I’m finding myself avoiding social media this week.
This is not a topical post, and I am not going to express my views on any given topic currently saturating the mainstream media. I’m not afraid to take a stand on an issue, but I want you to read this blog. I want you to read this blog even if – no, especially if – you don’t view the world through my lens and my filter of the day. I want you to read this blog because this post is about something I think many of us might be able to agree upon.
Social media promised to give us new tools to talk to each other. In a utopian fantasy, one could visit social networks to meet new people, broaden one’s understanding of the world and engage in fruitful dialogue about the issues of the day.
If that is happening anywhere on the Internet, please point me in that general direction. I’ve been searching for dialogue within comments and within communities but I’ve found only judgment, intolerance and shaming. Say something someone else doesn’t agree with and you’re lucky if the worst you’re called is an idiot. On many mainstream forums, people will escalate to describing the means of the death you deserve or disparage your mother for giving birth to you within 5 comments or less.
According to Google Books Ngram Viewer, use of the word “dialogue” in our literature is near its peak, but that doesn’t mean we’re using the word correctly. Let’s examine the definition of dialogue:
- conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie.
- a discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed toward exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.
How many Facebook posts have you read in the last two weeks – or ever – that are directed toward resolution of a problem? I’m finding that social media is more effective at helping us build communities of “People Who Agree With Me on Absolutely Everything.” I’ve witnessed the disheartening consequences for people who dared to express views outside of the generally accepted beliefs of their personal networks. Most have been swiftly and summarily shut down.
We’re never going to resolve complex social problems if we continue to punish each other for attempting to explore a controversial subject. To engage in a productive dialogue requires that we change the way we speak to other people, regardless of whether we consider them a friend or a stranger. It requires us to set our own boundaries, because social media will not set them for us.
Social media encourages us to skip from post to post skimming the content of each just long enough to form a snap judgment, post a comment expressing that judgment and move on. Social media does not pause to remind us to think about how our comment might make someone feel. Perhaps if our networks inserted prompts before posting such as “is this really how you feel or are you just borrowing someone else’s opinion,” “are you sure you want to use that word,” or “are you willing to destroy your relationship with this person over this issue,” we might make different decisions.
It’s our responsibility to apply critical thought and compassion to our words. I haven’t always set the best example in my own posts, but I’m going to try to be more mindful of what I say and how I say it. Here are some phrases I’d like to see more often online:
- “Help me understand your point of view.”
- “I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective.”
- “Tell me why you feel that way.”
- “I’ve had a different experience, but tell me about yours.”
- “I don’t agree, but I respect your opinion.”
- “Thank you for sharing your thoughts.”
What would you add to this list?