A Viral Flesh-Eating Bacteria

A Viral Flesh-Eating Bacteria June 10, 2012

Tim and I are fixing up a 33-year-old rocking chair.  My mother gave it to us when our son was born. We are gifting it to our daughter for the birth of her son. But first, we have to restore it. We started with a good power-washing. We’ll sand it to a fine finish and then I’ll paint it and outfit it with plush pillows.


We live in culture that has little respect for restoration. A whiplash culture that is far more reactionary than reflective.

I grew up in a time and place where people, young and old, sat in front-porch rockers. What my people lacked in academic schooling they more than made up for in rocking-chair thinking.


The thing about rocking chairs is that they force you to be still, to think, to reflect, and to engage with others in a more quiet, thoughtful way. Whether it’s a simple wave and nod at the neighbor, or lively after-dinner discourse.

I have never witnessed a conversation turn ugly between people sitting in rocking chairs. I’ve heard them debate politics and religion and child-rearing. I’ve heard them talk about celebrities, preachers, and celebrity preachers while tipping back in their rockers. But I have never heard somebody outright insult another person while sitting in a rocker.  Nearly every conversation I’ve heard while leaning in a rocker entailed a lot of laughter.

Social media is the place where all generations gather now. There are some wonderful things about that, not the least of which is the opportunity to interact with people from a wide-variety of neighborhoods. Many of you have become dear friends to me through social media.

One of the major problems, however, is that sometimes (well, okay, too much of the time) people don’t act very neighborly towards one another online.

Mean-spirited slander is heartless;
quiet discretion accompanies good sense.


We can be downright unkind to each other online.

Internet trolls.

We say cruel or often thoughtless things.

Things we might not say if we were sitting in rocking chairs across from each other. Regrettably, I’ve been guilty of this myself both here on the blog, on Facebook and Twitter.

More and more lately, tho, I’ve had the urge to completely quit writing in a public forum. That will probably shock some of you. That’s not my intent. I’m just sharing my heart with you.

An author I respect recently walked away from his online platform. He hung up his pen. Shut down his laptop. Made a conscious decision to no longer live his life online. I respect that. In some ways I envy him that. I’ve spent time lately reflecting on why I envy him, and here’s what I’ve come to.

A large contingency of the online community is infected with a flesh-eating bacteria. I’ve sat by, horrified, as people I admire have come under attack, people who have been a great source of encouragement and community to me. Kind, thoughtful, gracious people who have been gutted by this viral flesh-eating bacteria.

I could cite several examples that you would likely recognize. I’ve been infected a time or two myself. People think because I survived it that I’m just one tough trailer-raised girl but my family knows otherwise. My children will call and warn me: “Don’t read the comments, Mama. People are just being mean and hateful.”

The reactive nature of social media allows us to be thoughtless in ways that most of us would never be if we were sitting next to each another in a rocker, swapping stories, laughing.

The thing that really troubles me is the way we swarm like flies to the infected sites. We hover over the wounded, buzzing among ourselves about the wounded’s chance for survival.

Will they rise above it?

Or be buried under it?

There is nothing like an active case of the flesh-eating virus to drive up the blog traffic.

And there is nothing more discouraging to me as a writer than the truth of that. It makes me long for the quiet life, offline, away from the very real dangers that this viral flesh-eating bacteria presents.

What about you? Have you witnessed it, or participated in this behavior? If so, how do you immunize yourself against future infections?







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  • jaz

    It’s the depersonalization. We are real to one another as we rock, side by side, on the porch. We are present. Online, we’re abstractions. It’s easy to spit venom at an abstraction. But up close, sharing a story with someone else, seeing how their eyes warm when they speak of their home, it’s much harder to forget that this is someone just like me.

    • Exactly. I was informed by a group of 14 year olds that they like to put in a couple of hours of “troll” time as a way of venting their frustrations about their own life… that it made them feel better- that people should just “know” that it isn’t real. 14 years old- and apparently very comfortable with the apparent depersonalization. It took them a while to understand that many people who write and receive comments are writing from their heart- that it IS personal…that is is ALL about connection….

