Sometimes I wish social media didn’t exist. We’ve taken something that was supposed to bring people closer together, and have used it to drive wedges between us so deep, they may leave our relationships beyond repair. The relationships with those closest to us, our friends and family, those we used to cherish so deeply, are now fractured because nephew Joe said that thing about President Trump. Or Uncle Randy is shunned from the holiday party because of that racist retweet.
This has hit close to home for me. When I see that post or tweet or video clip, accompanied by a sarcastic, cynical comment, the blood in my veins starts to boil. I too have shared things that I wasn’t proud of, going back minutes or days later to delete. I’ve engaged in arguments that, when I reflect back, I wish I hadn’t. It’s like a drug — the more we engage it, the more it controls us.
I’ve heard it said that social media reveals who we truly are. That it’s the real life version of What Women Want, that cheesy movie from about 20 years ago, where Mel Gibson could hear what women were thinking.
I don’t quite buy that theory. Let’s take for instance Uncle Randy. If social media didn’t exist, I don’t think Uncle Randy would draw a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s face imposed on a mule. Sure, he may dislike her policies and complain about her at the local watering hole, but the only reason that picture is being shared on social media is because he is now in the system, he’s hooked on the drug — an addiction to who has the best comeback, who can be the meanest, who can I shame today? It’s an addiction to the “likes” — those little shots of dopamine into his brain.
This topic has become ever more prevalent the last four months or so with topics like the coronavirus — mask or no mask? Black lives matter, blue lives matter, all lives matter — just saying those three statements I’m sure has already evoked a reaction in you. Stimulus checks, remote schooling, police de-funding, the list goes on and on. There is no ignoring the fact that there are numerous issues that divide us that need to be worked through.
But no matter where you stand on these topics, take a moment and consider how best to speak your voice. Is it through a snide meme? Is it through lambasting, on a keyboard, anyone who disagrees with you? This comment will teach my uncle! This doctored image will put my spoiled daughter in her place!
I am sure, in concept, you all think those options are ridiculous. I do too, but I will admit I’ve been guilty of that behavior, and I’m sure some of you have, too.
Maybe there is a better way.
Before I got married, a decade ago, my wife and I attended pre-marital counseling. One of the techniques we learned was what they called “the floor.” They gave us a small square, labeled “the floor,” and only the person holding the floor could speak. When one of us was done speaking, the other person had to repeat back what they said and also try to capture the tone and sentiment. It forced us to listen. It forced us to interpret and understand what the other person was saying and feeling. There were no disrespectful images we shared to get across our point. There was no “retweeting” a news story that aligned with my view that she was wrong. It was simply talking, person to person.
Maybe the better way is a return to talking, a return to listening, and a few less shares, likes and retweets. Maybe instead of banning someone from our lives forever because they got addicted, like many of us have, to the social media drug, we call them and say, “You’ve got the floor, I’m listening.”