Yesterday, Yahoo! News placed an excerpt from my book, Most Good, Least Harm, (that had been posted awhile earlier by Simon & Schuster under the title “10 Easy Ways to Become a Better Person”) on their front page. I found this out when my and the Institute for Humane Education’s websites got a surprisingly large number of hits, and when I started receiving hate mail.
The excerpt was from the end of Most Good, Least Harm in a section which offered a short summation about how to make choices that do the most good and least harm to oneself, other people, animals and the environment. The section was titled, “10 Principles for MOGO Living,” (MOGO being short for doing the most good and the least harm).
Personally, I would never have chosen the new title, “10 Easy Ways to Become a Better Person” for a number of reasons. First, I don’t teach about being a better person; I teach about making choices that do more good and less harm to ourselves and others. Second, the 10 principles are about choices that create a better world rather than better people. But despite the fact that the title could have been off-putting for a list about making MOGO choices, it was hard to believe the staggering outpouring of vitriol that followed. I have never been called so many names before, by people who know nothing about me other than from a short excerpt, taken out of context and given a misleading title, from a book I wrote that is meant to offer people ways to make their lives more meaningful while contributing to a healthier, more just, and more humane world.
The irony was that I’d already written a post for today. It was a short piece with links to several newspaper articles, one of which was the Wall Street Journal’s recent excerpt of Amy Chua’s new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which elicited massive amounts of hate mail itself. I’d read that excerpt, and I, too, felt hostile toward Amy Chua. Now I know better than to judge Amy Chua by an excerpt. I pulled my blog post and wrote this instead.
It can be satisfying to vent our anger, especially from the safety of our computer keyboards, but it is damaging, not just to the recipients of our anger, but to all of us. When we fail to dig into information deeply and explore thoroughly, and when our discourse becomes crass and cruel, we close doors to understanding and learning.
I’ve learned from this experience to be ever more careful about my responses to what I read in the news, and to try, ever more diligently, to be kind.
Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind
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