Social Media – Friend or Foe?
Has social media made the world a better place? The ability to stay connected with friends and family around the world is undoubtedly a good thing but social media can also bring out the worst in people – e.g. it can be used as a platform for spreading fear, hate, fanaticism, and prejudice, and it can also be used as a venue where we take out our bad moods or mental pain on other people.
Social media can certainly feel toxic at times. One way I tried to deal with the toxicity was to disconnect from those I disagreed with, but ultimately, this strategy was flawed because I probably disagree with all of my friends on at least some subjects. I also became uneasy with this yearning to be wrapped in cotton wool – it became obvious the problem wasn’t the different opinions of others, but my inability to handle these differences.
I have come to realize that social media can be a wonderful tool for developing the Brahma Viharas (kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity). Here are 5 tips for how you can do the same:
1. Learn to Use the Principle of Charity
If I say something nasty to someone else, I can easily justify it by claiming ‘I was in a bad mood’ – if people says something nasty to me though, it is obviously because they are a horrible. We tend to have a double-standard when it comes to interpreting our own motives and the motives of others. A good way to address this bias is to use the principle of charity.
The principle of charity means choosing to interpret online communications positively rather than negatively. For example, if we post a selfie and somebody comments about how nice we look, we can interpret this negatively as sarcasm or positively as a compliment. If we have low self-esteem, or we are in a bad mood, we are more likely to assume the negative motive, and this harmless comment could become a source of suffering – the principle of charity means not doing that.
2. Learn to See That Other People Don’t Need to Be Wrong for You to be Right
We are all just doing our best to make sense of being alive. The fact there is so much uncertainty about all of this stuff explains why there are so many different opinions and beliefs about what is right and wrong. Our job is to find a path that works for us as individuals – the validity of our path does not depend on our ability to convince other people of the truth of this path. Other people need to find the path that works for them – they don’t need to be wrong for us to be right.
3. Remember You Are Dealing With Real People
One of the difficulties with communicating online is it becomes much harder to judge the impact of our words on the other person. The fact that we are staring at a computer screen means we can easily forget we are dealing with a real human being. This means we can become willing to say things on social media that we would never say in a face-to-face conversation. If we want to avoid hurting others, we need to consider our words before we share them.
4. Try to Understand the Other Person’s Point of View – Even if You Disagree With It
All humans see themselves as the hero of their story – even those who commit despicable acts view themselves as the victim. It is only by understanding what drives other people that we have any hope to find a way to live with them. Simply calling those we disagree with ‘evil’ hasn’t worked in the past, and it is unlikely to work in the future. It is hard to do sometimes, but it is only by trying to understand the other person’s point of view that we can develop compassion.
5.Practice Mindful Communication and Compassion
Developing compassion through using social media means never communicate in a way that is going to cause suffering to others. We need to think about what we want to say and why we want to say it. If we feel like lashing out at the world, it is probably best not to say anything. It can be far more fruitful to spend time reflecting on why an online comment has made you angry than to respond to it in anger.
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