Thursday, June 4, 2015

Ten guidelines for how to not be a jerk online.

Looking around at the recent posts about Bruce Jenner, it is painfully obvious that we as a society may have lost the ability to argue respectfully about ideas.  A lot of chest-thumping from different sides but no real dialogue.  It is disheartening - too much talk, so little learning.  

It makes we wonder whether we have lost the ability to be teachable.

Teachable (adj.) - Able to be taught.

It really is that simple - it means listening and learning from people that don't agree with you.

If you look around social media everyone has an opinion about polarizing ideas (like the Bruce Jenner headline) but no one is listening to anyone outside their camp.

Voices from one camp . . .
"That's disgusting and revolting, Bruce Jenner is an insult to women.  People like him are focused on doing away with our values.  All people who think like this are subject to the judgment of God."

Voices from the other . . .
"Love has many forms.  Anyone who has a problem with Bruce Jenner changing his gender is a bigot and a racist and a homophobe and beats children."

It is a crying shame.  No one is listening to anyone else.  

Can I share this bit of wisdom with you?  Listen to this:  You are only as smart as the opinions you let in.  When you are so narrow-minded that you only listen to those that agree with you it will show eventually in your aptitude.  You don't have to believe every opinion you hear - just value it.  You can't grow only listening to like-minded people.

And really, it won't hurt you.  You will not shrivel up and die if you are offended by what people say.  In fact, the ideas that I have learned the most from in life really stung at first.  We need to get over being offended without being offensive.  

Otherwise all we have is a complex electronic social network that exist for the sole purpose of people shouting their opinions at each other and then shutting people out when they disagree.  

So . . . in an effort to reverse this trend, I have come up with 10 guidelines for an open mind on social media.  Please send this to those who have shut you down or shouted you down in an effort to dominate conversation online.  Or better yet - send it to yourself as a reminder that you are responsible for the tone your words set.  

How to be Teachable on Social Media:

1.  Posting gets responses.  It is fine to have an opinion, but remember that anything online is dynamic and interactive.  The very fact that you are posting your opinion means that you are inviting comment.  Don't be surprised when someone disagrees with you.  Thank them for their opinion and try to learn from it in any way you can.

2.  Don't post things that aim to hurt people.  This is rooted in your intentions.  If you see a funny meme about environmental awareness, check your heart . . . are you really posting it because it is funny or are you secretly wanting to slam someone (or a group of people).  If you check yourself and find that it is an effort to belittle, skip it.  If you post it, soften it for people who might think differently so they don't feel whacked.

3. Stop the label games.  When someone disagrees with you, it is the height of ignorance to label them as a particular subset of evil.  For example, someone might post "I think gay marriage could get us in trouble down the road" - this is someone's opinion, listen first and seek understanding.  Don't respond with "you are a bigot."  This may or may not be true, but it has nothing to do with the statement.  This is propositional arguing "if you say x then you must be x."  It is a way of shaming someone and it silences debate.  It is (hopefully) a passing form of enforced ignorance.  Instead, try to find out the core of why they think the way they do.  You may not agree with it, but you will have learned something.

4.  Be twice as nice.  Since social media amplifies differences, you need to try twice as hard to communicate where we are similar.  Seek to understand other people's views.  You won't catch their disease by learning more about what they think or why they think it.  Simple questions like, "I'm genuinely interested - why do you not support gay marriage?"  or "tell me why you think that my thoughts are hateful" sent in a genuine fashion may help to promote understanding and mutual discovery.

5.  Tell someone when they have helped you see something new.  More often than not, two people get in a shouting match and they agree to disagree until they pick a fight with someone new.  The next time someone disagrees with you, find out why they think what they think and learn something.  Then thank them for what you have learned.  

6.  Don't assume you know more than the other person.  Sometimes we are more arrogant than we realize.  We see someone post something and we assume that we know more or that because they are a particular political or religious persuasion that we have the intellectual higher ground.  Stop doing that.  Be honest about what you don't know.  Stop viewing other people's perspectives as needing to be fixed - maybe you are the one who has something to learn.  Go into the exchange as a student, not the master.

7.  Don't listen only to set up the slam.  We do this in real life too.  We listen to someone only to find something wrong with it.  If you find a flaw in the other person's thinking, try just keeping it to yourself - the purpose of arguments isn't always to win it.  

8.  Go for the win/win.  Is it possible that both parties might win from your encounter?  Try going into your conversations with people (in real life and online) with the attitude that you want both parties to walk away having received something for it.  You can be right about an issue in such a way that both of you walk away feeling good about the exchange.  However that might happen - pursue it.  

9. Remember that you are talking to a person, not an idea.  If it helps, before you say something online to someone, spend a few moments looking at their profile.  See their girlfriend or kids or parents.  Remind yourself that this is a person and not a convert or an agenda.  If you can post something remembering that they are a real person then go for it!

10.  Your ideas are only as strong as you allow them to mix with other ideas.  When you keep your thoughts in a silo and protect them through Neanderthal-ish means you never have a way to deepen your convictions.  Exposing your points of view to other competing ideas will only strengthen your thinking.  Stop hiding behind your liberalism . . . your progressivism . . . your Republicanism . . . your faith and allow your ideas to get elbowed a bit.  If they are ideas and beliefs worth holding onto they will hold their own.  Take the helmet and pads off and engage with people again.

I write this in part to remind myself that we are human and we make stupid mistakes.  I wish I could take back some things that I have said to people in the past.  More importantly I hope that I can remember these things as I post in the future.  There is no idea bigger than a person.  Winning the argument but losing the relationship is like looting in your neighborhood - you are left with a lonely aftermath and cleanup.

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