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Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015

Anonymity sometimes has cruel intentions

Friday, October 12, 2012

The anonymous letter, addressed to me, was delivered to the high school where I work. Responding to my role as judge for last spring's "Dancing With Our Stars" event, it consisted of a few paragraphs "putting me in my place." My close friends read the letter, and we all agreed on one thing: The comments went far beyond my performance as a judge; this person hated me with a passion.

It is no secret that from time to time many of us are the recipients of harsh criticism. When my professional athlete son heard of my experience, his response made me laugh. "Only one?" he asked. "I get dozens of those every month." Too, my husband was quick to remind me of all of the hate letters he received the two years he pitched for the Chicago Cubs. Hate letters are bad enough, but it seems to me that there is something particularly insidious when they are anonymous.

Don't get me wrong. Anonymity does not always have the intention of cruelty. Sometimes people may wish not to be identified because they feel inadequate. Remember the scripture about the desperate woman with the issue of blood? She, being unclean, was not allowed to come in contact with anyone, much less a man, yet she risked defiling Jesus -- an absolute no-no in those days -- when she tried to touch Him without Him noticing. The difference? Her intent was to be healed, not to hurt her Healer.

Other times people may wish to remain anonymous because of fear. Peter comes to mind. Jesus had been arrested and dragged off for his legal "hearing." Peter, staying nearby so as to remain in earshot, was noticed and questioned about his friendship with the prisoner. His denial came abruptly and more than once. This anonymity was about self-preservation, not as a means to betray his friend.

There are times when anonymity actually is encouraged. God places it on our hearts to give unselfishly and generously to someone that we may (or may not) know, without revealing our identity. In Matthew 6:1, Jesus urges us to give with pure motives that please God. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven."

I am obviously not addressing anonymity that deals with fear, self preservation, or even what God requires. I am writing about a malicious sort of behavior. Even in our local community, we don't have to look very far to see it at work. I have been made aware of a local website called "Topix," and although I've never logged on to it, apparently people anonymously make comments maligning others in our community. My students, as well as adult friends, have been in tears over slanderous comments written about them in that column. I have to question who benefits from this website.

Now, I realize the ability to remain anonymous did not create the animosity, but it certainly makes it easier for the animosity to find voice and to cause pain. Maybe that's because anonymity removes the most potent weapon against such attacks -- accountability. The thought of having to confront or be confronted by one's target face to face can often dissuade the attacker -- one who is usually no stranger to cowardice. In addition, we all know the public scrutiny that is part and parcel of public discourse is no welcome arena for those who find safe haven in the secrecy of anonymity.

Anonymous attacks have always been and will no doubt always continue to be part of the human experience. I have little hope that will change. What I do hope is that on occasion some of those who prefer this mode of expression might be willing to pause for a moment and think less about the target they have selected and more about the legitimacy of an attack that must be made from the shadows.

Patty LaRoche
Patty LaRoche: Face to Face