The opportunity of online openness

A non-binary person responds to angry or rude social media messages with kindness and compassion. And proves that most people are angry because they’re afraid because they’re ignorant and don’t know how to approach the things they don’t know about…

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That’s what I got out of this remarkable text exchange between Rain Dove, a non-binary model, and the terrified (and hate-spewing) parent of a child who had expressed a desire to bind her breasts so she could look more like a boy.

My current life manifesto (#goals) is called the Shambhala Warrior Mind Training, and part of it reads like this:

Sit with hatred until you feel the fear beneath it.

Sit with fear until you feel the compassion beneath that.

 

Here’s what confuses me about the internet: why is it commonly accepted that people revert to their worst selves online (bullying, trolling, bitching and complaining), generally making social media a bit of a cesspool?

I mean, isn’t that the easiest place to be kind – when you have time to breathe and pause (or shut down, go for a run and come back days later) before you reply? It’s not easier when you’re face to face with someone (family member/relative/difficult boss) who is actually challenging for you… Wouldn’t you think the internet would be full of people like Rain, rather than the inciters to violence?

When I first started writing for the Wellness Almanac, I realized I had a massive problem. I had met one First Nations person in my life. On a boat trip. For half an hour. I had no idea who I was talking to or what I was talking about. The committee I pitched the website idea to was pretty diverse. A communications strategy, they advised me, is pretty effective if you use Facebook. There’s a lot of Facebook activity amongst Lil’wat… So I asked them, would you please let me follow you? Would you be my Facebook friend?

That’s how it began.

I intentionally diversified my Facebook friends, so I could learn about people in my community who I didn’t know anything about. Every time I encountered someone new, or read about someone in the newspaper, I’d ask if I could follow them. I’d read articles they posted, and celebrate their celebrations. I was led to some fascinating things. My frinedship circle is probably not much more diverse, in real life, than it was then. (Kids. Who has time for friends?)

But my thinking is.

I opened myself to the influence of other people. So I could learn. And I am now confounded by the news media stereotypes, that used to be my only window on a community and culture.

It was much easier to achieve this, thanks to Facebook, than it is for me to truly understand what is going on in some of the more fraught actual relationships in my life, where I often feel like I’m not quite being my best self, but I just don’t know how to manage the complex dynamic of real life relationships, or how to be compassionate and curious when I’m confronted or stressed or flooded with emotion.

We can use the social media environment to be better versions of ourselves, and practice sitting with uncomfortable feelings until we excavate the compassion underneath. Maybe it will ripple out into the harder interactions, the real life moments, the encounters that rely on us having a reflex of kindness.

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That’s my online commitment for 2020, anyway. To be the opposite of a troll. 🙂 To say compassionate things, like Rain Dove did, or nothing (which is a perfectly acceptable option, because it’s not as if the vast constant chatterstage actually needs any more noise.)

if you can't be kind be quiet

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