At first glance, it makes little sense to be writing this at the beginning of this website’s launch. It would make more sense to wait and see how things fare, learn the lessons, and then delve into a subject like this. However, it is not only relevant to what I post here but every single other time I and all of us chose to share something online and press that post button.
There is an overwhelming amount of us hanging out in good old social media platforms, forums and websites. It allows us to create little online communities and thus the way we communicate through them has become increasingly important. So this post is actually a reminder to myself but I hope it encourages others to examine their social sharing practices as well! Enlightening discussions that can stimulate, question, probe and encourage creative and critical thinking, is not the first thing we might picture when thinking of social media but it is possible and frankly dependent on us, how we choose to engage in conversation with our online readers, friends and fellow debaters in order to achieve more of a productive discussion and less of a keyboard war! So, after all, why not lead with a round-up of things to keep in mind before pressing send.
1. controversy sells – but you don’t have to sell out
The phenomenon of how negative news and depressing stories act as addictive stimulants that make our brains crave more negative information is by now well-researched and documented. Still, with all that knowledge and self-awareness it becomes impossible to remember at times. Clickbait articles that set you off on a half an hour “next page” war with your smartphone, TV news panels that seem to offer so little substantial information while perpetuating our worst fears about the world and society, extreme opinions, crazy challenges…
When you are fighting the war of, how to get people’s attention – everything becomes a fair game!
How I Fail
When someone can attest to how well this technique works on themselves, having observed how easy it is to fall prey to it, replicating it unknowingly becomes an issue. If it works so well for others, why not try to see how it works for me?
The End Line – Don’t try to create an edge when none exists and none is needed. You don’t always have to be doing something crazy, innovative, creative or amazing. Life can be enjoyed in its most mundane moments and chasing after a continuous “wow” factor might make you less satisfied in the long run.
2. write for an audience – write for yourself
To write, to put words on a page and create sentences. Some of those sentences might not have ever been uttered or written down before. It’s true! Linguistically we are all incredibly diverse in the ways we chose to construct even the simplest of sentences. If you belong to my group of people, writing feels like a cathartic experience. An organizational tool for the mind that doubles as a way to record information. When you write something that was never intended to be read by anyone else, the pretences fall, the words flow and the meaning need only make sense to you. When you are writing for the eyes and pleasure of others, the words falter, the meaning needs to be the focal point, and censoring (sometimes) becomes important.
Aw, I can’t write this, people will stop reading.
Hmm, I should use fancy sounding words, to appear smarter.
As with a lot of things in life, balance is key. Writing for you and writing for pleasure ensures that you are involved in the activity both with brain, heart and emotion. Writing while conscious of the fact that this needs to make sense to people means that others can decipher the inner workings of your brain in a coherent fashion and join into the conversation.
How I Fail
At times of stress, it seems that one of the two sides wins. Maybe there is a deadline looming and words need to be forced onto the page just to satisfy a mass audience. Maybe, you are in need of some emotional cleansing so you hastily throw words onto a page to enjoy a sense of release, that others will not be able to follow.
The End Line – Write what you believe in – value the reader enough to make it easy for them to follow and enjoy the journey.
3. words stay on the page – they stay part of you
One fascinating fact about humans, and there are many, is our tendency to believe the words that come out of our mouth as convincing truths of what we are feeling or thinking. Uttering, or writing down a sentence as simple as “I hate broccoli” when actually you are quite ambivalent about broccoli and even enjoyed eating it that one time it was cooked nicely, makes it very easy for your brain to believe you actually hate broccoli. To the same extent, writing in absolutes might be working to strengthen your belief of them and potentially be taking away your ability to critically examine what you are saying. Add to that, the indelible nature of anything written and submitted online and you have a situation where it pays to err on the side of caution. Make what you write – what you want both your brain to know about yourself and your audience.
How I Fail
Overconfidence in my own thoughts at any given moment might lead to a hasty comment or post that I don’t totally believe in myself.
The End Line – If you are writing something when you are flooded by a storm of emotions, take a moment and evaluate your beliefs. Consider how yourself would feel a couple of hours/months from now and if that opinion is something that you don’t see defining you in the years to come, re-evaluate..
4. behind every screen there is a person
Oh, how much easier it is to express your disapproval of someone when they are not there physically to defend themselves. How easy to pass judgement when you are surrounded by a group of people you know share the same beliefs as you, so there is no fear someone will disagree with you. Why it’s so simple to publish a negative review, leave an insulting comment or criticize someone’s beliefs when there is little chance of ever being confronted by this person face to face or having to defend your actions.
How I Fail
There is a confusing phenomenon in times of emotional distress and annoyance when being rude is mistakenly thought of as being real, authentic and staying true to your principles. In reality, keeping it real by being rude online is rarely a brave move and most often than not it is a cowardly escape behind “secure” electronic walls.
The End Line – Some moments will call for bravely asserting your views and disagreeing. Some moments will call for criticism or harsh comments. But they are few and far in between the moments you need to remain courteous and polite. If there are too many moments when “rudeness” is the only path, you might need to look into what is making you feel this way.
5. debates – devil’s advocates + how people sometimes will give an opposing view just for the sake of it
I love mandarins.
Are you crazy? Strawberries are way better.
(lengthy discussion ensues)
I used to love mandarins, now I’m not so sure anymore.
That’s interesting, why not?
(lengthy discussion ensues)
I hate apples.
I love apples.
Any day of the week, being involved in conversation example 1 or 2 is way better than Example 3. It’s better for your brain – being exposed to different opinions and beliefs, formulating ideas, discovering new perspectives, being challenged to rethink previously held convictions and using smart arguments to support your position.
Example 3 is quite stale. It lacks intellectual stimulation, it’s not making the brain muscle any bigger. Obviously, fruit conversations are not the extent of discussion topics to which I’m referring. Think more controversial issues such as religion, politics, sexuality, welfare, animal rights… Whatever it is, an opposing view is sometimes preferable to an agreement.
So why do we feel like we failed when we are faced with a disagreeing response.
How I Fail
The first step in recognizing the importance of embracing the Devil’s advocate role online or in the real world is to notice how often you do it. Whenever someone says something you know you agree with but feel like making a comment, for the sake of conversation, make a note of it. It’s done often and consistently. So when others do it to you, why do you get so upset? They might be offering an alternative viewpoint for the sake of disagreeing or they might genuinely have a different opinion. Either way, respectful debate will provide additional information to both parties and the opportunity to extend your knowledge base.
The End Line – Just because someone offers another way to see things doesn’t mean they are disagreeing with you. The arguments that are generated from the discussion might work positively to enliven the topic and introduce “what if” scenarios you had not thought of previously.
The Point of All This
Five simple “guidelines” to be kept at the back of my head before I post, publish, submit or respond online. They are not always applicable but can be valuable reminders when it feels like everyone is out to get you, the comments section is full of bullies and you are struggling to keep hold of your sense of empathy. As always, I would love to know what your guidelines would be in similar situations if this is a topic that you often think about or how you agree or disagree with this list.
Keep the debate going.