Compassion and the Hope for Dialogue

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.

Dialogue Google Books Ngram Viewer
Google Books Ngram Viewer: Use of the word “dialogue” from 1800 – 2000

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:


  1. conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie.
  2. 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?

45 thoughts on “Compassion and the Hope for Dialogue

  1. Reblogged this on No Facilities and commented:
    If you follow me, you know that I don’t often reblog other people. It takes a special kind of post to get me to do that. The following is such a post. The author is my daughter, but I’m sharing this because it’s an important message. I am even going to do something I’ve never done – I’m going to close comments on my blog for this post. I think the discussion should happen over at her place. I will be checking in.

  2. I agree, it would be nice to see those phrases you listed used more often in social media – or in conversations outside of social media (as in, face-to-face). I don’t know if social media is the complicit instigator in the degeneration of dialogue, or if we just don’t care to know opposing views any more as a society. I look at politics in general, and I think it might be the later. Here’s to hoping that something can change.

    1. You make a great point that it would be great to see more tolerance and less judgment in personal interactions as well as online discussions. I feel more and more disconnected and disheartened about politics and politicians in general the older I get. I also look at the people I know and care about today and realize that I’ve learned more from and grown more because of the people who I do not always agree with on every issue than from the people who seem the most similar to me on the surface. I also hope things can change.

  3. Interesting post (new reader here!) I worry the bullies shout loudest and the decent people get scared away. I think the anonymity of the internet is the biggest problem. Would people say their tweets/updates to someones face? That’s what I always think of before I post anything 🙂

    I think you have a great blog btw, looking forward to reading more.

  4. So well-expressed, Faith. Exactly how many of us feel, but – like you – we have probably not done as much as each of us can to change how we interact. I think many, many people are simmering with anger and a feeling of impotency that we can’t change the direction we are headed.

    The immediacy of social media – and to some extent the physical separation – gives people the opportunity to respond quickly without thinking about what they are saying, let alone thinking about the merits someone else might have posited. I find it extremely destructive from local organizations like school board meetings all the way to our highest public offices.

    If people are in blaming mode – always pointing fingers at which politician they hate or which decision in the past was ‘bone-headed’ or why YOU are ‘an idiot’ for not thinking exactly like they do, they aren’t helping. What I always want to say is “OK, that happened. Here we are. What do we do NOW and GOING FORWARD to improve our situation?”

    Your timing is uncanny, because I edited my Friday coffee post to remove a huge section about this very topic. I just couldn’t post about it because I was so discouraged. You give me the opportunity here …

    I recently finished reading an essay book by an esteemed, national-prize-winning author and, while her essays had merit, she repeatedly felt the need to interject an “I hate …” directed to named individuals or spouses in public office, and one essay was an unbelievably nasty screed against a woman in her small community with whom she had a run-in while standing in the ticket line at the local movie theater!!! And yet many of her essays were about her self-proclaimed left-wing, born-again ‘deeply religious’ life and about how she is striving for forgiveness. Apparently that forgiveness only applies to people she likes who share her political views.

    My other wish, when two ideologues are butting heads, is to require they take the opposite view. Defend their opponent’s position as passionately as they do their own. Do some legitimate research to get the facts. There are always pros and cons. Co-operation and balance have to be the realistic goal. But it cannot be achieved without a willingness to understand or accept anything about someone else’s viewpoint.

    Thank you for expressing yourself. If even one person thinks twice before saying something in a destructive way, you have made a positive difference.

    1. Sammy, I love your statement “OK, that happened. Here we are.” I will remember that and will try to use it when I find myself wanting to respond to a situation with immediate blame. I also like your idea to require debate of multiple perspectives; I remember being required to do that in high school, but conversations might be a lot more productive if we sustained the practice as adults. I’m only just starting to figure out that judgment and blame don’t fix problems and only serve to ruin relationships. I’ve cast quite a bit of both in my life. Reading books like “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) by Brené Brown and learning from wiser mentors has helped me to start communicating more mindfully, but I have a long way to go. Thanks for your comment, and I hope you do write that post. I’d like to read it.

          1. Thank yoU, Faith. I’ve wanted to follow you but wasn’t sure how you’d feel about your Dad’s fans being yours as well 😉. If that gets uncomfortable for you, we can mutually agree to unfollow!

