On Being "Anonymous"

This seems to be coming up a lot in my life as of late, so I decided to dedicate a full post to it. Whether it’s on the Internet or some jerk calling the cops on your band, there are a lot of people who seem to like hiding behind the facade of being “anonymous.” (This is not aimed at any one person, by the way. Just seems to have been a theme in the past two weeks or so. Been coming up around the office, on my blog, at home, etc, etc…)

Some people do it to say whatever they want to online. Some people do it out of fear of reprisal. Some people do it thinking they will avoid hurting someone else’s feelings if they aren’t identified. Some do it thinking that they will save their own image (or a friendship/relationship, or even JOB) if people don’t know THEY’RE the one being the jerk…but anonymity is everywhere, and unfortunately, the means of hiding behind it are readily available.

In my mind, there are only four reasons to attempt to remain anonymous in any given transaction.

1. You’re someone’s Secret Santa.
2. You can do more good that way.
3. Humility.
4. Cowardice.

I don’t think I need to explain the first one…so let’s just go right to the second. Some people are genuinely able to do good, but are only able to do so if they hide their identity. Think of “Deep Throat” (William Mark Felt, Sr.) who toppled the corruption of the Nixon regime. Or think of the worker who is helping a mistreated staff to organize and needs to keep his/her job to help the union form, so they can’t step forward until it’s safe to do so. Or…actually, those are pretty much the only two I can think of that apply here. (I thought about mentioning Alcoholics Anonymous here, but these days it seems more of a formality than anything else…but maybe back in the day…when it still meant something.) Sometimes anonymity is helpful. Sometimes it allows work to be done that would otherwise be quickly quashed and dismissed. But this is not often the case. Indeed, these days, it is a rarity.

There is, however, a second class of people who use anonymity for at least what appears to be a good purpose–and those are the ones who use it out of humility. The guy who goes out of his way to do a good deed or say a kind word, but when asked, keeps mum about his name (like a modern day Lone Ranger). The person who places a card of encouragement on the desk of a co-worker, letting them know they are appreciated and cared for, but does not sign the card. (Actually that one kind of irritates me, just because it always means more to me to know who’s saying it…but still, it’s a nice gesture.) The benefactor who pays a hospital bill or puts a kid through college expecting nothing in return, and never even gives a hint of their name. The anonymous kidney donor. The one who gives thousands of dollars to the MDA, but doesn’t want their name read on the telethon. These are the type of people that still give me hope for society… Unfortunately, they’re also getting rarer and rarer.

Those in the forefront are the last group. The cowards. They hide behind the no-name to serve their own purposes. Usually intending to hurt someone or ruin their fun. Usually bitter. Often lonely. Always cowards. The Internet has seemingly quintupled their business. Today, it’s very easy to hide behind a screen and keyboard…but honestly, that doesn’t bug me too much, because it’s usually at least basically harmless. Generally just some dude who disagrees and doesn’t feel the need to attach their name to it–and a lot of them probably would have no problem telling you their real name if you asked. No…they don’t bug me too much.

The ones that bug me are the ones who use anonymity to hide their own misdeeds. They CARE what you think about them. They don’t want anyone to know that the guy/girl that everyone thinks is SOOOO great is a whiner at heart. News Flash: No one thinks you’re flawless. No one thinks you’re great. You’re human like the rest of us and are entitled to be grumpy about things from time to time–shoot, you may even be JUSTIFIED. But, we’ll never know if you hide behind the anonymous name. Why? Because nothing can be SOLVED if no one knows who you are. If someone has a problem with me, I’ll be more than glad to discuss it and come to some sort of arrangement…but I need to know who you ARE to do that.

It’s one thing if you’re calling in an anonymous tip on a drug-ring, or you’re anonymously reporting that your roommate has a small militia forming in the garage. I get that people sometimes need to feel like they’re safe when very real danger is in the next room (or down the street). But it’s a completely different thing to be anonymously passive-aggressive. That really gets to me. Those people aren’t worried about their safety; they’re worried about their image…and that just makes me pity them. (And, by the way, I find “pity” to be the saddest of all emotions. It is the piteous who are beyond hope.)

As for me, I usually ignore anonymity. I developed that policy while I was still in ministry. There’s a lot of cowardice that goes on behind the pews. Lots of little notes get dropped into the collection plate (often in place of much needed tithes that keep the church doors open, by the way). Usually the notes are a sentence long. Sometimes less. “It was too loud today.” “I couldn’t read the screen.” “You shouldn’t wear jeans.” “I didn’t like it when you said _______ was a sin.” …or the REALLY nasty ones were anonymously slipped under my office door or into my office mailbox. First place my eyes went was to the bottom of the page, then a brief scan of the penmanship to make note of if I’d seen the handwriting before. 99 out of 100 times, it wasn’t signed and it was in the same handwriting as the previous note…so I threw it right out without reading it. (I should note that this was not a WEEKLY occurrence or anything…but I still know who wrote them.) The ones that were signed got replies–the ones who SPOKE to me got quicker replies. That’s just how life works. If you want to get noticed. Sign your name to something.

Anonymity doesn’t give you any form of power with me. If anything, it just makes me think you’re weak and boring. I know it’s hard to confront someone…but would you rather be uncomfortable or be dismissed? Would you rather be thought of as a jerk or thought of as a coward? Would you rather be someone, or no one? Unfortunately, it’s the current trend in society to be the latter.

Thanks for reading that. It’s always nice to have no one’s attention.