      I would ask those who let their light shine so that all may see their good works- to please keep on shining their light- Please don’t hide your light – for any reason. There are many who need your inspiration- even in this electonic world. Much love to all of you! Kari

    • So much harder and such a hard lesson for us to learn anyway…

  • Lee Stadler

    Yes I agree, anonymity gives some a false bravado and the internet is an easy place to be FALSE period. there’ is no way to check up on the veracity of any one individual’s character so you have to tread with care. And you really do have to pull on your lizard-skin before you venture out at all. It’s the devil’s playground.

    • You are right, Lee. Unless the person writing is a public figure of some note, there is no way to cross- check the veracity of that person’s character. That should concern us all.

  • Loretta

    I don’t know the answer to that one, Karen, except to say that I needed what you said, today of all days….the only way to escape all that is to never, ever voice an opinion…and how many of us can do that? lol

    • Loretta: Glad it spoke to you. And I wonder, is it the voicing of our opinion or the caustic way in which too many voice it?

  • The most difficult thing I see with this is that we can’t hear someone’s tone of voice. We can not tell if someone is being sarcastic, serious, or just voicing something that they have come to realize. Since we can’t hear any of those things we are likely to read more into what someone is saying. I know that if I am angry about something in my life and I go online and read things I can often project my negative feelings on others.
    To answer your question. I find the less time I spend online the less I have to project onto others or become upset by others comments. If I know a person who writes hurtful things to me I call them up and discuss it. I also agree with Lee that we feel or anonymity gives us the bravado to say things we wouldn’t in person because in person there is accountability for what we say.
    I have witnessed and unfortunately participated in it until recently. I try to encourage now instead of tearing someone down. For me when my integrity was questioned by something I wrote and someone took it the wrong way , I had to make a decision. God tells us to encourage and lift each other up. Irregardless of our circumstances that is what we need to do and we will feel better for it.

    • Do you think the reason we are told to encourage and build up is because this doesn’t come natural for us?

  • SusanP

    Hmmmm, this is interesting. I have been subject to internet attacks (have never participated as an attacker, EVER.) I must say, I’m currently experiencing something similar in real life and it’s far more painful on this side of the screen. Human nature is what it is… The internet makes the swarming easier, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen in real life, and you can’t really retire from there! So it boils down to learning to really LIVE the Serenity Prayer: God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Read a lot of Psalms. God does comfort and protect his own.

    • I do agree that the swarming is easier online, Susan. And I hate that you are enduring this in your life, in any form right now. I think reading the Psalms is one insightful way to immunize one’s self.

  • You have no idea how this hits home with me. I have even been blogging less and less because I have tired so much of the inane, hurtful comments. I have been trying to force myself to write, but I have been feeling very uninspired. What I cannot figure out is why those few comments hit me so hard when the majority of the comments are so positive. I wonder if there is something wrong with me. Makes me feel a little better that it affects my favorite author too.

  • So very cleverly written!

  • Tim

    Loved this insight, Karen: “We live in culture that has little respect for restoration.” Society’s failure to value restoration speaks volumes to the inablility to value Christ’s work restoring us to God. Why would people care that Jesus came “to seek and save the lost” if everything is disposable?

    It’s that disposability that I think also answers your question about trolling and hurtful comments. There are a number of blogs I’ve given a try but ended up departing because they are more incendiary than irenic, not only from some of the commenters but also from the blog hosts in responding to some of teh other commenters who did nothing more than politely state an opinion contrary to the host’s.

    I’d rather hang out in places like yours where tough ideas are handled maturely and graciously.


    • Exactly, Tim. More incendiary than ironic.

      But even the ironic has become troubling to me. Some blogs I’ve visited have built their reputation through irony. But we have used humor as a way to demean and destroy one another — both in our daily lives and our online lives.

      I thankful you come here to hang out too.

      • Tim

        I love the proper clever use of irony, sarcasm and satire, Karen. (My ability to recite entire scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is evidence of that!) Did you see Rachel Stone’s her.meneutics article on it last week? She did a great job as an apologist for clever humor.

