The (virtual) kindness of strangers


Are we as kind to others in real life as we are in our comments to anonymous strangers on their blogs?  This is perhaps an odd thought, but it has often come to my mind when I’m reading the comments on other blogs, particularly after a very personal post.

Part of what I think many of us love about the blogosphere is the warmth and acceptance we receive from the total strangers who read and respond to either our most mundane or our most private and sensitive thoughts.  It seems a pretty universal phenomenon here at WordPress – across topics, genders and even quality of prose.  Yes, some posts provoke an angry or defensive response but most likely that was at least somewhat intentional.  But any post which reveals something personal that the author has gone through, pretty much without fail will receive some kindness back from total strangers.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not minimizing the sincerity of those comments or the good intentions of the bloggers offering them.

However, sometimes I read a comment which is so direct and open in its kindness to the author that I wonder — would someone say this to this author in real life?

Imagine it: you’re standing on a street corner and you read aloud the blog post that pretty much lays bare your private thoughts and feelings.  Perhaps you’re standing on a box so people can hear you better, or you’ve got a megaphone to carry your voice about the noise of traffic.  Dozens, if not hundreds, of people are streaming by on their way home from work or to pick up the kids or en route to the grocery store to grab dinner.  Something about what you are saying catches their attention, so they stop for a moment to listen.

Your words really intrigue them, so they step off to the side and give you their full attention.  They listen carefully and they hear your entire speech.  It’s a personal monologue about the coldness of your mother, or your struggle with mental illness, or your fears of failure, or the death or loss of a loved one.  It’s you, uncensored.

What would happen when you finish that speech?  Would there be applause?  Would people come up to shake your hand?  Would they offer you encouragement  and support in response to your words?  Would they share a private story of their own?

All of these things happen here on WordPress, and it’s kind of amazing to me.  It’s wonderful and encouraging and probably exactly what we were all looking for when we came here in the first place.

But would it actually happen in real life?  Hopefully we all have at least one friend or person in our lives who offers us real love and we offer it to them in return.  What about the rest of the people we know?  Colleagues, neighbours, classmates, family, teachers, the woman who serves your coffee, or the man who lifts weights at the same time as you every day at the gym?  What if you went up to them, tomorrow, and read to them the most private and personal post that you’ve ever posted on WordPress?  What if they read theirs to you?

Would you hug them?  I see lots of ‘virtual’ hugs here.  Would you cry with them?  Lots of virtual tears showing up in comments as well.  If they shared their  insecurities, their vulnerabilities, would you respond by unequivocally and categorically stating how strong and amazing they are?

I really sincerely wish we were all more like that.  I certainly can’t claim that I’m some Mother Theresa, because I’m as quick to judge and dismiss and overlook as the next person.  I’m busy with my own life, sometimes I miss seeing the hurt in someone’s eyes or recognizing the fatigue in their voice.  I don’t take enough time to just stop and listen and truly given someone my full and undivided attention.  And when I do, I’m sure sometimes my own self-consciousness prevents me from offering the definitive and unwavering affirmations that we could all use much more often.

I’m not perfect, none of us are.  I’m not writing this to pass judgement or to minimize the connections that bloggers make among ourselves.  The relationships made here are real, and they are really important.  Precisely because they offer us what is so often missing in our real lives:

Unconditional support.  Kindness.  Encouragement.  Empathy.  Sympathy.  And yes, love.

I just wish we had more of it in the flesh and blood real world.

I’m trying, every day, to remember this.  It’s hard and I fail more often than I succeed.  But for every kind word I offer online, I’m going to try to mirror that with a real-life gesture to someone, friend or stranger.  Turn the virtual kindnesses into reality.  A little bit more kindness in the world can’t hurt, right?

In the end


2 thoughts on “The (virtual) kindness of strangers

  1. Wow, interesting take. There are so many things that the anonymity of the internet change about our actions. I was searching “strangers” because I just wrote a post about how cold strangers were treating me in Germany–and how I would expect people to be actually more warm and kind to each other. Maybe you’re right, though. Maybe it was this new ultra-connected internet life I lead that gave me my expectations…


    1. Yeah, when I read this back I see that perhaps it’s a bit on the negative side 🙂 There are definitely lots of people out there who are just as nice and as kind as their online ‘personality’ suggests that they are. But there are also lots of people who seem perpetually cranky – I think you must have met some of them in Germany! We all know them, the ones who don’t slow down for you when you’re about to cross the street, or can sit next to you on the bus without even really acknowledging your existence. I think it’s great that people can connect so easily online but I just wish it happened more in person! Thanks for reading, enjoy your trip in Germany!
      – Sara


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