If You Write Something on the Internet, People May Read It (But that doesn’t mean they’ll like it)

I will confess when I started blogging I had plenty of moments where I dreamed of reaching the level of fame of bloggers such as Jenny Lawson of TheBloggess.com, where actors would climb all over each other to send me pictures of themselves with kitchen utensils (keep scrolling to see the pics). Or maybe I would be like Julie Powell, who blogged about Julia Child and then they made a movie out of it starring Meryl Streep. And, in my dreams, my zillions of followers would hang on my every word and shower me with accolades (hey, I said it was a dream).

I am hardly a prolific blogger. I wrote my first post in July 2010 and did not write another one until January 2011, but maintained a respectable 2-3 posts per month on average throughout that year. Prior to February 27 of this year, I was lucky if I had 30 people viewing any of my posts. I usually had no comments and those I did get were usually from my parents (thanks, Dad!). I wrote what I thought was an innocuous post that day about visiting churches. So, you can imagine my surprise when I checked my stats on March 8 and found over 7,000 people had viewed the post!  And comments started rolling in. The next day over 16,000 peopled had viewed the post and by the end of this weekend over 36,000 people had viewed the post and it had 112 comments.

While hardly an internet explosion (I was never “trending” anywhere and I’m still waiting for those ‘theoretical internet dollars’ to show up…); for my small-time blog, it was pretty mind blowing. I think I was particularly surprised because it was the last thing I expected to go viral. It was not my most personal post, not the most controversial, and it wasn’t even a particularly spiritual post even though the subject was on church membership. It was in an easy to share, bulleted list, and clearly it did touch on a nerve of mainline churches grappling with bringing new members into their communities. My best guess is that it became one of those “someone told 2 people, who told 2 other people, who each told more people” which ultimately spread to 36,000 people. But, honestly, I have no idea how this thing took off like it did. I think that is one of the mysteries of social media – you just never know when you are going to hit one out of the park.

It was watching the comments roll in where I became less certain of how wonderful it was to write something even modestly popular. By and large, the majority of the comments were very positive and I am incredibly humbled and grateful that what I shared was of use to others. Of course there were some naysayers, one who said I was “extremely self centered” and another who said my tone was “obnoxious.” I have tried to keep all the comments in perspective, but it has honestly been hard to have my motives challenged so vocally. I know intellectually that these people don’t know me, but still that stings a little on the inside. What I wrote was a very practical view, in my opinion, on visiting a church. I did not say anything about the spiritual journey of discerning which faith community to join. It’s possible I have been self centered, but how could anyone know that from what I wrote?  In fact, those 36,000 readers do not know anything about me at all. Out of that number, barely any of them looked at anything else on my blog. Only 374 even stopped to look at my “About” page, and an even smaller number read the posts I have written since then.

And I should point out that any number of the commenters came to my defense and argued with the naysayers, but at this point I noticed that the conversation was about me, not with me. It’s as if the comments took on a life of their own. My CEO, Kevin O’Keefe (a respected blogger in the legal community, and the person who got me into blogging in the first place) told me that I had created a community on that post and they now drove the dialog. Well, I gotta say, that’s a weird experience.  I contemplated jumping into the fray and offering my own opinions, but I didn’t really see the point of trying to defend myself to people who don’t even know me. The people I do know and care about have been very supportive of my writing and they know the deeper meaning behind my words. As I told a couple of friends, the sincere compliments I have received from the people I know and respect have been the most meaningful for me.

So, what do I do with all this?  I actually got some clarity in a post on a lawyer’s blog I read today (I read a lot of legal blogs for my job). Not really where I expected to find solace, but God does indeed work in mysterious ways…  From the wisdom of Scott Greenfield who writes Simple Justice: A New York Criminal Defense blog in his post, Credit Where Due:

Just because you have a keyboard and an internet connection doesn’t mean your opinions are worthy of anyone else’s time and attention. Just because you breath doesn’t mean you exist. At least not to anyone else. No law, no call for civility, no heart-felt plea, is going to make you suddenly fascinating to the rest of the internet, so much so that you will be loved, admired and win every argument you decide to start.

On the internet, we’re all bullies. None of us, truth be told, loves humanity that much that we become best friends with everyone who twits at us, comments on our blawg, Facebook friends us or plusses our Google. We need to grow up and get over this.

We all pick and choose. Sometimes, we don’t choose you. And no one makes you choose me etiher. It’s not a crime.

His post is about anonymity and freedom of speech in the digital medium (and for lawyers specifically), but his comments resonated for me nonetheless. Writing this post did not make me any more or less fascinating than I already was and when I put my words out into the ether that is the internet, people have the right to feel, think, and say whatever they feel and think. Ironically, it’s actually not really any of my business to second guess their comments, bad or good, any more than I wanted anyone to second guess my motives. Or, as my old boss and mentor, Elaine, used to say to me, “what anyone else thinks of you is none of your business.” The experience was not what I expected, but those expectations were based on my wishful thinking, not on the reality of the situation and it’s time for me to put on my big girl pants and move on.

