by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

An article on msnbc’s website, “Anonymity can turn nice people nasty,” claims that “one minute, they’re nice normal people. The next they’re frothing at the mouse.” Posted last October, the article suggests that today’s “faceless” communication encourages disrespect. It references a study published in the journal Psychological Reports (February 2008). For the study, the goal of which was to determine if anonymity resulted in antisocial behavior, 20 men and 50 women were randomly assigned to four experimental groups. It concluded that anonymity is more apt to result in rudeness, since only participants who did not identify themselves came across as blunt or rude.

Yet faceless communication can hardly be avoided today. People rely on e-mail, cellphones, Blackberrys, iPhones. Each allows us to be in touch with friends or strangers without ever having eye contact or observing body language. And social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, have completely changed the landscape of our personal connections, allowing us to build community and reconnect with others with the click of a mouse.

While these advancements increase in fascination and usefulness, many agree they’ve fostered a lack of respect toward one another. The article contends that current forms of faceless communication, together with those that have existed for decades, contribute to an increase in abusive interactions. For example, customer service representatives tell of being treated rudely on a daily basis; online bloggers type insults without apparent care for their impact; and reports of online taunting and bullying continue to rise. David Pogue, New York Times technology columnist, wrote of those engaged in online name-calling: “It may be that anonymity removes whatever self-control they might have exhibited when confronting their subjects in person” (“Try to play nice, wicked wide web,” December 31, 2006).

I admit that the anonymity of my contacts with others has at times made it easy to say what I’d never say in person.

Such reactions are a direct call for the prayer that can move society toward more loving thoughts and actions, ones that encourage individual responsibility and progress while still valuing technological innovations. The Apostle Paul’s question is still apt in today’s world: “Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?” (Acts 7:26, New King James Version). As the sons and daughters of one divine Parent, would we really want to communicate something through cyberspace or by phone that we wouldn’t say face to face?

I admit that the anonymity of my contacts with others, whether online, over the telephone, or even in my car, has at times made it easy to say what I’d never say in person. But mean-spirited and careless communication leads to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, even violence—and it’s important for people to be held accountable for their actions.

Jesus, the master communicator, looked to God, Love itself, to instruct him in all matters. His Sermon on the Mount is an incredible guide for personal interactions, whether texting, blogging, or talking face to face. The sermon emphasizes kindness, forgiveness, love—even loving those perceived to be enemies.

Prayer that goes to God with the conviction that He is the source of all communication elevates individual and collective thinking.

And Jesus’ life example showed how to live without holding grudges, insulting or scorning others, but with tolerance, patience, and respect. “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” he taught (Luke 6:31, New International Version). The Sentinel’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, referred to this golden counsel as “a divine rule for human conduct” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 301). She also observed, “Our thoughts beget our actions; they make us what we are. . . . A deep sincerity is sure of success, for God takes care of it” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 203).

Prayer that goes to God with the conviction that He is the source of all communication elevates individual and collective thinking. Such a starting point has a way of transforming misguided or reckless action into harmonious and gracious interchange. Having the means to communicate more fully and freely around the world is a gift, which has dissolved barriers of all kinds. Collective prayer that acknowledges divine Love as the grand Communicator will guard and guide interactions for both giver and receiver. And prayer, inspired by Jesus’ counsel, will help protect and elevate it.