Maybe it’s having lived through a winter of perfectly rotten weather, or the state of American politics, or the fact that the world seems to be a much more frightening place than I’d like, but I’ve been one cranky old lady lately. Even the Bend Joy Project has been unable to make a long-lasting dent in my bad attitude.
Part of the problem, I think, is that I too frequently read the comments attached to the stories on The Bulletin’s website and other news outlets on the internet. If reading them regularly doesn’t make one cranky, nothing will.
Don’t get me wrong. People have every right to express themselves about what’s going on in the world. In this country that’s not only allowed, it’s a right that is, correctly, cherished. But the internet allows commenting to be done largely in secret, and that’s a problem.
I think that’s because anonymity loosens the bindings of politeness that otherwise help us keep our meanest thoughts to ourselves. And that, in turn, apparently gives some folks that I assume are otherwise nice, mature adults, the freedom to behave in a way that would appall their mothers.
On many websites, including ours, government seems to be a particularly rich target for some. That’s understandable, I guess. “Government,” be it the city of Bend, Bend’s park district (which is NOT a part of Bend city government) or the government in Washington, D.C., is largely faceless and thus easy to pick on. Less easy, I suspect, would be directing comments at a city clerk named Esmeralda, who happened to be your next door neighbor.
But those who work for the city, the park district or any other part of government are, generally, just like the rest of us. They’re folks who go to work and try to do their best at the job they’ve been hired to do. They’re not to blame for such things as land-use planning laws that require cities to be big enough to handle growth, or for the fact, in Bend’s case, that its funds for such things as streets are limited in no small part by state law.
Right behind government, in terms of commenter ire, are those who have come here from somewhere else, particularly California. It’s an old sentiment in Bend, one that comes and goes with the health of the economy.
But consider this: The Bend I moved to in 1953 had a population of about 12,000, and nearly 20 years later it had grown by less than 2,000, to 13,700, according to the 1970 census.
The Bend that draws people today, the one with good restaurants, an enviable library, a new university and concerts by people most of us have heard of — not to mention a medical community that’s better than most in similarly sized towns — is what it is because so many of us have chosen to come here from somewhere else.
And I’ll agree that growth can hurt sometimes. I used to live on NE Eighth Street, a road that began its life as a relatively quiet neighborhood street. From about Norton Avenue east it was semi-rural, with lots measured in acreage rather than square feet.
Today, the west side of my part of Eighth is zoned for more density than it used to be, and that has changed the neighborhood. Lots that used to be a half acre or larger now hold townhomes or several, rather than one, single-family homes. But other things have changed the neighborhood, as well, things that had nothing to do with zoning or townhouses or anything else. Neighborhoods, like cities, change, no matter how much we might wish they’d stay the same.
Change, in fact, may be the one constant there is in life.
Website owners have worked over the years to raise the civility of commenters, with limited success. The ones that really work can be expensive. We and many newspapers allow a degree of anonymity on our websites that we do not allow in print, though no one is completely anonymous.
Others have taken a different approach. A surprising number of newspapers have simply done away with their comments sections, something I personally think is a bad idea. So, while comments on The Bulletin’s website sometimes bother me, I’ll continue to read them. People do have a right to say what they think, though I continue to believe good manners in saying it is the best way to go.
— Janet Stevens is deputy editor of The Bulletin. Contact: 541-617-7821 or firstname.lastname@example.org