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Jumping to Conclusions in Fairfield County

Can you accurately judge the motivations of others in five photos or less?

There’s a whole lotta jumping to conclusions going on in Fairfield County.

Lisa Lindley, the once-celebrated girls lacrosse coach at , is accused of during a recent championship match versus . Regional news outlets published photos of the incident, which show Lindley, appearing enraged, lifting herself off the ground and knocking the player backward as other players walk nearby, apparently oblivious.

In another embarrassing public incident, the New Canaan in a highly charged online debate over whether or not the mother of four children should have been arrested for for roughly thirty minutes. While the mother was away, one of the young children wandered into a neighbor’s yard. The neighbors called the police to report the incident, who subsequently arrested the mother.

Viewing the pictures associated with the Lindley event or reading the basic details of the New Canaan arrest, it’s easy to draw fast conclusions. Lisa Lindley should be fired—now!—many Darien Patch readers wrote, because what kind of lunatic puts her hands on a child? And what’s wrong over in New Canaan, where apparently choice one when a kid wanders into your yard is calling the police—instead of simply walking the child back home and offering to babysit?

But truth’s publicity department doesn’t work with the same sense of urgency as the Internet rumor mill or even journalism itself.

In New Canaan, for example, the Patch comment thread later revealed that the neighbor of the arrested mother lived on a pond. The child had wandered over on multiple prior occasions and the neighbors were at wits’ end over the child’s safety, because other children and animals had drowned in there in the past. Suddenly, what was once obvious is now unclear—and in the meantime, the reputations of the arrested mother and the neighbor were in online tatters.

The photos of Lisa Lindley make her look bad. But let’s pretend that the dialogue that accompanies the photos sounds something like this:

HEY! GOALIE! Where’s your head? Where’s my star? WE NEED YOU RIGHT NOW! YOUR TEAM IS DEPENDING ON YOU AND YOU’RE NOT FOCUSING! This is it, your last chance before graduation to show your teammates that you can do your best, AND YOU’RE LETTING YOURSELF AND ME AND YOUR FRIENDS DOWN. Is this how you want to leave Darien, on the coattails of a sad-sack effort? YOU’RE BETTER THAN THAT! REMIND GREENWICH WHY WE’RE THE BEST TEAM IN THIS TOURNAMENT! NOW GET TO WORK!

Suddenly, the photos don’t seem so damning, do they? But those who have played competitive sports at a high level know that these words and the intense way in which they’re delivered are the currency of top coaches around the world.

As a high school athlete in upstate New York, my teammates, coaches and I enjoyed a tremendous amount of success. I can’t recall that our coaches ever touched us as the Lindley photos demonstrate, but they were definitely tough. They pushed our limits physically and forced us to focus and leave our entire effort on the court and field at every game and at every practice and with no excuses—but we loved them for it and cared about winning desperately.

One coach in particular—Coach Cleve, I’m talking to you—expected nothing less than excellence every single day. Her caring and commitment to us and our sport brought us all the way to the state tournament. And I’m certain that every member of that team knew what teamwork was about by the time graduation day came.

Commentary columnists expect and enjoy the debate that comes from the sometimes-incendiary words we write to inform and entertain. But before we jump to conclusions about local news and engage in hurtful, personal online attacks, let us remember that these "debates" chip away not only at reason, but at the communities in which we live. 

Brian Kesselman June 07, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Your statement, "Commentary columnists expect and enjoy the debate that comes from the sometimes-incendiary words we write to inform and entertain" is a welcome admission that online community sites thrive on the conflict that is generated. It's not just commentary columnists either, it's news reporters/writers, editors, advertisers, regular comment contributors and others. I enjoy leaving comments when an article peaks my interest, or when online comments stoke my ire. When I do, I try to remember that everything I write will exist in archives and search servers potentially forever. And I use my full name, so I need to be willing to own those words and opinions. I wish there was more use of the "Report as Inappropriate" or moderation of the comments. Specifically, when the discussion devolves to personal attacks on the author, the subjects of the article, or other comment contributors, or when comments are unrelated to the article on which they are posted, I believe that the comments should be policed. If there were clear Acceptable Use rules, strictly and uniformly enforced, then it would not be an issue of censorship. Online and community news and opinion is a treasured and valuable part of my day. I hope that others who agree will continue to push for more civility, a higher standard of responsibility, less name calling and assumption, and a more constructive dialog. Editors, authors and readers can all help. Please do.
Lisa Bigelow June 07, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Dear Brian, Thanks for reading and commenting. I wholeheartedly agree. I personally review every comment thread that develops on every Patch website that runs my pieces, currently Fairfield and New Haven counties and some in Westchester County. I also review some threads of my "Patch In" counterpart, Heather Borden Herve, and I have deleted comments in the past that I found over the line (I am having "ignorant, narcissistic hatemonger" bumper stickers made for myself - sic!). The difference, for me, is that commentary columnists are paid to express opinions and must accept that many in the community will disagree with those views on occasion. Nevertheless, I object to nasty threads that develop following a news story...they make everyone look so bad. Requiring a truthful user profile would go a long way toward making those threads a civil home for debate instead of a local online version of "Real Housewives" (or house husbands). Also...it would be nice if people forgot about the caps lock key, wouldn't it? :) Thanks again! Lisa B.

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