        The issue I have with those blogs and many commenters, though, is not that they are injudiciously ironic, but about the fact that they lack an irenic tone (I can see how you took that as being a typo!). An occasional and unintentional lapse into hurtfulness is one thing; a seemingly purposeful incendiary posture day after day is another. Life’s too short for me to spend time reading those blogs, no matter how insightful they may be otherwise.


      • Tim

        I had to come back and tell you that it is happening to me today! The only time I’ve been dflamed or otherwise unduly criticized is from just one person, but he has been a real bete noir. He got to me at The Radical Journey a while ago and then dropped off the radar.

        Today – after I left these comments here – he hit me there and also at Keri Wyatt Kent’s place. I try to engage him constructively but all he does is spend time repeating things in an effort to show me the error of my ways. He’s always right and I’m always wrong; just ask him, and he’ll tell you so.


  • A65roger

    I shamed myself badly by something I once wrote, not as a comment but as my own post. Fortunately, the person most hurt by it was someone close by. So I could sit down, look him in the eye and tell him how wrong I was. I begged forgiveness because there was no “apology” that could explain or explain away how I said what I said. I know he has moved on with so much else on his mind and his plate. But the memory has kept me in check ever since. That’s a good thing. Perhaps a daily reading from Proverbs would serve as good preventive medicine.

    On another subject, are you sure you want to paint this rocker? Guess I’ll always be a wood grain man m’self.

    • Roger: Ahhh… the wood grain… well…I’ve considered but there’s something about a white rocker that reminds me of home.

      RE: Like the idea of daily reading as a preventive measure to reactionary blogging/commenting.

      • Brian Forbes Colgate

        When I find myself wanting to respond strongly to something I see on-line, I find it helpful to write my immediate responses on an eNotepad, with a link to the posting to which I am responding. Then I come back to it a day later to see if my response has any merit, or if it points out something in me that caused my reaction, that needs its own attention, rather than the response I had written.

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          I think that’s a great idea, Brian. Thank you for sharing it with us.

        • Great idea, Brian. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • I can’t add anything. The post and the comments cover it well. People say things online they’d never say in person.
    Last week, a writer I like, but with whom I disagree on an essential topic, wrote a post on Huffington, a piece which was based upon a comment I had made which she didn’t agree with. I’m OK with her doing it; she was gracious even as she was publicly disagreeing with me. But the comments: wow! People can be vicious. And irrational.

    Karen, I hope you don’t withdraw from sharing your thoughts online.

  • Miss Karen,

    You keep shining His light into the dark — in whatever ways you see fit.

    For me, when I feel discouraged by the non-support of believers in regard to pro-life and pro-family stances that I take, I remember these words: “Silence in the face of evil, in itself is evil.” D. Bonhoeffer

    Why don’t we walk and talk and do all the bits of our life as if Jesus was standing alongside us? That’s my aim.


  • I have witnessed it, yes … to some really great, humble-hearted people. In a recent case, instead of lashing back with vengeance, the person responded with grace, inviting a face-to-face conversation — not a confrontation.

    So, three immunizations: More rocking chairs. More dinner tables. More voices like yours, Karen.

    • Yes, I know the case of which you speak and the person offended handled it with grace. And because grace was offered, the initial offender backed off and offered their own apology. What is troubling about all of that it hurts, even after the salve of grace is applied. We need to be kinder to one another. All of us. I’m preaching to myself, mostly.

      • But I also look at the situation you describe, and I rejoice in the wonderful example of grace and reconciliation that was displayed. I was personally hurt when the offense too place, and I don’t know either party personally. I was incredibly strengthened and humbled as it all unfolded.

        I know that a wound is still a wound but grace was demonstrated and it was good. Would it have been better if it never happened? Maybe. Who knows really.

        All we can do is share the truth we’re given with love, courage, and grace. The only other option is to stop. And that would be a real tragedy.

        Thanks for your courage Karen, and sharing your heart. We all need it.

  • CatNC

    yes, that is an unfortunate part of the Internet. I hope you don’t stop writing.


    • I may never quit writing but there may come a day when I don’t do it in a public forum.

      • Tim

        That would be a sad day, Karen.

