Opinion: Cutting Each Other Some More Slack Online
The other day I came across something that said “If you don’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them”. While I understand the sentiment and don’t necessarily disagree, I found myself feeling like someone was pointing their finger into my chest. It was a tad aggressive, and I didn’t like the feeling of being forced into one of two oversimplified viewpoints on a more complex issue.
Anyone who has used social media has become familiar with many of the differing opinions out there. Many of us have developed pretty strong ones and have tasted that surge of righteous energy when chiming in on a polarizing topic. Opinions can be known to masquerade as ideas, and the difference should be noted. An opinion is not the idea itself, it’s someone’s personal feeling about it.
When encountered with openness, ideas outside our personal frame of reference can sharpen the focus of our feelings on a matter, add context to something already known, or cause us to question the nature of our position.
Taking all of that into another context, lately I’ve been thinking about how the ability to curate our social media experience can have an affect on our own personal development.
I’ll use Twitter as an example as it's the social media I’m most familiar with. When I found Twitter, I was excited to hear what people were thinking, and I wasn’t immune to the allure of celebrity. I followed actors, musicians, authors, comedians, (basically my favourite artists) and friends. It seemed like another barrier had been pulled down between little ol’ me and the previously inaccessible.
It wasn’t long, though, before I realized that my concept of who people were changed when I was exposed to more of their inconsequential day to day thoughts. Once that set in, I began a merciless path of unfollowing. It felt good to take charge of some area of my life, even if it wasn’t the part that most needed my attention (but that’s a topic for another day).
At this point, my twitter feed is far more refined to the way I like it, but every once in a while someone retweets a political opinion, a slanted news piece, or joins in some trend I want nothing to do with. It’s like they walked into my room and farted.
The way I often react is to make a personal decision to either “let it slide” or to stop following the person because life is too short for unnecessary drama. On the other hand, I have to consider whether I’m just reacting because my equilibrium of values & ideas has been challenged.
I’m trying to be more fair than I used to because I’ve been seeing the benefit of allowing a bit of thoughtful diversity in my feed. Something to rub my own thoughts against for refinement. To me, the alternative would be creating my own version of Fox News or [insert any cable news network here] - surrounding myself with only “like” opinions.
It used to be considered impolite to bring up politics or religion in a social setting, and at some point with all of the media dominating our entertainment, these very topics have jumped in to the mainstream. Having a strong opinion is seen as a badge of honour now, and not suffocating to the art of conversation like it truly can be.
Allowing ourselves to disagree without dismissal enables social media to be more like life actually is. I enjoy being surprised by people because it’s humbling to be wrong and I actually like being reminded that always being right isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The principle of agreeing to disagree with respect is too important to ignore. With the amount of time we spend connecting online, I like to remind myself that just because we don’t like what someone said, it doesn’t mean they don’t have anything good to offer.