freely admit that my thoughts on the topic were not kind. I saw his hat. I saw his face. I assumed things not in evidence and I was quite ready to comment on the quality of his parents’ parenting. But something held me back. Something that sounded a lot like my own voice saying “just because you think it doesn’t mean you should say it.”
But that didn’t stop me from reading other people’s comments on my friends’ walls. I can’t repeat a lot of it, but suffice it to say that (probably) otherwise rational adults were wild with anger and all over the map. I read threats of throat punching and worse from friends of friends. And every single one of them was instantly an expert on this young man they had never met — what his parents were teaching him, and how dangerous he was to society. All based on his facial expression and his hat.
Less than 24 hours later, more lengthy videos surfaced that showed a very different story than what people had been led to believe from the shorter clip. I won’t waste space here with my opinion because it would be just that — the opinion of someone who wasn’t there and who doesn’t know the players. (Sort of like everyone else commenting about it on social media.)
Today I engaged. I posted a link that showed the longer videos in hopes that it would clear things up for some people, as it had for me. In hopes that it might slow the roll, at least, of the people wishing violence against this young man. I engaged because my rubric insisted that I do so. It involved the March for Life, an event near and dear to my heart. It involved a pro-life teen from a Catholic school — a demographic that is also near and dear to my heart, and one that I have interacted with a lot over the last 30 years. And it involved something that I hate with every fiber of my being — injustice and unfairness, courtesy of half truths perpetuated by a media that is far from fair and honest in this day and age.
Now, at the end of this long, unpleasant, frustrating day that has me liking dogs more and overall “humanity” less, I am struck by the fact that most of this drama could have been avoided if quite a few people had just followed the rule of “you don’t have to say it.”
So please. Think before you speak. Think before you type. Re-read what you have just written in the comment box on someone else’s wall before you hit the “enter” key and make it something that everyone and his first cousin’s dog sitter can read. Because words have power. Even words spoken in the heat of the moment that might not have been thought through as well as they should have been. Maybe especially those words.
Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you have to say it. And if you haven’t done due diligence in terms of context and fact finding, maybe just… don’t say it. Sometimes the words you don’t say make the world a better place.