John Allen Chau: a Case Study of Dignity and Common Human Decency in Journalism

Everybody knows it is bad form to kick a man while he’s down—everybody who is Human, that is. But in the world of the internet and modern journalism, Humanity is rare.

Let’s take the story of John Allen Chau for example. The moment I saw his story I started formulating this article. What is clearly a story of great Faith and great Tragedy is offered up to the snap judgments of millions of people who all somehow feel a responsibility to prove him either right or wrong for what he did. And this isn’t just on social media…journalists are leading the pack.

Maybe I'm the only writer on the internet who gets hot under the collar about this, but I can't stand it. If grandma makes sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving, and it isn't quite up to par with her usual, I don't feel the need to comment on it—at all. Much less to set myself up as judge and jury to put her pie on trial. I do like my Mom does: I smile, gulp it down, and lie to her face. Because I care more about my grandma than the daggum pie.

What I'm saying is that we internet-age people are too focused on our opinions and too forthcoming with them. When we have a second to spare, we pull out our phones and flip through social media at an incredible rate, and our brains are trained by that to make snap judgments and critically consider other people’s lives as they are offered up to us in de-humanized technological snippets. And we are trained to express our opinions from a hundred miles away, free to say things we would never say face-to-face. As technology claims to bring us closer than ever before, it is really separating us, dehumanizing us. Technology is not the destination, it is the bridge, but we fail to notice it wobbling beneath our feet.

We are losing the Humanity of our DNA, losing the imago Dei (the image of God) on our souls that leads us to live in quiet honor—quick to listen, slow to speak. We are arrogant. We are speaking first, thinking second, and listening last of all.

God forgive us for forgetting our place.

There is a quiet dignity that I want to see restored.

Al Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, covered Chau’s story in about 20 minutes on his podcast The Briefing, and he, if anyone, is justified to speak about this publicly. His schooling, credentials, and vocation affirm his authority and his duty to speak to this subject and help us understand this confusing and sorrowful event. And yet in his podcast he spends only the last couple minutes answering the question everyone else is so eager to piggy pile in on.

Why? Because Mohler has propriety and dignity, and as a public figure, must let the responsibility of his role constrain his snap judgments and promote a quiet decorum in the way he thinks and speaks. There are certain thoughts gentlemen think, and may whisper in private, but would never speak in public. Why?

This is the thing I love about the South. Everyone knows that technologically, the South is a good decade behind the coasts, but many writers have spoken to the appeal of the South, especially in its old-world feel. Southern people tend to be more courteous, possessing more decorum and a desire for a dignified life. And even though I could write about the errors I see in the Southern culture, the thing I want to see more of in the internet-world is this reserved, hard-working, humble, farmer-like mentality.

The way reporters and people on social media reacted to Chau’s story is a case study in the complete lack of decency and dignity our generation has. Sure technology exacerbates that problem, and sure my article is like screaming into the void on this, but it isn’t something we should take lightly. It is a very serious thing to over-speak, to become the judge and jury—it concretes in your soul the very thing we need to fight most: pride.

Note the picture above and see what I mean. The original is a picture of stoic, faithful, hard-working, plain, unsexy, dignified life. But this edited version, with just the addition of a selfie angle, represents something completely very different. Don’t let technology ruin your soul. Keep it classy; keep it dignified.

“…That we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim 2:2)