Originally, Queen Elizabeth I had hoped that the religious strife in England would not be something she’d have to deal with. As she said, she did not want to create windows into mens’ souls. Although Elizabeth was herself a Protestant who had been viewed as a suspicious character by her older half-sister Queen Mary, one gets the feeling that Elizabeth hoped that she and England could skate by. Of course, just the opposite occurred. Europe itself was divided, and Catholic supporters abroad were willing to help any Englishman who wanted to see Elizabeth removed from the throne.
Things got particularly tricky when Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, was discovered to be at the core of an assassination plot against Elizabeth. Everyone in Elizabeth’s court declared that Mary should be executed, but Elizabeth had a few problems with this. First, her mother, Anne Boelyn, had been beheaded at the Tower of London. Though Elizabeth had been a little girl at the time, this clearly left a mark on her. She likely also knew that her father had several other wives summarily executed, too.
Also, Elizabeth was ruling at a time when it was believed that monarchs were gods on earth (kind of a nice position to have). To show that a monarch was flawed was fairly frowned upon. To execute another monarch, well, that would send the message that monarchs were not only mortal, they were also fallible. This would put Elizabeth herself up for more questioning.
In the end, Elizabeth was convinced that she should indeed execute Mary. There were too many transgressions, and if they went unpunished Elizabeth would look weak. Sentimentality did not have a place in 16th century London. Still. one gets the sense from Elizabeth’s biographers that she always deeply regretted this episode. One wonders if she felt a little bit like she had cut off her own head to spare her rule.
Cutting off your own head
There is a moral that can be learned from the impossible situation Elizabeth had to deal with. She had often said that she did not want to make religion an issue, but it became a big one. She said she did not want to execute another queen, but she did. One might imagine that she did not want to be viewed as the cruel, malicious person her father had been. But to many who fell at the hands of her spies and torturers, she was likely thought of just that way.
In the online world, it’s easy for us to say a lot of things, with great gusto even. We can be for or against this kind of approach. We can for or against this or that person. We can be for or against a specific platform, a specific practice, or a means of communication. But when the time comes, when those views are tested by someone else or by our own changing minds, do we also fall into the trap of chopping off our own heads? Do we end up committing the same errors that we had recently railed against? Do we end up doing things we maliciously reproached others for doing? Do we allow others to sway our opinions from those which we had so staunchly defended?
I have seen it happen. And to me, it always strikes me as a sad moment – the same kind of sadness and disappointment Elizabeth must have felt in herself when she allowed another queen to be executed.
What we do and say matters
In the online world, it seems like criticism is the easiest form of communication. It gets a lot of attention, it’s a shortcut to make us look superior, and people tend to enjoy “piling on.” There’s a trick to the online world though. Everything you do and say online – it tends to stick around. People don’t have to remember what you say. They can find it. If you are not mindful of what you say or do at any given moment, you could end up revealing your own flaws, your own weaknesses, your own, dare I say, hypocrisy.
Don’t put yourself in a position where you feel like you’re chopping off your own head, whether it’s in terms of your credibility or your reputation (or both). Be careful about what you say. Be careful about who you point the finger at, and be mindful of why you’re doing so. Life has a funny way of proving us wrong, and in the online world, there is plenty of evidence heaped up against us for whenever we change our minds about something.
Let’s all keep our heads, eh?
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