I’m afraid we have created a fear of being fearless.
“Hi,” the chat screen flashed on my phone, “How are you?”. The name of the sender was not familiar. I debated whether to respond. There was no context for the message, it was not from someone I know, and it was a vaguely worded but assuming a familiar tone–the marks of spam or possibly a virus or attempt at identity theft through a chat-bot, etc. On the other hand, I have a public blog and I am sometimes contacted by strangers (some have even become my friends). Or, perhaps this was a friend of a friend, or even an acquaintance I had met but whose name I did not recognize.
I chose not to respond, figuring if it was someone who really wanted to reach me, they would follow-up with another message explaining why they were contacting me or who they were. No other message followed.
After thinking about it, I realized my reluctance to respond was out of fear and that made me sad. Thanks to ubiquitous technology, media hype, unscrupulous marketing tactics, and a few legitimately bad people (out of six billion), we each live in a bubble. We are, each of us, essentially carrying a sign that says, “Strangers are not welcome here,” during a time when we can freely communicate with almost anyone in the world.
When someone approaches us in public, our immediate reaction is to seek safety. “Identify yourself!” our body language and eyes demand, “Friend or foe?” On the internet, it is the same. Every conversation, it seems, invites a troll or two. Yet, even though the trollers are far fewer than the engagers, many great conversations that would normally invite diversity and discussion either do not happen or are abruptly ended. I decided to turn comments off for my blog a long time ago, in favor of inviting commenters to interact with me and my core audience directly via email, FaceBook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, etc… places where it is harder to hide behind anonymity and spew hate or irrationality.
I am not saying caution is bad, by the way (after all, I never responded to the stranger myself), but maybe a little less caution and fear would not be too bad, either.