people behaving badly…

We can’t avoid it. People are going to behave badly. I’m going to behave badly. It’s in our nature, it’s in our bones.

A few days ago Rush Limbaugh went on a tirade, like he does, calling Georgetown student, Sandra Fluke all manner of nasty names. We’ve come to expect this sort of behavior from Rush. It’s his job and he seems to like his job quite a bit. Rush Limbaugh has had no reason to quit doing exactly what he’s been doing year after year. He is not motivated by being praised for his lofty thoughts or good deeds. He’s motivated by his paycheck and his notoriety. This isn’t new information. He is simply being the person he says he is.

I don’t like that person much and honestly, I’d love for him to stop saying the horrid things he spouts off day after day. I’d love for the media to cut him off but I doubt they’ll do that. His listeners are not waning, they are surging all the time.

But listeners are not the reason that radio stations keep personalities on the air. Advertising revenue is what keeps personalities on the air. This most recent dust-up, though, has yielded Rush a lot of press and has lost him at least 7 advertising sponsors which begs the question. Why now?

After all these years of saying outrageous things I keep wondering what tipped things so drastically this time? Is it the condition of the GOP’s image? Is it the scattered Republican Primary season? Is it the rise of social media?

It’s a fascinating question.

This post isn’t about Rush Limbaugh though, not really. This post is about the rest of us; the people who post online about the things happening in the world. This is about those of us who tweet, who stumbleupon, who get linkedin, who make Facebook go ’round. This is about those of us, regardless of political or religious affiliation, who are the ordinary people with computers.

It’s the ordinary people with computers who are signing petitions about things like SOPA and PIPA to stop legislation that might have floated by us in the past. It’s the ordinary people with computers that send up the media signal flare when injustice and violence happen around the world. And it’s the ordinary people with computers who digitally barrage the sponsors of outrageous radio hosts when he steps over the line three days in a row and continues to pummel a Georgetown co-ed about her testimony before a congressional oversight committee.

Ordinary people who have discovered the power of their voice and have found a way to express that voice can be a force for change. This is important.

There’s something else though. We have a responsibility here. We have a voice and we have a means to get it out there. How WE behave in the wake of events such as this has the ability to define us, for better or for worse.

This is on my mind today in particular because in response to the Rush Limbaugh debacle, actress Patricia Heaton decided to jump on the bandwagon. Ms Heaton has been a vocal conservative Christian for a long time so it is no surprise that her politics would fall in line with the cloudy underlying point beneath Mr Limbaugh’s rant. What surprised me, though, was that she resorted to his method of expressing that point. She began a series of tweets maligning Ms Fluke’s character and she retweeted those of her followers.

I don’t care about Patricia Heaton’s politics and I don’t actually care that much about her method of expressing her opinion. I was more surprised by the piling on that happened, by the ordinary people with computers who co-signed this. And I was surprised by Patricia Heaton’s tweet rampage because she professes to belong in my own faith family. I have followed her in the past on Twitter. She speaks about faith quite a lot. She tweets about helping people in need and about her own journey. I can appreciate that. But when I read then this landslide of injurious commentary I’m sad to say it unseats her positioning herself as Christian. What is worse, though, is that it reflects badly on the rest of us and that makes me sad. Ms Heaton has since apologized for her behavior both to the “twitter verse” and to Ms Fluke herself.

We’re all allowed our bad moments, our misplaced rants, our idle chatter, our bad behavior. We’re human, of course we say and do things we ought to avoid. In our “real” lives, the lives in which we engage 3-D rather than with a screen I think grace is possible. I think forgiveness comes in time. I think we are better able to forget the transgression and the trespass. But as I think Patricia Heaton may discover, the internet has a short attention span and a long memory. Grace is an elusive prize.

Finding the sweet spot of having integrity while speaking our minds is a skill that many of us have yet to master. We have to at least be trying to master it.

People are going to behave badly. I’m going to behave badly. None of us can avoid it. It’s in our nature, it’s in our bones. It’s in our computers. It’s in our churches. It’s in our tweets and our retweets and our status updates. Whether it is in person or on the internet, we have a responsibility to one another. No matter what your political or religious leanings, no matter what your twitter follower count, no matter how many blog readers you boast, let’s be careful out there. Let’s remember who we are.