The internet’s a big place, that means there’s a lot of different people around.
As someone who rarely posts to social media these days, I was rather taken aback recently when about 4 ex-colleagues launched a furious attack on a seemingly innocent LinkedIn post I wrote about “escaping your comfort zone”.
I obviously see attacks like this all the time in the comments section on other platforms (here’s looking at you Facebook), often between anonymous strangers. But I never expected to receive it from people I know, and certainly not quite so aggressively over a topic that is arguably fairly circumstantial and inconsequential.
This got me thinking more broadly about how normalised hate has become online. And how we can better deliver criticism to make the internet a kinder, more mature place when we disagree with something.
Valuing different opinions
Because people on the internet, and indeed the world, do realise that it’s okay to have different thoughts and opinions to theirs, right? That there’s not necessarily a “right” or “wrong” to a given subject.
Things that trigger one person, may help save the life of someone else. Recall that we all have our own values, interests and backgrounds. And no single person’s will ever also align with our own 100%, heck not even our BFF or romantic partner.
Disagreeing with a single characteristic, or because someone said something the wrong way, is NOT a reason to "cancel" them (obviously if it’s something like Nazism, different story).
People make mistakes, and intend things for an audience that may not be you, and we’re going into very dangerous territory to shut others down because of this.
Here’s a quick guide I tell myself if I disagree with something:
Great, that’s fine.
Ask yourself “does this *really* matter in the grand scheme of things?”
You can now choose to ignore it.
Ignoring them solves the problem 99% of the time, attention alone is what adds fuel to the fire.
If it’s a social cause you really feel that strongly about, you can:
Try and fully understand where that person’s viewpoint comes from.
Ask questions to get this clarity.
Acknowledge you’ve listened to them with the points of their argument that you do agree with.
Read into or talk to others who share the same viewpoint.
Offer up your viewpoint respectfully as an alternative way of thinking.
Of course, this only truly works if the other person is equally as mature. But even if they’re not, you’re at least now doing your part to have a civil discussion and be the bigger person. You can now finish. If they come back with a childish response, is this seriously worth your time?
Immediately reacting angrily or rudely is not going to change someone’s mind, and only intensifies a situation. From my experience, this has never once resolved a conflict.
Even if you absolutely disagree with everything someone’s said, they’ll have a reason for it, and they’re entitled to that difference in opinion as much as you are.
If we are to work together to try and understand different opinions and trains of thought, it all starts by seeking this common middle ground.
Sometimes that might take a lot of patience, time and willingness but is absolutely necessary to start having a productive conversation.