Words can be powerful - use them well

© Jenn Shallvey

© Jenn Shallvey

In today’s world of lounge experts and armchair critics we don’t stand a chance. Well that is if you listen to what ‘they’ say. ‘They’ are the people lining up to pull you down, jump at you, criticise, attack, complain. ‘They’ are the people who are on the attack at all times, armed with words and spite to hurt and harm. It is a woeful world this one of hate and meanness.

I do not venture into this world as a participant. At times though I dip in as an observer. And when I do it pains me to see what people are willing to inflict on others and what others must go through in their choice to exist online in front of others publicly. It is enough to scare most of us sensitive souls under the covers sealed up in the safety of our bed. Yet this would not do much good for the world would it?

So instead the brave and courageous ones step forward daring to put their opinions out in full view. Some are just doing their job. But for some reason, like a duck on the opening day of hunting season, they just happen to be prime target in someones hobby. Ok so yes there are people paid to do this for a living, we all know. But generally the battle is fought from the sidelines of one’s private life.

All you have to do is the following and you will have a good idea of what I mean. 1. Open any social media platform, yes they are not exclusive, and look at the comments. It is virtually impossible to avoid seeing or reading hateful comments. 2. Scan the news headlines on your favourite news source no matter how intellectual the masthead or popular the show seems. What do you see? Sensationalist headlines, click bait, gossip and emotion triggering choices.  3. Sit in a cafe or public place, pause over your latte and listen to the conversations. In your ‘for research purposes’ eavesdropping notice the tone and balance between what is constructive vs destructive in the banter.

Now I warn you. Do not do this experiment for too long unless you are well and truly self protected and armed with the strength of objectivity. For if you take a moment you may be lost for hours in disbelief. Worse you may even catch the fervor (or maybe fever) of a rant or exchange. Before you know it you are on your soap box running around telling everyone they are wrong, you are right. I know this feeling as I catch it from time to time.

You see that is what this world is doing. Our exchange is becoming a world of ‘I am right’ and ‘you are wrong’.  Polarising. This or that. No in between. No open for discussion, agree to disagree or constructive debate.  Instead, in the exchange of an opinion many appear to forget that there is another person, a real human, at the other end. Some may say in their defence ‘oh this is nothing’ or ‘it’s just a little fun’. Some may genuinely believe that their cutting slagging off of a person is for their own good. Some may simply get off on this power struggle behind the safety of a anonymous untraceable avatar.

What is missing? Quite a lot. You could say manners. But when emotions with blinders take over concern for conduct is secondary or non existent. No. What is missing is genuine interest in the other person’s position and a willingness to listen. What is missing is unconditional acceptance, even platonic love of the person as a person and fellow human being first. What is missing is a tolerance and curiosity for divergent beliefs, views, principles and values. It seems one way is the only way - meaning ‘my way’.

Of late I have listened to and watched a few stories about how high profile individuals (I will not name as it is not about who they are but what they do) handle the haters. One podcaster talked about how she dealt with haters by having someone else read her emails before she read them.

This administrative protector of sorts helped to create a boundary. She then could choose whether to engage or not, which she mostly did. Her genuine effort to communicate resulted in 90% changing their view or apologising. 

Another high profile writer takes a stand by turning off all comments on his extremely popular blog and website so comments don’t influence his content creation.  His lead also influenced others to do the same meaning conversations happen elsewhere. 

A leading author and leader in research about human experiences focuses on the distinction of whether the person is ‘in the ring’ or not. By this she means if the person is also stepping up and out to do the level of public work she does then she will engage. She won’t give time to those that hide and simply fire from the sideline. 

Another author with authentic and passionate sharing on social media finally resorted to blocking people who used verbal harm and abuse in her online space. 

One thing in common is a commitment to their work no matter what. There also is an invitation to discuss, share views and work together even if not in agreement. 

These people also have something else in common - they come from a genuine place of love of people and service to people in general. They are out making a difference with their work so that the world is better in some way. Of course if you start to pave the way for such thoughtfulness you will rankle the ires of those not aligned. 

The ultimate response though is the community response. This is the one that to me is the most powerful.  Why? Well the community response can go in a variety of directions. On one hand it can spiral down into equally dismissive and hateful language as those they call out. We see the mob mentality emerge. Purely emotional reaction powered by group think.  If you did not know their side you could say in the same boat. On the other hand many times the group comes to the unified defence of the author, speaker, public figure in the name of common courtesy, decency, positive regard for others. You see examples of people effectively rallying around in a virtual circle of support, defence and action.

It is this last result which then means the haters have done their work. Yes I found a way to accept the role of haters but not condone their actions. When someone or some group pushes us too much we need to act. And act is what we do when we are helping, protecting and guiding others.  Without even consciously stopping to think about why we see others stepping in.  The ensuing exchange further progresses the conversation to a new level of resolution and action that may not have happened otherwise. 

Of course I would prefer an easier route to getting the conversation started.  For this to occur we need to be in real conversation not just bounce opinions back and forth. There also need to be a few other ingredients - willingness to come together, genuine listening and hearing each other and motivation to seek an outcome that benefits all not just self. This is an aspirational task in our current climate. It is possible.

Jenn Shallvey