  • lindalouise

    I am here from Ann’s blog. This speaks right to my heart. I’ve been heart-sick in recent days over the very things you write so eloquently about. I hear Jesus’ prayer that we be one and wonder what has become of us. We are hurting one another and the world looks on.
    Thank you so much for this.

    • Heartsick is the right word for it. I keep thinking… Be kind to one another, especially as the darkness draws near…

  • A65roger

    I read about irony below… Isn’t it ironic that in centuries and millennia past we humans had languages numbering in the thousands, most of them with very complex grammatical structures worked out before grammarians existed? Older languages have even used sounds such as pops and whistles as parts of speech. Interestingly, the older the language, the more diverse it seems to have been, phonically as well as grammatically.

    Now, most of those languages are extinct and the world is moving rapidly toward the use of only 3-5 major languages. Plus, we’ve added this new tool of being able to send our words and phrases, of whatever quality and without benefit of editing and peer review before publishing, to much of the planet if we so desire. And yet… And yet, we seem to have developed all kinds of problems communicating effectively. Or in communicating things of value. We can be simultaneously empowered and incompetent. Ironic.

    WE are the communication tool we need most–and seem to understand and control the least. And love, genuine love, without which life exists no more than most of it does without air and water, seems to have an effective range smaller than the signal from the wireless Internet routers in our homes and offices. We are saturated with online time and desperately in need of face time.

    I pray that one day soon we will again find each other as fascinating as we find our technology, perhaps more so.

  • I have had to go to moderating all comments and not allowing any “poop” on my blog…

  • Jules


    This is my first time to your post – sent here by Ann. I appreciate the thoughts for thoughtful and articulate people like yourself. Sometimes we have to stop and think about how we’re treading through life, and people.

    My youth pastor gave a talk to our teens this past Sunday. He started by asking them “What is most important to teens today?” I was stunned yet not surprised by their answers – cell phones, texting, Facebook, IM – so addicted to the technology and not realizing how disconnected they really have become! 20 years ago the answer would have been their friends. 40 years ago the answer would have been family. When we allow technology to get between us and the face-to-face contact, of course, we no longer guard our words or read body language for intent. Even more with the abbreviations that pass for thoughts.

    More rocking chairs, less microchips. Thank you for making me stop and think today.

  • pastordt

    So thoughtfully written, Karen. Thank you.

    I’ve been out and about in the blogging community on a regular basis about 18 months now, since my retirement at the end of 2010. And I have been stunned at the vitriol that appears in too many places, often between people who say they follow the same Lord.

    I have not personally received any negative comments – except when one person misunderstood what I wrote in a comment on her blog and bit me back pretty hard. We worked through it online, but…I don’t go to that blog any more. If I have a strong negative reaction OR if I feel personally de-valued by a post, the simplest thing for me is to not comment. Period. On rare occasions, I have written personally to try and broach the subject in as irenic a way as I can, person to person. But I just can’t engage a really painful discussion in such a public place. I do think there is a LOT of room for encouragers out here – and that is what I – and a lot of others I see – try to do, wherever we do make comments. People’s hearts are often laid bare in this space, scattered in these strings of words. So it seems to me that a positive acknowledgment is worth the effort.

    I hope you keep writing publicly. I really do. Because this is thoughtful and helpful. Thank you.

  • D

    Wow, is this timely! I’ve come under this lately under the guise of, “let me speak prophetically” into your life. In reality someone just wants to list all my shortcomings one by one. Ouchie.

    Thanks for this post. I know I’m not alone.

    I will definitely be very conscious of the comments I leave on blogs. Flesh eating bacteria isn’t to my tastes.


  • Tedmgossard

    Great thoughts, Karen. Yes, I count blogging and being online overall as not much more of a blessing than it has been a curse. However I likely would not have been blessed by people like you without doing so, so on balance it is hands down worth it.

    However I’m at the place now where I’m drawing the line. Just beginning to do that, so not sure how it will play out. But when I sense that something other than what you aptly describe as rocking chair culture happens, than I want to say goodbye, and be done with it. Such an atmosphere seems conducive to nothing good.

    Ted Gossard