  5. I am not shy about voicing my opinion. In some cases, if the subject is just too uncomfortable, I don’t comment. I’ve actually seen someone come right out and say, because of what you have written here about my post, I am no longer allowing you to comment. I really do my best to be open minded towards all, yet like I said, IF the subject matter makes me squirm, and my Heart says “they are not about to listen anyways” I just continue on my way. Your Dad sent me over. And I followed because I like the way you think, Faith, and because I have the highest regards for your Dad. He really likes my flowers. Now THAT says a LOT about a man. (smile) Great post!!! All of us need to be more accepting of each other, willing to learn different, or those things we really don’t understand. How else will we ever really achieve LOVE for ALL on this planet??? Conversation is KEY to the beginning of change. 🙂 ❤

    1. My Dad does like your flowers and so do I – he’s shared some of your photos with me 🙂 I’m glad that you enjoyed this post. I didn’t meant to suggest that people should not voice their opinions; I think we learn from people when they do, especially if they are different from our own. Opinions change over time. Mine certainly have as I’ve gotten older and I’m sure they will continue to change as I learn and experience more. I just want to see more people put a few seconds more into thinking about what they say and how they say it. I’ve been known to overthink those two things, but only because I’ve witnessed the unfortunate consequences when I’ve underthought them. Thanks for your comment!

      1. And I have seen poor consequences when opinions are voiced, which is a shame. I totally agree with you that over time, opinions change. Hopefully with age, we do get wiser. Hopefully. 🙂 And I thank you for appreciating my work. I really Love what I do. ❤

  6. It’s a funny old world. I post a lot of photographs and would love more critiques of such images so that I can understand what works / how to improve, but it is rare for anyone to analyse an image. After one such suggestion myself on another blog, which didn’t go down well even though I did state that it was my opinion, I am also wary of suggesting changes, but I’m blowed if I am going to ‘like’ every single grainy, dull and wonky image just because everyone else does. Interesting piece.
    Jude (via Dan via Jill’s Scene)

    1. Jude, I can very much relate to that desire. I studied photography in art school and I think I met my lifetime quota for criticism in those four years. Sometimes, it was even constructive 🙂 I’ve got a different post to write about what I learned during those years, but two things have never left me: The first attempt is not always the best you can do and feedback is a gift, even if sometimes you wish it had come with a gift receipt. I’m far more comfortable accepting critiques on my work than most people I know and occasionally miss being in an environment where it was expected and required for success. We don’t have to take every piece of criticism to heart, but we can take what we want from it and continue to grow. I’m following your blog now and look forward to seeing your photos!

      1. My thoughts are that a critique is not necessary a criticism, it can also be a positive experience. I have had some great discussions with better photographers than me about exposure, light, composition subjects which have helped me in my photography. I’m not a technical photographer – I tend to just use auto settings, but I want to improve!
        Thank you for the follow – with your experience maybe you’ll make some suggestions? I shan’t be at all offended. Honest 😀

  7. I’m visiting because I’m one of your Dad’s readers. I think you’re talking about tolerance. 🙂 I’m of an age where I had a life before social media, jumped in with everyone else, saw a loss of real communication, and backed off and choose to live life now with a small amount of social media. I don’t ask questions of strangers or look for life-altering answers from them either. When you look at the world wide explosion of the ‘selfie’ that says a lot to me about what is important to most folks on social media – themselves. Congrats to you for taking on a tough subject but you learned from the best of them how to hit it head on, your Dad. 🙂

    1. Judy, thanks for visiting! Social media is a useful tool in my life both personally and professionally, but I’ve also backed off on it a bit on the personal side. I’ve decreased the number of people I’m connected to in some networks and made a more conscious effort to engage in more tolerant discussions. It’s difficult to avoid jumping into the fray sometimes; that’s why I try to remember to walk away. I did learn and continue to learn from my Dad – he’s a great storyteller and I’m glad he has the ability to share those stories with so many people.

  8. I was never one for social media, no Facebook page or My Space and I started my own blog to preserve my father’s scrapbook. In going to investigate other blogs, I ran into exactly what you’re talking about – one even requested that I ‘Un-Follow’ him, which I did immediately! [he later requested my return]. I’m rather proud of the fact that although I moderate my comments, only one was Trashed without the author’s request and that was due to an undue amount of cursing to get his inane point across. In any case, Dan’s daughter Faith, you have quite a father and I’d like to get to know this blog better on its own merits. I’ll be seeing you again on my Reader page…..

