An internet parable about kindness for Tisha b'Av
July 16, 2013
When one person is unkind to another, a whole world can be destroyed.
Once there was a woman who belonged to an intimate and dedicated online community, where for many years people had congregated to share their writing and to support each other through life's troubles and travails.
She had a friend in that community named Jane, and an enemy named Janeway. One day she decided to throw a party in IRC, and she invited members of the community. She meant to invite her friend Jane, but her email program auto-filled the wrong email address and the invitation went to Janeway instead.
So the party got underway, people were hanging out and watching streaming video and having a blast -- and the host noticed Janeway's nick in the list of participants. She was incensed, and instead of yelling at Janeway in a private channel, she accosted her in all-caps where everyone could see. "YOU! You tell untrue stories about me," she wrote. "What are you doing here? GET OUT!"
Janeway typed, "Look, I'm already here -- let me stay, and I'll chip in toward the costs of the party." The woman said, hell no. "Then let me pay for half of the party," Janeway wheedled. No, said the woman. "Then let me pay for the whole thing," Janeway offered. With no further ado, the woman publicly booted Janeway from the chat server and password-protected the room so she couldn't get back in.
Janeway saw that all of the moderators from the writing community's forum were there, watching the whole imbroglio, and no one stepped up to temper the party host's unkind behavior. She felt ashamed and she was angry, and she wanted revenge.
So she went to the ISP that hosted the online community, and said, "those people are nothing but trouble." The site admins said, prove it. Janeway advised, "Give me something to post in their forum, which is supposed to be open to everyone. If they don't publish it, you'll know they're doing something wrong." The ISP gave her something to submit on their behalf to the forum. But Janeway added a sentence which she knew would be objectionable to the moderators, and then passed it along to the forum moderators as a PDF file which they could not edit.
The moderators were in a bind. Some of them were inclined to publish it anyway, in order not to offend the ISP. But then one of them said, "You can't do that! People will say we're publishing objectionable material, and that will ruin our credibility!" Someone else quipped, maybe we should arrange to toast Janeway's email account so she can't go running to the ISP to tattle on us. But the moderator pointed out that that was excessive, and they really shouldn't do that, either.
Meanwhile, the ISP noticed that the post hadn't gone live. They took this as proof that Janeway had been telling the truth. So they deleted the forum, destroying years upon years of community and communication, creativity and friendship.
One of the moderators sent an email to another, saying: "Because that mod wouldn't let us relax our principles and publish the ISP's message, our online home has been destroyed."
Though between you and me, I think it's the fault of the woman who humiliated Janeway. If she had been kind to her enemy, then Janeway wouldn't have been publicly embarrassed -- and she wouldn't have had the experience of seeing the moderators of the forum sit idly by as she was mistreated -- and she wouldn't have gone to the ISP to get revenge against the community -- and perhaps their beloved online home would still be standing.
(Adapted from Talmud, Gittin 55b-56a. Retelling that story in this vernacular requires a bit of a stretch, but I think the central message still holds true. For a more traditional perspective, try Kamtza and bar Kamtza, or Kamtza and Bar Kamtza: A Fresh Take on a Familiar Story.)