I’ve told myself, on too many occasions, not to discuss serious topics on social media. No good can ever come of it. EVER. This applies to everything from political debate to arguments with boyfriends and I’ve had a few of both in my time.
Many years ago I was having a heated email exchange with a partner which quickly descended into name-calling with accusations flying back and forth pretty liberally. I can’t even remember what it was about, all though I do recall writing, ‘Take some responsibility!” which tells me, he was being irresponsible and whatever we were arguing about was definitely his fault.
The problem with ‘conversing’ in this manner is that once you’ve sent your tupence-worth shuffling along the internet superhighway, you expect that to be the end of it. You think, that’s it. I’ve pretty much nailed my side of the argument and obliterated any hint of a legitimate case they may think they have. SEND and END.
But of course, that’s not how they see it.
At an equal and opposite end of the universe, they are drafting their definitive slam-down in response and that back and forth can go on for hours, sometimes days, even traversing media, with break out texts and IMs. In this instance, as the self-righteousness subsided (probably several days later), I realised that I had to make a pact with myself to only undertake discussions like this, face to face. If you’re gonna say something that could potential upset someone, or you’re going to ‘strenuously object’ to something they’ve said or done (as Demi Moore’s character does in a Few Good Men), then you MUST say it to their face. And guess what, when you look into that person’s eyes, often times, you’re nowhere near as harsh with them as you would be had you written it all down.
The problem with sending written electronic missives is, it’s almost consequence-free. As your email or text cascades out of you fuelled by indignation, this generates even more anger and even more points to make and arguments and accusations to lob, all punctuated with the stock phrase “and another thing…” as we become a self-perpetuating arguing machine.
When you speak in person, you communicate more of your intentions, you are more vulnerable and can see the other person’s vulnerability (even if they are trying to hide it) and you can also see how it’s affecting them so you tailor what you’re saying more than you do when you write, uninterrupted.
It’s a more civilised way to communicate and is much more likely to lead to a solution than firing texts back and forth. However, I haven’t always succeeded in following my policy of course.
On one particular occasion I got an email from a girlfriend gleefully telling me she was pulling out of a group holiday we were planning because she wanted to do something. Having already bought my ticket, which she knew, I was more than a little miffed and emailed to tell her as much. I knew I should have called and less than 5 minutes later, hit by the guilt, I sent another message apologising, telling her I was just disappointed that she couldn’t make the trip. Well, that was too little, too late. All hell broke loose.
And this could have all been avoided if I’d called her right at the beginning. Better still, if she’d called to say she couldn’t make the holiday that would have been even better (can you tell, still a miffed!).
After I’d calmed down, I tried to look at the problem from her perspective so I could understand why she’d gotten so upset when we eventually spoke. I did get a little insight and while it was too late for our friendship, it was a useful example of how we are only able to argue from our own point of view. Whilst on one level there is an obvious logic to that, on another, it’s one of the greatest limitations in human consciousness, the inability or unwillingness to see things from someone else’s point of view and also, not getting that our own opinions, are just that, opinions and not facts.
I’m very good at letting other’s know that their point of view is subjective but I often fall short when it comes to acknowledging that in regard to my own.
This selective subjectivity seems to be most at play when socio-political topics are being debated online. Too often you see inflammatory statements on social media written from a biased perspective, often with little evidence and too often, with little empathy for any form of counterargument or alternative view point.
I’ve been pretty good at steering clear of these threads as to me, they’re pointless. Everyone goes into them with pre-set notions of how things are, looking for verification of what they believe and seeking to refute the views of anyone that doesn’t think the same way. I wonder how many times people have posted onto a ‘discussion’ thread then kept checking back to see how many likes or thumbs up their comment has gotten. We’re not looking for progress, we’re seeking approval!
When you read these threads, they all seem to boil down to essentially the same thing
Inflamatory comment – followed by someone agreeing, someone disagreeing, someone making a joke, the original disagree-er getting flamed by other commentors and backtracking, someone making another joke, someone wading in with a very detailed, lengthy and seemingly fact-based argument, someone adding a link which discredits the previous argument, someone posting a picture of a kitten in the hope their humour will diffuse the situation, some hippy misquoting Martin Luther King, Jnr., the original poster coming back and replying to every single person who’s disagreed with them and then the whole stupid thing starting all over again.
I commented on a thread this week and right away, regretted it. I was immediately plunged into opinion quicksand, receiving a constant stream of updates as to who was commenting and what was being said. It was starting to wind me up. I couldn’t belief how narrow-minded some people were, the ignorance of others and then I realised – just like that, I’d become blind to the fact that I’m looking from a particular viewpoint too. I was just expression an opinion which, in the grand scheme of things was irrelevant. I deleted my comment so that I could withdraw from the thread. Normal service and calm was soon resumed.
The thing is, more often than not, opinions don’t really matter. They’re like mental farts. Just hot air, and smelly air at that.
Joining a discussion like the ones you see on social media all the time, is like having a lump of manure and throwing it on to a pile of dung others are also throwing their manure on to. At the end of the day, all you end up with is a massive pile of shit.
It was a good lesson for me on how easy it is to get seduced by your own standpoint and how easily we are blind to the fact that we have a stand point at all. We think the things we think are what’s so, not coloured in anyway by where we’re looking from. It’s possible, nothing could be further from the truth.
What if, in fact, there’s no such thing as ‘the truth’ just the interpretive spin we put on ‘what’s so’ based on where we’re looking from?
If this were the case and we could really take this on as a ‘truth’, navigating life would be much more peaceful because everybody else’s thoughts, words and actions would become much clearer. “Ah, ha” we’d say when someone did or said something we didn’t understand. “They think or are doing that because of the evidence they have been presented with through their lives. Of course they think that, and I might too had I grown up in their circumstances”.
People say it’s good to debate and that’s why these conversations are important. That’s true but that’s not what’s happening with these conversations. What’s happening is, people are just shit-slinging.
If we really want to discuss something we need to throw less out and take a lot more in. Rather than making statements we need to ask questions.
Rather than telling someone they’re wrong for thinking something, we should ask them why they feel that way. If we ask a question, rather than feeling the need to defend their stand point and project more aggression outwards, the person you’re talking to is required to seek answers and clarity from within.
That’s where breakthroughs truly happen.
If you are able to gently ask questions and have people look inside themselves, I’m convinced that two opposing groups can understand each other and instigate change.
Flinging opinions out is a losing game and a by-product of the me-consciousness we’re currently in. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Discuss. J
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