Written by Jillian Webber
“My goal is to help build a world of empathetic and compassionate communication through self-reflection and habit change. No one is perfect, I still misstep time after time, but I have made the goal to learn from and teach through my experiences so that others may bypass or overcome the suffering I have gone through.”
It is time we all take a close look at ourselves and those around us. As I scroll through social media sites I often view comments I both agree and disagree with. Based on responses, I find myself defending those on both sides. I have realized, based on only sites I have visited, that the majority of people are bullies.
This has been a hard year around the world. Tensions have risen for an outstanding number of reasons. For some, the time at home due to COVID has allowed us to grow and develop ourselves, but for others this time has allowed us to focus on the fear. It is that fear that is turning us…yes US, both you and I…into bullies.
I recently reviewed several political posts on a site that is supposed to be more professionally focused. I reviewed posts that supported both the left and the right. Each post was a positive one for a representative of that political affiliation. Unremarkably, I found that the results were similar, no matter the political affiliation. On each post there were, of course, both supportive and unsupportive comments. The positives typically outweighed the unsupportive at about 70% positive.
I then looked at the responses to the “unsupportive” responses (by “unsupportive” I mean differing opinion or questioning, not necessarily negative). What I found was that all the positive energy of the post went quickly out the window and negativity flowed like a river from all sides. Rarely did I find a constructive discussion on the why of the comment, leaving the negativity at an extremely high 99%. The scary thing was I found similar responses on sites or posts that were meant for support and positive reflection.
So, what does this mean? With the high rates of negative responses all around, even for sites claiming to be positively focused, it is highly likely that you have been a part of this at some point. I know I have been. So why do we do this? Why can’t we just simply scroll past posts which we do not like? We have full control to do this. In fact, this is one of the few times in life that we have the full control to ignore and pass up negativity.
For some, it is the NEED to teach that person a lesson. But I must ask, what are you trying to teach? Is your lesson that of the patient parent who quietly explains why a specific action may end in negative results and then allows the child to learn at his/her own will? Or are you attempting to teach with the iron hand - enough bruises will change those thoughts? Although you may not like thinking of yourself as the abusive parent or iron hand, take a good look at your response to those around you of a differing opinion this past year or so. Did you resort to name calling and throwing out words like “ignorant” or “idiot”? Did you say things to bring out negative responses from those opposing you? Remember abuse can be a direct hit, or it can be passive aggressive.
As with an abused child, two typical results often stem from the outbursts or the iron hand approach.
1) The child becomes a bully themselves. They focus their wrath on you or people they associate with you. One more notch in the divide between humans is again made and violence becomes the first response to anything unwelcome. If anyone ever hoped to try to sway that person or have them come together in peace, your outbursts have only succeeded in pushing that outcome into oblivion.
2) They shut down. What is wrong with that you might ask? In the worst-case scenario, your bullying may lead to suicide. However, the most common result is that when people shut down, they stop having differing beliefs or opinions, and you create a world of people who think only like you. Or maybe they do not think at all, but rather just blindly follow you. In this world creativity dies. We repeat mistakes as we all think alike and therefore will not see the error of our ways, and progress stops. If we did not have those who thought differently from us, would we believe that everything orbited and revolved around the earth (Pythagoras and Aristotle)? We would not have energy as we know it today (Tesla), and billions of lives would have been lost due to lack of hygiene in the medical field (Semmelweis), just to name a few.
There is one more reason negativity turns so quickly to the blind hatred and trolling that so commonly fills our news, spews out of the mouths of authority figures, and dirties the relationships of friends and family. Fear! Our minds are programmed to save us from the unknown. It is like a built-in security system. This security system keeps us safe most of the time, but it often keeps out friendly visitors and even the publisher's clearing house cheque. If you took the time to have a respectful and thoughtful conversation about a hard topic with someone of the opposite opinion, the likelihood is that your opinion would be swayed in some way, shape or form. Maybe that person is not able to prove you wrong, however there is a high likelihood that they will have some form of evidence that makes sense and supports their view.
What would this mean to you? It would mean that you may need to re-evaluate your perspective, if even just a little. The idea that you may have been misled or wrong about one item could have you questioning a few other things as well. Could you have been wrong about more? If our source was that of a trusted person, have you now lost faith in them? How will those in your “think like me” club feel if you have this new opinion? They may abandon you, as we have seen much of lately. These unknown outcomes immediately trigger the fear response which, for many, comes in the form of the cornered, wild animal snapping and snarling at the outstretched hand of a stranger. It most likely is not as bad as all those fear thoughts, however our security system can often get carried away. In fact, if we give the conversation a chance, we may find that the other person may also have a changed perspective.
So how do we fix this negativity and hostility? The first step is recognizing when it has been triggered and what triggered it. Once we do that it is a matter of taking a step back in a conversation and communicating through empathy. If you can try to understand how others feel, then you are less likely to snap and snarl, as you will see them as the same scared animal you are. If you find yourself in a mood or position that you can’t reach that empathy ask yourself “what will responding do?” If you can’t see a positive outcome then step back and skip it or approach it later.
It is time we re-calibrate our security systems. We cannot move forward as a society if we continue to divide ourselves in fear. If we can learn to communicate through empathy, we may find we are not all that different, and a comfortable medium can be found by all.
Note: The numbers and information provided in this article are only based on my experiences.
Written by Jillian Webber ©
Harmonizing Habits Health and Life coaching
Knowledge Broker and Public Speaker on Sexual Assault Prevention
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