It’s 7:49 on Monday morning. Like most mornings, I’ve started my day by scrolling through my Facebook feed. On this morning, my feed includes a disproportionately high number of hostile, aggressive, inflammatory posts. Anger. Outrage. Arguments. Politics. My blood pressure is already on the rise and I haven’t even had a first bite of breakfast.
When social media first came on the scene, I was an early and eager adopter. I loved that it let me stay in contact with people I cared about, many of whom are strewn from coast to coast. Along the way, there have been new cities, new partners, new puppies, new babies. I have enjoyed watching the people I care about flourish in their careers, marry their soulmates and flounder their way through building families with a sense of humor and grace.
In recent years, social media has taken a new tone – and it’s one that doesn’t sit well with me. The social space has become a zone of ongoing hostility. It has evolved to not only only mirror, but amplify, the shift and split of our nation’s collective attitude In many ways, it has become reflective of the worst parts of our humanity. Conversation and discourse have been replaced by name calling, accusations, jumping to conclusions, shaming and bullying. Even amongst my relatively small number of Facebook friends, I find myself regularly censoring my own thoughts and words knowing I will inevitably mingle with many of these people at future happy hours, Christmas parties, and networking events.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about hindering freedom of speech. I'm one of the loudest and proudest advocates for truth. I recognize the undeniable value of social in giving people a voice and platform for positive change. The issue I’m speaking to is the way social media has created a veil of anonymity. And even when we’re not anonymous, it has made it undeniably easier for all to spit spite and hit post without considering the real-world consequences.
In many ways, social has become a land without repercussion in which social graces and common courtesy have been flung out the window. Contrary to our grandparents’ conventional wisdom about the dangers of talking “sex, politics or religion,” it seems those are the only things people want to discuss these days. But it’s not a discussion. It’s a passive-aggressive (sometimes aggressive-aggressive) dichotomy. And the core message is: you’re either with me or against me.
This reality has led me to employ a new approach to my social media; a social diet of sorts. I’ve been quietly paring down and trimming the excess. And while part of me would like to say, “It’s nothing personal” – it is. Some people, much like some conversations, are better suited for once-a-year niceties at a Christmas parties.
The truth is, sometimes I just want to look at cute puppy videos. Sometimes I just want to see how you’re doing or how you opted to decorate your living room. Sometimes I’m not in the mood to defend my viewpoint on this or that. Sometimes I’d like to take a pass on picking apart the latest media-fueled hysteria or tragedy. Life is hard enough without adding a daily dose of additional anger and hostility to the universe.
Should we take a stand on the things that matter? Absolutely. But as the cliché goes, actions speak louder than words. Every day does not need to be a soapbox. Every discussion does not need to be a diatribe. Every message is not appropriate for every audience. We recognize this as a universal truth in business, so why do we shun the same conventional wisdom as it applies to communicating within our personal lives?
For years, I have been joking that the next wave of human trend will be a “return to real life.” I thought we’d burn out on the technology. It never occurred to me that we would burn ourselves out by using the tools to widen the human divide.
In learning to unabashedly speak our minds, I’m left wondering if we’ve inadvertently unlearned how to be kind.