What would Polly say?

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Photo Credit: My 3-year-old son, taking a picture of me writing this post with duck face.

There is a quote a friend recently shared from the great cowboy, entertainer and author Will Rogers and it goes, “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”

Since reading the quote, I have wondered how this applies to not only to what we say in our personal lives, but also what we share online. What would happen if Polly could read?

Or, better yet, what if Polly owned a sign company and posted your emails or Snapchats on 15-foot-tall billboards along the I-405 freeway in Los Angeles?

Would you still put some of that stuff online?

Sure, one might argue that emails are private, or their mother-in-law doesn’t follow them on Facebook, so what is posted is safe from prying eyes, but I’m talking about more than a “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” privacy approach. I’m talking about intent.

In large part, my writing online is meant to make people laugh, perhaps inspire consideration of an idea or two, but whether it is a Facebook comment, an Instagram caption, an essay, or an email, I try to think about my intention.

The staff at The Christian Science Monitor (www.csmonitor.com) work with the following objective in mind for every story they publish – “To injure no man, but to bless all mankind.” It’s a noble standard that every organization, business, or person should strive to achieve.

I know when working at the Monitor as a social media manager, I was held to that standard. So much so that I once deleted a tweet I posted joking about how the BBC’s pronunciation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s last name sounded incredibly familiar to a derisive American insult. I’ll let you sound it out.

It was heart-stopping when the editor called me in to ask if I had in fact posted a tweet about the foreign president. A reader who knew my role at the organization had lodged a complaint.

But c’mon, I thought, he’s been accused of crimes against humanity! He’s worthy of insult. I should have known better. I had hesitated when I posted the tweet, wondering how my joke might be constructive, but assumed my audience would gladly concur with my observation and get a laugh. Thankfully, they held me to higher standards.

I know there are myriads of blog posts, tweets, emails, MySpace messages and other content which I have posted to which the me of now would rather not have my name attached. I am positive they in a server somewhere out there, waiting for me to run for public office. My only hope is that if you were to ever follow a timeline of my online communications, you would see I am only getting wiser with age.

So, back to this parrot. I thought about how individuals and businesses could better share with the intent to benefit others, to bless them with their words and messages, and not only in the delivery, but also what content we post online as well.

Four words came to mind: Clarity, Knowledge, Consistency, and Kindness.

Clarity – Taking time to craft a message in such a way that most readers can elucidate the meaning right away. For me this means putting away the emojis, perhaps even cracking open a dictionary, and taking time to write in complete sentences. It also means thinking more about how I would, or if I should, write that sarcastic comment.

Knowledge – Thinking about the knowledge I pass along with a post. It can be knowledge about me as a person, a project I am supportive of, or a broader issue. Knowledge can also come from a sense of kinship which inspires networking;  in the same way that many runners I follow on Instagram have become part of my network of subject matter experts that I turn to for inspiration and tips. What would happen if we all posted with the intent of people feeling a little smarter or better connected when they were done with our message?

Consistency – Polly the parrot doesn’t discriminate. Don’t talk out of the side of your mouth, and don’t type out your elbow (I think just created a new idiom).  Be consistence with your message and your thoughtfulness across the board. The last thing you want is your grandmother, that absolutely lovely old lady from church, or your co-worker getting a hold of that embarrassing photo you posted. So, just imagine they are standing there when you take it–Awkward.

Kindness – I’m not encouraging shying away from tough topics, but I do encourage putting thought into the delivery of the message. Will you open a civil discussion, or encourage someone to build a wall in response to what you have published? And ask yourself: will you want that wall to still be standing 20 years from now?

When all is said and done, my hope is that my parrot will have nothing better to do than impersonate what I sound like singing in the shower, or what I look like shooting the cheesy duck face selfies I never actually post. It might not be pretty, but at least it will be clean.

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