    1. Thanks for visiting! I’m glad you enjoy this post and I will not request that you unfollow me, even if you disagree with everything else I ever say from now on! I do moderate comments to protect against the type of thing you mentioned, but a comment would have to be seriously offensive or derogatory for me to reject it. I do have an amazing father and I’m glad that you were able to find this blog through his. I grew up enjoying his stories and he’s the reason I’m starting to venture to tell mine. I will never fill those shoes, but I’ll try to find my own 🙂

  9. I would like to see more people give considered opinions (yes, Facebook, I’m talking about you) instead of trying to slap each other down, as if they’re in a sitcom filmed before a live audience, looking for laugh lines. One of the problems with Facebook conversations is that they can get buried in the avalanche of News Feed Updates. Slap out a quick comment and on to the next.

    I, too, came over on your dad’s recommendation. Thanks, Dan!

    1. That’s a great analogy. I do wonder how many comments are posted just to elicit a reaction, rather than to contribute something valuable to the conversation. Unfortunately, I think the percentage is high. I appreciate you taking the time to read this post and to share your perspective!

  10. First off, yes, your dad pointed me this way. He’s a good man. I agree with what you say, Faith, but it seems things move way too fast now. Read, comment, send, move on. Before it was outlawed, people drove and texted. How do you have the opportunity to really read and digest something before you hit send, hit the pedal and drive on? No one wants to wait anymore. Getting off Facebook was the best thing I ever did. People on FB wrote such snap judgments and I actually pictured them waiting, just waiting for someone to respond so they could pounce and snap back at them. Enough! I exited that nonsense, never to return. So what do we do? Not sure. Say your piece and don’t let others get you down? I have no answer, Faith.

    1. I don’t have any answers either, but I’m enjoying learning from comments like yours. When I feel like things are moving too fast, I try to slow myself down in simple ways, like pausing to think before I speak or comment. Sometimes I say my piece, and sometimes it feels like it was good to do so, and other times it doesn’t. There are no easy answers. But I thank you for stopping by 🙂

  11. Hello Faith, I’m here via your Dad’s blog and it’s no surprise to me really that you’re facilitating this interesting conversation 🙂
    I love social media – if any of my family read this, they’ll be rolling on the floor with laughter at such a massive understatement.
    What I love is the connection to others. Thanks to FB etc I’ve been able to stay in regular contact with my children even when they’re in different hemispheres – that is priceless to me.
    But I don’t like forums where people are putting others down, or making harsh judgements. I steer clear of them.
    When it comes to real conversation, such as you’re suggesting here, I’ve been rather cautious about expressing opinions. In face to face conversations it’s easier to express nuance, plus there’s more room for opinions to change. People aren’t usually able to recall word for word the exact conversation.
    Once something is posted on line it’s there forever, fixed in time. I don’t like that idea so much because I’ve noticed that if more information becomes available to me, or I get more life experience, then, as often as not, my thinking shifts.
    So I tend to hold back from voicing a different opinion when I’m using social media. I usually just withhold the likes and avoid making a comment.

    Perhaps, through conversations such as this we’ll be able to develop a way of sharing and discussing that is respectful, that allows for people to change over time, and goodness me, might even be tolerant of people making mistakes – after all, most of us only learn from taking risks. Thanks for raising such an important topic.

    1. Your comment serves as a great reminder of one of the most positive things about social media, or any kind of communication – its ability to help us connect. I will admit that there are comments floating out in the world made by me when I was younger that I hope no one who knows me now ever reads; things I said when I was only seeing things from my perspective and not thinking through the permanence of those actions. Being more mindful now is my way of trying to make that right. Thanks for your thoughts!