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8 Comments on “If You Write Something on the Internet, People May Read It (But that doesn’t mean they’ll like it)”

  1. Lyndsey Patterson says:

    Hey Lyda, I read your antecedent post and didn’t have time to respond there so I’ll do it here. Having known you personally I recognized that the advice you gave to churches was honest and showed a great deal of humility. You’ve obviously struggled with what a lot of the faithful do when looking for a new place to worship. More importantly, your internet advice was indispensable to their missions to grow their membership and faith base. You bring years of marketing and internet knowledge to your remarks about websites – as humble as they may have appeared – and your advice was sound. There’s nothing you said about ecclesiastical content that you wouldn’t have said about other content, and that made it fair, and true. I really respected the way you stuck your neck out on that post. Keep up the honest writing. I’m enjoying every post 🙂

    • Lyda K. Hawes says:

      Thank you, LP – truly, it is the support of my friends and family that allow me to ‘put myself out there’ and rest assured I don’t know any other way to be than honest and myself!

  2. Aunt Mary Lou says:

    Lyda, Our church has embraced your post as guidelines to welcoming visitors and helping them feel “at home!” I think it received such a tremendous response (both positive and negative) because it was well-thought and well-written. My prayer is that you and Brian will indeed find a spiritual family in your area!

  3. Elisabeth says:

    Welcome to your 15 minutes of internet fame! The fact that anyone can read my blog and may post negative (or even hateful) things was a concern when I first started posting (and still is). Happily, this hasn’t happened yet, but I’m in a very small online community that focuses on understanding and support. I think, without a doubt, you said something that resonates with people, even if the impact wasn’t what you’d expect. Kudos to you for saying something meaningful, and hopefully a few folks will take away your original intent, and have a positive impact on church memberships and folks like you who are looking for a spiritual home!

  4. Doris Horning says:

    One day at church I noticed a young mother and her two children that I had not met….after the service was over I looked for them. I glanced out a window and saw that she and the children were at their car….I quickly ran out the door and to her car….I said I had wanted to meet her and the children and I wanted to give her a piece of paper with my name and phone number on it, just in case she needed a friend to call on. The young woman broke down in tears and hugged me and said she so desperately needed a friend…she was alone…So….I am guilty of stalking. My point is not to berate your blog….you make many fine points….it is just that while I saw the value of your points, I also heard sarcasm (stalking) and threats…(if you don’t have a Web site…you won’t see me)….I too, have had to move and search for a new church home…more than once…and I do not think that a person needs to join a church just for the sake of being in one….of course we all need to pray for a church home that has some ministries that we can support and be a part of…..I simply believe that most people in churches of any sort are trying to do what they can….and sometimes they do not get it quite right. How did I know that some would see me as a stalker…never entered my mind…I just saw what I thought was a lonely woman with a big responsibility….My bottom line would be….if you are not willing to get in the trenches with some church somewhere……but rather continue to rate and evaluate others attempts at ministry in churches …. based on your thoughts and feelings…… on a blog no less……then of course people are going to wonder what is going on in your faith walk. That I suppose is the down-side to putting your opinions out there…Most people in churches are just that…like yourself they are following Christ as best as they can … they do well sometimes and not so well other times…but the church is there for you and I to visit because someone is paying the bills….someone is putting in time and effort for a service to be held…members of my church are each doing about 3 or 4 jobs each for the church…I would only ask that when visiting other churches…yes look at what ministries could be added to improve their worship….but also look with compassion on those who are trying and see what they are doing right…..and remember, if you have not found a church home after “years” then why would some of us not wonder what is blocking your heart in this search?….And I suppose that makes us guilty of the same thing that you have done…making assumptions about people and their ministry without even knowing them…

  5. Coco says:

    I am one who found your “visiting churches” post when a friend shared it on Facebook page, and I shared it with others in my church. I did poke around your blog, mostly because of the running shoes in your header (I also have a blog where I write about running and my Christian faith). Now, I am tempted to share *this* post with some blogging friends, because I think you make some good points, and make them well. I hope you don’t mind, but I guess once you publish it I can share it. 🙂

    • Lyda K. Hawes says:

      Thanks, Coco. And that really is the point of putting these things online – for people to share, right? I think I just didn’t fully understand the ins-and-outs of it all, but I guess we all learn as we go… Glad you enjoyed both posts!

  6. Pastor Cyndi says:

    Hi Lyda,
    I’m one of those who shared your post with others at my church (a fellow minister sent this to me, suggesting it would be helpful to all of us). I think my church is a hospitable and welcoming group, but your post was a beautiful reminder of practical ways we can improve.

    I came back today to see what’s new because I enjoyed your other posts. I’m also trying to grow as a runner and using a blog to keep myself accountable in this area. Over the years I’ve noticed the relationship between self-interest in one area of life (food, exercise, meditation) is highly correlated with discipline other areas (television, reading, mindfulness). I like that you write about several aspects of life, including running.

    Blessings of peace, joy, and sure feet!


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