“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
We’ve talked about this before.
A while back I was an observer during an extremely short span of time. An instant when a choice was going to be made and that decision was going to be life-changing. I want to share that specific moment with you, as well as how that one short space in time changed one person’s life forever.
We learned a social rule early on in school. Those of us who were part of a Kindergarten curriculum were taught it when we were what…five or six years old?
“Be nice to each other.”
It’s a simple thing really. Not as much of a rule as it is a tool for successful social interaction. Being a jerk or an aggressive asshat is only effective in the short-term. Continuous expression of said asshattery will eventually brand you as outside of the herd…the social herd as it were.
You can see it daily if you look for it. The jerk who isn’t invited for drinks and fun after work. The mouthy bully who ends up being the last one to go home because no one wants to help him finish up. I’ve also seen it in horrible circumstances. Nightmare circumstances where castigation from the group can be hot-metal-projectiles-ripping-into-your-body-and-rending-you-assunder deadly. I don’t want to specifically talk about it. Just look up the term “military frag” and you’ll understand.
All of those things, all of the above examples, are fairly rare in our society. Most of us have learned to “play along to get along” and things are good for us. But that changed with the first usable iterations of the Internet…the first BBS if you were around for that era. It was then that we began operating under the assumption that we were anonymous online. That we could say or do anything and get away with it.
“Be nice to each other.”
Unless you are not in front of a person. If you’re not, then you can act out your childhood frustrations from getting beat up for your lunch money. Then you can be the Blue Ribbon Jerk you really are.
A few years back, I presented a brother and sister their own Reglue computers. The brother was getting ready to enter his senior year in high school and the sister was to be a freshman at Baylor when the school year started. We’re going to call her Brenda.
Brenda was a wonderful mix of naiveté and hope. Her enthusiasm was an aura surrounding her and it was difficult not to feel good when she was in your midst. To Brenda, everyone was the good guy, and bad guys were only in storybooks and movies.
She breezed through high school, with the only blemish on her studies being a B in Biology. Her mom told me that she was afraid to show her the report card because of that B. When she did present it, she collapsed in tears. It took fifteen minutes of holding and love before she was assured that her mom wasn’t ashamed of her.
So yeah, Brenda may have worn rose-colored glasses, but that shouldn’t have placed a red and white target on her back.
But it did.
When we give our Reglue kids computers, we also show them how to seek help if they need it. Back then we were using a mix of three distros to place on our machines and I personally went into each distro’s help forum and asked the users to be nice to our kids and to help them as best they could. Which everyone did…mostly.
Now here’s that short span of time I was talking about earlier:
Brenda was having trouble installing an app which she needed for school. Since the app wasn’t available in her repositories, she researched it on her own and found the .deb file that should have done the trick and make it work.
Oh, but those old tricky failed dependencies…
Even after doing everything she found to do on different forums and articles, the app still would not install. So Brenda did what I told her to do. She signed up for that distro’s help forum and asked for someone to help her solve this problem.
Now, we all know there are some basic things to do before you post your question to a help forum, which I thought Brenda had done when I went back and looked at the thread. But apparently, MasterAsshat didn’t agree.
MasterAsshat’s first response wasn’t an answer, it was an attack on her intelligence and maturity. He told her that she needed to go wipe the snot from her nose on her mother’s apron then come back when she had done so. Her crime? What was the question that brought this full-fledged personal attack on this young girl?
She used a winky face in her question.
It was 11 p.m. when Brenda’s brother called and told me that his sister was having a full-blown emotional meltdown. She had been crying for an hour and when she finally told him what had happened, he called me.. I talked to Brenda for twenty minutes and calmed her down enough so we could talk. The first thing I did was solve the problem for her. She had found a .deb file that had been converted from an .rpm using Alien. I did a bit of research on the fly and found the .deb file she needed.
But that still left some ugly, jagged emotional wounds unattended. I spent the next 30 minutes talking to her, telling her that the guy who had attacked her was probably a punching bag in high school and that he was venting his rage on anyone that passed by. Whether that was the case or not, it helped her cope with what had happened. I asked her to realize that this little twerp wouldn’t have the courage to say those things to her face The problem, though, was her fear of going back onto that forum for help if she needed it.
That’s when I told her good night and that I would fix the problem.
Some of you are smiling and nodding as you remember the verbal bloodbath I wrought on this person, with real threats of a more physical interaction if he ever attacked one of our Reglue Kids again. Of course, that thread didn’t see the light of day for long before it was pulled down and deleted from record by the forum admin. That was probably the smartest thing to do. I’ve seen what happens in the remarks when people have strong opinions.
So all of the good we had done for Brenda…presenting her a computer for college, spending hours with her so she understood the power that lay beneath her fingertips…all of that could have vanished because one loud-mouth sissy decided he was going to vent his wrath on a little girl who only asked for help.
This “child” is now writing software which drives the next wave of limb prosthetics, but her hunger for that particular goal could have been eradicated by MasterAsshat himself. You never know when your word or deed will forever change the path of someone looking up to you.
It’s easy…it really is.
“Be nice to each other”.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @ReglueMore from CommunityMore posts in Community »More from DistrosMore posts in Distros »