  12. I am open minded and like people to express themselves honestly. I do hope to make a difference by bringing people together, Faith.
    I often point out my favorite line, detail or part of a person’s post. I appreciate opinions but if someone is far from my point of view, I have 2-3 times sent them to spam where they will be detected and sent again.
    Is this mean? I may hold the perspective from my age. If I see someone using a rigid stance I don’t think there is a chance for our compromising.
    After all, if the other person won’t try to come partway then there is just a monologue going on. 🙂

    1. I think it is difficult to be in a situation where only one party is willing to entertain the other’s view. There may not be anything you can do about that, in that moment, on that day. However, you never know when your words may come back to the other person and cause them to think a little differently. You may not be informed when that happens, but you have probably made more of a difference than you know 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

      1. I came back to check in on you. I thought I followed you but had lost you somehow in my Reader, Faith. Hope life is treating you well. I mentioned to your Dad, I really miss his hikes, walks and talks with Faith today. I asked for your link. Happy upcoming Thanksgiving, Faith. No rush to blog, just as your father said, “a nudge” 🙂 My daughter just started a blog and since it was all about me, I won’t send you a link. It would be like embarrassing self promotion. Lol
        Hugs, Robin

        1. Hi Robin, thanks for stopping by and I appreciate the nudge 🙂 My problem with blogging is that I overthink it, even though I tell other people not to. I have a list of topics I want to blog about and always get stuck trying to figure out which is the “perfect” topic for today (yes, I’m a perfectionist in recovery) or which one is interesting to other people. I’ll try to pick one and write about it soon. I’d love to read your daughter’s blog! Please share the link 🙂

  13. It’s obvious that your thoughts are heartfelt . I’ve been bothered by the same things . I think there is a HUGE amount of lack of respect , not only for any other viewpoint , but for the other person as well . Any sense of toleration has pretty much vanished for those who post viewpoints . As you say , any variance in opinion is shot down forcefully and finally . Their ( at least on social media ) senses of humor have vanished , and that’s devastating , I think . About your suggested phrases to use , though , I’m afraid that it’s wishful thinking by this point , sorry to say .

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read my post and share your comment. I think it may be wishful thinking to think that changing our responses will always change other’s, or create a culture of more respect. However, I would consider it a win if even one person reading through a sea of negative and hurtful comments found just one comment that was a little more uplifting. I search for those kinds of comments, and try to stop reading once I’ve found them. You never know how much of an impact a few kinder words can make on a person, even one who is not actively participating in the exchange but is still being influenced by it.

  14. Wow Faith! Just about one hour ago, I abstained from commenting on a post on FB from my sister-in-law because I was concerned to express a different view. I am not proud to say, that I may do so a few times a month. I find expressing my views, opinions on social media a tad scary. In a conversation with another person face to face, I never have a problem doing so. There is something about social media that gives some people the “freedom” to write things they would never dare say in person; at least, that is what I think. Whenever I witness such a thing, it makes me very uncomfortable and although I would want to jump in to try to bring some balance, I remain quiet.
    Today, I will try to be the one who brings a different opinion and will reach out to others with the phrases you suggested. Your post is giving me the courage to do so. If you are interested, I’ll write to you again to let you know how it went.
    Thanks for such an inspiring post.

    1. I’m glad you found this post timely and I would love to hear your story of how you communicate – I’m sure I can learn from it. I often feel the same way you do – I want to jump in, I want to help, I want to bring balance but I’m afraid I’ll just make things worse, so I do nothing. Will you tell me the next time you try to share a different opinion? Maybe I’ll try too 🙂

  15. Hi Faith, in answer to your comments over on my blog – yes now the link and the photo both work perfectly 🙂 Glad I could pop over to say hi 🙂

    This is a great post and so timely. Sadly I agree with you that overall social media seems to have encourage an ‘outrage’ mentality, where people seem to jump on the outraged bandwagon, before they’ve had the time to really stop and reflect on what the issue is about, what they really think about the issue (rather than simply following what others think) and lastly to consider the impact their words will have. It’s too easy to hide behind an anonymous name and not care about the consequences of words and comments.

    A rule of thumb I try to live/write by is to only put out positive content. No matter the subject and my opinions, I’ll only write or comment if I have something positive to say. I started off making that as a rule for when I read and reviewed books, making sure that I simply abstained from reviewing a book if I didn’t enjoy it. As a writer I couldn’t ignore the fact that someone poured their time, heart and soul into writing that book, and even if I didn’t enjoy it, that wasn’t reason to leave them a terrible one star review. It got me to thinking that should be the case no matter the content. If someone has taken the time to write something I don’t agree with, even if it’s something horrid that I’m vehemently against, I’ll either just click away or only comment if I can say something positive. At the end of the day pouring vitriol on top of vitriol helps no one, nor does it resolve the situation, whatever that might be.

