Anonymity is a powerful tool and a dangerous weapon.

In general terms, use of anonymity requires balance and must be applied carefully, responsibly and respectfully. When used responsibly, anonymity can result in justice. When used carelessly, an anonymous accusation can be ruinous.

There are good reasons to remove the name of the actor from the action. One example is when eschewing acknowledgement for a good deed. Another is that we have good, usable information but can no longer identify its source. Such is the case with many of the world’s sacred texts.

In addition, there are situations where anonymous reporting can stop wrongdoing. In those cases, an anonymous tip can provide authorities with opportunities to catch the wrongdoer in the act.

Inevitably, resolution could result in anonymous sources becoming known to those they accused. That’s fair; a person should be able to face an accuser. Such situations can provide an accuser a protected forum for finding closure about the matter.

However, there are times when anonymity is used to voice dissenting views in our religious communities. When this occurs, it can take place between two individuals, in groups and even in public forums. You might hear, “People are saying they don’t like this” or “Some people are mad.”

People who say such things have their reasons. Maybe the speaker is voicing the perspective of someone who is afraid. Maybe the speaker fears the consequences of sharing his or her own dissenting view, so he/she couches the argument in false anonymity. In other cases, the speaker feels compelled to speak extemporaneously but didn’t previously receive expressed permission to share names of unhappy persons.

I understand those perspectives, though I don’t necessarily agree.

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That’s the real point; sometimes, anonymous information is shared before the speaker fully seeks to understand its impact. Thus, when we speak for the anonymous, there’s a chance we haven’t fully considered those who might be hurt.

Overall, the underlying impact of sharing information anonymously demonstrates the extreme care that should be taken before telling a person a vague number of unnamed people have talked about him or her. What’s the intention? How might the recipient of that information feel? What might the delivery — and venue — say about the speaker?

Consider the impact of a statement like, “People are coming to me and saying they don’t like how you handled that.” The speaker might believe she or he has noble reasons for not identifying those “people.” She or he also might believe the point of the statement — displeasure over an action or decision — outweighs the source.

If I am the recipient of this information, I’m immediately at a disadvantage. You’ve told me people don’t like what I did. What didn’t they like — specifically? Why didn’t they like it? What could I have done differently? Could they share information and/or resources that would help me correct the problem?

The ability to ask those questions of those I’ve upset could help me solve the problem. However, hearing from a third party that I upset someone makes it tough for me to gather information on a possible solution.

In addition, delivering bad news and withholding the source can hurt feelings and bruise egos. As a result, I sometimes believe that’s the intention.

“People” have said this about me — not to me. This might make me wonder about everything from why “people” don’t tell me directly to why the speaker was willing to deliver potentially hurtful news.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.


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