During the summer I started what I now refer to as an informal study of social interactions on main stream media. As a news junkie I prefer to read the news instead of watching it on TV, and one day I decided I would start reading the comments, too.
It was akin to people watching in the mall, but this time I was peeping into their thoughts. I seldom ever commented on any post, but on occasion I did share some of them on my personal Facebook page to get an idea of how my local friends gauged a news event.
I could easily form my own opinions on each news story, but I wanted to see what others were thinking and feeling. I wanted to know how the Orlando shooting, the Stanford rapist, the police shootings and riots were being perceived. I followed the hurricane, the Louisiana flooding, and the various bombings to see how much attention and empathy they garnered. I wanted to understand why people were voting one way or another.
With each new article and comment section I read, I felt my heart sink a little deeper. The commonalities I found among all of the different stories were anger, a rush to judgement, and oftentimes barely concealed contempt for their peers.
The cruel words being tossed out so carelessly made me question what our future holds for us. And it made me think we can do better than this. We are better than this.
And so, here are my thoughts on those hundreds and hundreds of comments I’ve read…
I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately.
They have the power to lift someone up.
To bring beauty and sunshine to a rather ordinary day.
They have the power to bring peace, to give joy, to make a positive difference in someone’s life.
And yet, when we don’t guard our words carefully, they have the power to destroy.
Words have the power to rip apart friends, to shatter the weak and the weary, to torment poor souls who are need of a friend instead of a foe.
I think about how we teach our kids from a very young age that words are their greatest weapon and how they need to use them wisely.
And yet, we don’t follow our own advice.
I think by now, we all have found that the children’s rhyme:
Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never hurt me.
Words do hurt. There’s no doubt about that. Sometimes words are intended to cause hurt, while at other times they’re simply misconstrued.
But either way, they still cause pain.
Words have the power to influence and to guide, or to repel and divide. And every time we use them, we are choosing which direction we want to go.
Maybe we need to treat words as if we have a limited supply and we should use them sparingly.
Maybe we need to think before we speak.
Hit delete more often than return.
Have an inner dialogue instead of a public one.
Because as you know, the problems with words is once they have been said there’s no way to unsay them.
I’ve also been thinking about the language we use. Not just the words involved, but the actual language we use to communicate with one another.
I think about how we have lost the ability to communicate effectively.
How we no longer listen to understand. We listen to reply.
I think about how the art of listening and the art of compromise go hand in hand. And how it seems like both have been lost since social media has come to light. And I wonder how the hell we’re ever going bridge this gap again.
It’s beyond frightening to read the political dialogue going on between strangers on Facebook. It’s beyond frightening to think we have become so uncivilized in such a relatively short period of time. And it’s beyond frightening to think that some of this damage and fallout will be irreparable in our lifetime.
All because of a few carelessly spoken words, uttered in the heat of the moment…
At what point did we decide our opinion was the most important one? The only one that mattered? That we had exclusive rights to being right in every situation?
How can we retrain ourselves to listen? To bend a little? To meet in the middle? To give so that we can also take?
If we can’t master this most basic human interaction, then how do we expect our kids to master it? What will their future be like? And their kids’ future? Will they live in a world full of hate, anger, and ridicule?
It’s okay to have differences of opinions. It’s actually healthy and can be beneficial in finding new solutions to old problems, but if we’re too busy shouting at one another while staying closed minded, then we’ll never find a way to get along, much less solve pressing issues.
When the dust settles…
We need to remember when the dust settles after the election we’ll still be neighbors, coworkers, and family. And hopefully we’ll still be friends.
We need to use our words to build each other up instead of tear one another apart.
We need to use our words to come together, to meet in the middle, and to find solutions for our communities.
We need to use our words to embrace diversity, to accept our differences in beliefs, and to recall why our founding fathers worked so tirelessly on the Constitution so that we would not have to experience what they did.
It’s okay to have a difference of opinions but it’s never okay to shred each other to pieces. We are better than this and it’s time we started showing it.
So I implore you, the next time you go to speak, to type, or to debate remember to use your words wisely. #allwordsmatter