In my Second Life, I am Mercutio

by Mr. Sheehy

I got a Second Life today. (Second Life, for those of you who don’t know, is an entire world created online by users – it’s not a game, it’s a world, and it’s cool.) I wandered around trying to figure it out for the first time, walking into the ocean and not drowning, walking into walls, and generally conducting myself the way I always do with games like Bond or any car racing game – with a level of cluelessness that, if left to myself, leads quickly to my seeking other activities. Of course, to make matters more fun, I did all this in front of a class of juniors, having told them what Second Life is and that I had never done it but was interested in seeing its potential and draw. As I struggled, they laughed at me and told me what to do, my ineptitude projected on the screen behind me. When I discovered how to fly, their interest rose. When I couldn’t figure out how to sit up, they began to lose interest.

Then they convinced me to go talk to someone, and I soon remembered why people get in trouble with the Internet. I bumbled over to someone who appeared not to be wearing any clothes and accosted him, inquiring about his outfit. He didn’t respond, but someone else did – though it took me an awkwardly long time to discover this and to turn to the right avatar (person). I typed out a couple messages, and before a minute had passed, this other person was pointing out my every type-o and mocking me because I made a typing mistake and claimed to be an English teacher. My students laughed at first, then before long encouraged me to ditch the guy because he was a jerk (notice my confidence that it was a guy).

It had taken me a while to understand that the guy was trashing me, because I was so busy trying to figure out how everything works in Second Life (hey, it took me 60 seconds to find the guy to whom I was speaking), but when I realized it, I was suddenly tempted to play along – to begin asserting in firm and clear fashion how unintelligent and childish I thought he was by outwitting and insulting him. And unfortunately, I have a bit of that Mercutio in me – that quick-worded personality is what got me into radio years ago and brings me success when I lead discussions in class. But this was not the fun and witty side, jesting with Romeo; this was the “Good Prince of Cats, nothing but one of your nine lives” wit – protect my pride by asserting superiority. And that is not good.

Now, I didn’t give in to the temptation. Instead, I told the man my students thought he was being a bully, then I shot him a line from the ol’ gospel tune “I’ll Fly Away,” and immediately launched myself – into a tree . . . and then a building.

When I was in college some guys and I were gathered in one room and two of them were in an AOL chat room. They were trashing the other people in the chat room and talking to them in ways I never heard them use when speaking to others during the following four years that I knew them. Somehow, because they were not face to face and probably would not ever meet, they lowered their standards of moral decency. Today, my students and I were tempted to do the same thing, and the man with whom we spoke gave in. Due to its prevalence, this strikes me as more dangerous than online predators, which means it may be more key than ever for me to use and teach these tools in school. Maybe by not acting like a jerk but instead turning away, I gave my students one example of how to deal with Internet-Idiots. Or maybe I just made them laugh – but at least I made them laugh by being silly instead of being mean. May I eventually teach a few what it is to be kind in the face of evil.