I refuse to believe we have become a nation of trolls, despite evidence to the contrary.

That’s the Internet label for those who post the most malicious and hurtful things they can think of to get attention or get a rise of out of someone. Jackasses, in other words. It’s the behavior of junior high when the teachers aren’t around.

Just to take one example among many, the beloved but tormented comedian Robin Williams died last week. He took his own life. His daughter Zelda, something of a public figure herself, spoke eloquently about pain but also about the joy her father brought to many. Who among us would be so composed in such a time of shock, bewilderment and almost unspeakable grief?

The human brain and heart are funny things. We can be noble, selfless and brave, and we can be callous, cowardly and cruel. We are all subject to harsh, judgmental and even hateful thoughts flitting across our brains. That’s not the sin. A mature person grabs oneself by the shoulders, so to speak, and dismisses the thought.

But it seems there is no thought too sick or demented but that someone somewhere will post it or say it with a loud megaphone. The hold-on-a-minute function in the brain – any sense of shame – is missing. They piled on Zelda Williams – let’s skip the details, but it was cruel – to the point that she felt compelled to withdraw from social media. Score one for the trolls.

Let’s not cop out and pass this off to the usual suspects. Social media are merely a set of tools. The maligned 24-hour news cycle is not an inherently bad or good thing. This comes down to human behavior, to individual decisions to be responsible or not.

Those decisions are on both ends. One problem on some social media is anonymity, which breeds recklessness. Spare me the high-minded drivel to rationalize your cowardice. One solution on the receiving end is to tune out the anonymous.

You want to be provocative? Fine. The world could actually a little more of that. We’re upset about the wrong things and complacent about other wrong things. But stand up, state your case, and engage in a discussion. Be prepared for the possibility that debate might reveal new truths. It’s better than sniping from a dark alley.

I’ve said it before: We live in an age in which we’ve lost the distinction between celebrity and notoriety. Whatever makes a splash, whatever rattles a few cages is what matters. That’s part of the problem.

But I also know that in my daily comings and goings, I meet people who are earnest and hard-working and who give of themselves for the benefit of others. Yes, I know a couple of people who are Jekyll by day and Hyde by night on Facebook – we all do – but there is goodness within us. Overall, the trolls are few, I insist on believing.

As I say, human beings are funny things. Shame has been a powerful, misused and oppressive force through the eons. But a little sense of shame – part of a basic sense of right and wrong – is a good corrective. Are we really better off without it? Look around.

Reach Jeff Fox at jeff.fox@examiner.net or 816-350-6313.