Let’s be honest.

Many online communities are filled with people who are not who they claim to be. Charlatans, masters of disguise, self-proclaimed trolls and would-be stalkers can hide behind a cloak of anonymity, never to be revealed.

But on the flip side, there are also people who hide nothing. They are comfortable in their skin offline and online. They’re honest, readily share their opinions, enjoy a good debate and make friends along the way. In other words, they’re genuine. They’re real.

Having managed the online community, GOLO since its inception, I have come to know a whole lot of people. They have connected with me as I have with them, eventhough I have no idea “who” they really are.

One member showed up at the station unannounced last December and brought me three Christmas CD’s. Another sent me a box of vegetables from her garden a few months back. I’ve also received cards and lunch invitations and even access to coveted company perks, none of which I’ve accepted, of course. I also get a slew of hate mail, but that’s par for the course.

Most recently, I received a card in the mail adorned with an image of the confederate flag. I heard about it before it ever reached my office. Our in-house mail deliverer informed me last week that he’d seen a piece of mail addressed to me with the name “Old Rebel” on it and that I should be careful.

The woman who brought it to my office gave me an equally concerned look when she handed it to me, and I in turn sat it down on my desk thinking “Not today.”

When I finally decided to open it, fearing the worst, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a thank-you card. The sender had recently received a mousepad from me in the mail, and he wanted to acknowledge it.

I’d recently asked ten users for their home address so I could reward them for being “top posters” on the site and he was one of them.

He simply wanted to say “thank you.”

So what’s the lesson here? The lesson is that I too am learning things about people and that even I can judge their intentions base on my preconceived notions.

The confederate flag is a symbol of the south to him. And I know from his posts and image galleries that he loves the area and will likely live here until he draws his final breath.

As a black woman from the north, it means and has always meant something different to me.

But I can’t help but understand that he was sharing who he really is, and meant me no harm. It’s quite the opposite. His sincerity was apparent.

So what did I do? I went directly to his profile page, posted a hearty thank-you of my own, and told him that he had made my day.

Am I now a fan of this flag? No. But I just may reevaluate its significance to some and do a little research of my own.

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