    1. Hi Celine, thanks for reading this post. Yours is a great rule to follow. Having the discipline to think critically about what we post online is difficult, but some things really warrant a few extra moments of consideration. I think that people are losing the ability to distinguish between not liking someone’s work, and not liking that person. If a person writes something we don’t agree with, we don’t have to agree with it. But that doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. That person is loved by someone and important to someone and who are we to judge them? It’s idealistic to think this way perhaps, but it’s how I want to be treated, so the least I can do is try to treat others the same way. I love your description “vitriol on top of vitriol.” So accurate!

  16. Hi Faith — coming to you from your Dad and Sammy of Bemuzin.

    I enjoy Social media but I am very selective. I love certain blogs, and some feel a bit like I am talking over the back fence with a friend — your dad’s and Sammy’s are like that. I am surprised at how they “grow” me. One that is surprising to me is a great blog by a Christian pastor. I was raised Catholic, and now am a Buddhist. I rarely resonate with most “Christian” writers — but wow, he is one of the most level headed compassionate healing men I’ve ever read. (john pavlovitz) I don’t know how he puts up with the trolls on his site, however. I’ve written some edgy stuff, especially on my “writing” site as opposed to me art site. I’ve not had to trash any comment.

    I stay away from twitter and most of the others unless it is about art, as in Flickr. I think one liners are part of the problem. I used to love the NYTimes and so forth but I hate the trolls in the commentary. I hear Australia is about to make it a crime to be a troll. I can’t figure out how they will police that!

    FB has allowed me to connect with many many artists who share my interests, and thankfully no politics or religion are allowed on those pages. When same-sex marriages were approved we had some near misses with people objecting to some rainbow-colored sketches of positive words, but our moderator shut the objections down. On my own page I “know” most folks and haven’t many friends — and we debate respectfully. When someone is really annoyed with me they usually do that privately — as do I. And still, no name calling.

    Where I draw the line is racist, bigoted, truly anti-women (I can take a blonde joke as I grew up with brothers), taliban-type religious types (I don’t care if they are KKK or foreign) — they are OFF my page and I am not interested in debating. I can’t debate equality with someone who does not grok our constitution, and I love our constitution.

    I think some of what I am talking about in terms of debate or differences is on a feeling level. I can discuss someone’s discomfort with homosexuality (I have a friend from Oregon who has not known many gays and was a bit uncomfortable around one of my family members — and talked to me about it later), but cannot stomach someone who thinks my family member is a sinner or sick or should not be allowed the right to be with his mate of 18 years because somehow his love is going to harm their marriage (and yet the 4 divorces of the current right wing candidates are not a problem to the sanctity of marriage.) That is the kind of stuff I shut down. Period. I don’t engage, I simple hit the delete button or move on. When you wrestle with a pig you get covered in mud and the pig has all the fun.

    And I unplug. OFTEN. Especially when I want to paint.

    Yours is a good post. Thank you for that, Kate

  17. Good post, Faith.
    I wouldn’t add much to your list. Meaningful comments that add to the discussion or show that people actually read what you write or post matter to bloggers. Staying away from online negativity is as important as it is to stay away from toxic relationships.

  18. What you’ve highlighted here, Faith, is why I’m on sabbatical from FB. I think it’s hard enough to deal with people (in our own face-to-face circles) that don’t seem to understand the definition and purpose of dialogue. But in an online world, it is doubly so, as we deal with “friends” of “friends” and their often narrow views of the world. I don’t profess to know everything (I don’t even profess to know most things), but we don’t move forward by alienating, berating and belittling those who see the world in triangles when we see it in circles. There is a way to honor people while disagreeing with them. There really is.

    Bravo for this.

    With heart,

  19. I like G+ because there is much less drama but I do notice there is a lot of deflecting touchy subjects, wgich is no better than wild, angry diatribe. I guess it proves people really are no better at communicating via social media than they are face to face…😞

    1. I’m generalizing, but in most online communities it seems to have gotten worse since I wrote this post. I think your most recent post expressed the problem very eloquently. People just immediately vent their negative, judgmental thoughts without pausing to think critically or reach for empathy. We desperately need more compassion in these times.

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