Kindness, selective blindness and what pushes our buttons ~ how to stay calm when the internet intrudes
The internet is a wonderful thing ~ it brings all manner of things into our homes
The internet is a dreadful thing ~ it brings all manner of things into our homes
Both of these statements are true. You can’t deny the impact that the internet has made on almost every life, even those who choose not to use it. Social media is something that divides people into very different camps; some refuse to use it at all, and others are pretty much addicted. The opponents claim that people are living their lives too publicly and that they ought to be more discreet, and that internet friends are not ‘real’ friends. Those who love Facebook, Twitter and the like claim that they are careful what they put up and that internet friends have been more caring that their so-called real life ones.
It’s not a subject they’re going to agree on any time soon.
One of the things I have noticed recently is a rather interesting phenomenon. When a person on a social media site does or says something that another person disagrees with, a number of things often follow. The first is a real humdinger of an argument, where the offended party tries to make the offender retract their position. Others wade in and if this were Saturday night outside a pub, fists would be flying very quickly. The other thing that usually follows (either before a fight starts or immediately after) is an unfriending, unfollowing or a blocking. The reason usually given that they don’t want to see THAT sort of thing/person/opinion on their page/time-line.
The most common reason for this sort of spat is ideologies (religion being a prime one) conflicting. I found myself hovering over the hide button on Facebook when someone I know only slightly was constantly posting about militant vegetarian issues. Then I stopped and asked myself why I wanted to NOT see what she was posting. Answer: because it made me feel deeply uncomfortable about my occasional meat eating. It reminded me of an existing conflict that I had been trying to ignore.
I read a couple of blog posts recently about writing that wound me up. Someone used the metaphor of the Build-a-Bear franchise for how to write a novel, likening the process of creating your own unique teddy from pre-designed components to the process of creating a novel. It made me shriek with outrage, and then I found myself laughing at my own anger. If that’s what works for someone else, fine, let it work for them. No one is forcing me to follow that method, or directly castigating me for not using it. It simply doesn’t matter that another writer has a very different method of being creative to my own. It doesn’t matter if they declared their method to be the only valid method. I am allowed to disagree. This might sound incredibly obvious but it’s quite meaningful for me to say this, because it shows to me that I am beginning to allow that I am allowed to have an opinion that may be counter to everybody else’s; that my opinion has value, whether or not anyone agrees with it. So I didn’t launch into a comment on that blog, explaining patiently how wrong they were. I moved on. Progress, for me, anyway.
Twitter is a place where opinions abound, as do arguments, but I hear quite often the line about unfollowing someone because they are clogging up your time-line with their stuff. This, I confess, baffles me. I have about 1.6k followers/followees. They’re a diverse crew, from many nations and walks of life. Some I follow because I simply find what they say funny or thought-provoking or interesting or sometimes downright rude (and funny); some don’t follow me back, which is fine. I interact with probably only a relatively small number because a good half are in the USA or elsewhere in the world and time-zones away. Among them are a good number of writers. One of the commonest reasons for an unfollow is what is dubbed shameless self-promotion. Now, I see another writer has the right to use Twitter as they wish, so I’ve learned to tune out tweets of this sort, unless they are about books I’ve read and loved, or by an author whom I like and respect (and may have read but not always. Some folks write in genres I cannot bring myself to read, but I know them to be good writers nonetheless) in which case I may well retweet their promotional links. However, what will get me annoyed is someone who follows me, and when I follow back, sends an automatic direct message trying to get me to buy their book. This to me is just bad manners and poor business practise. Depending on mood, I may reply, pointing this out. If there is a response, I base my decision whether to unfollow on that. If they’re humorous but apologetic I may continue to follow; if they ignore my message, I unfollow. If they argue I unfollow. These days, I am very cautious about following other writers. Many collect followers but as soon as you follow them, they unfollow. I also am reluctant to follow back anyone with a vast horde of followers on the principle that I strongly suspect they have no interest in me as a person but rather as a possible customer. Reading their time-line shows whether they chat with others or not, and how.
There is a lot of unkindness in social media, and that saddens me. There is also a great deal of kindness and care, for folks one has never met and never likely to. Sometimes this kind of cyber kindness can make a massive difference to people who are unwell, isolated, lonely and in pain. I’ve met some wonderful people who have been unremittingly kind to me, but I’ve also met plenty who push my buttons. There was one guy, a self-styled guru, who made a claim that depression doesn’t exist. That blog post got so much flak he was eventually obliged to take it down. He’s still out there, with over 80k followers, gaining a flock. I got so angry about the things he was saying, I made an exception to my own rules and unfollowed him. On one occasion he was exceptionally rude and nasty directly to me; I saw him say callous and unkind things to others on many occasions. I considered whether I had a chance of making any sort of difference by opposing him and realised I didn’t stand an earthly hope of it, so stepped back. There’s only so much crap I can take. But I am aware of the buttons he pushed in me and maybe I learned something.
When someone does or says something on social media that upsets, disturbs or enrages me, I’ve begun to learn that there are stages I need to go through. Step back, is the first one. Then I try to understand my reaction and ask myself if there is something I need to learn or change; this is tough because it rides that fine line between compliance to others and authenticity of self. Then I need to decide if I must take any action. By this, I mean, is a response required; would doing or saying nothing be more appropriate? For some, unfriending on Facebook is a small thing but for me, it’s a huge one. If someone does it to me, it hurts. Usually, after much thought, I realise that very little is required. Often nothing at all, in fact, for a good reason: it’s not really about me at all. Other people’s stuff is, well, their stuff. I am allowed to turn on my own selective blindness and ignore it. If I find I can’t ignore it, then it’s time for some deeper soul searching to find out why .