By David Hegg
Why is it we are more prone to act poorly if we think we’re anonymous? Every so often, we hear news reports of hurtful things speakers have said thinking their mics are off. And if you’re like me, you’ve probably received critical letters from Mr. Anonymous. And, of course, there is the ever-popular activity of slamming someone online while hiding behind a pseudonym.
Remember back in elementary school when our teachers taught us “integrity is who you are when no one is looking?” Seems to me that’s a pretty good standard that has fallen on hard times. Today, integrity is too often redefined to allow us to look good for self-promotion while hiding the ugliness of who we really are.
That actually gets us into another subject. Why do we want to appear better than we are? Isn’t that just the height of hypocrisy? Doesn’t it make better sense to work hard to become what we hope others think we are?
I suppose behind all this is a growing duplicity between who we really are, and who we want people to think we are. We’ve become a society of actors playing the role we believe will move us down whatever path we think leads to success.
Recently, I had the privilege of helping some customer service reps deal with an anonymous caller who was spewing out Level 5 anger. The caller, thinking she was safely ensconced in anonymity, was throwing off all restraint and throwing down a truckload of rude, discourteous remarks. She was a master at interruption, thinking she could shake the consistent courtesy of the customer service rep on the other end of the line. But there were at least two things the caller didn’t know.
First, … folks get this … when you’re on the phone you’re hardly ever anonymous. Every business with a receptionist will have a phone system that displays both the incoming number, and the account linked to it. So, while you think the person on the other end will never know your identity, you’re most often wrong.
But why should that even matter? Why act inappropriately just because you think you can get away with it? What does that say about who you really are? And, more to the point, is that the kind of person you want to be down deep?
The second thing this particular venom-spewing caller was wrong about was the repercussions of her actions. Believing she was anonymous, she never considered that her identity as the wife of one of the company’s executives would become known, or that the story of her insensitivity to one of their frontline employees would find its way to the president and the board.
That’s where the story ends, but my intent is simply to get us all thinking carefully about who we really are, and who we should be. If we want our society to flourish, hypocrisy cannot be the norm. If we’re different when anonymous, when no one is looking, and when we think no one will ever know, then we must also admit we have abandoned any ethical consistency, and therefore, have no right to call a foul on anyone else.
And, lastly, no matter what you think, no one is ever anonymous. In the biblical book of 1 Samuel, the author and God are having a conversation about who he has chosen to be his king. In the money line of the story we read, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’”
Next time you’re tempted to go off on someone, to let them have it either verbally or via keyboard, because you think you’re protected by the wall of anonymity, remember this. While no one else may know it’s you, God does, and he keeps an account that one day must be settled.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.