Kindness Online, Where Have You Gone?

Ever wonder what has happened to kindness on the internet? It sure seems like it has gone by the wayside, especially this year.

Lately – especially now with Covid-19, massive unemployment, and craziness all around this planet – there seems to be so many people becoming unhinged. So many angry posts and responses, everywhere.

I am not exempt. I have failed, too. I’ve posted things I had to remove because I realized I was contributing to the madness.

I keep asking myself if this is the type of world I want to live in, and the answer is, of course, an unequivocal, “NO!” But, I have to be honest: I have not always been kind online either. I have fallen into the trap of responding angrily. Not cool. I apologize for my behavior.

I’ve seen all kinds of ugly on social media lately, especially on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve been called some popular explicatives (I am sure you can imagine what that might entail), have been told I was stupid or can’t think, called all kinds of names, etc., simply for expressing an opinion (I usually don’t just spew off my opinion unless I can back it up with facts, by the way). I have been unfriended and blocked because I stood up for black people, women’s rights, human rights, and animal rights. I have done my fair share of deleting people as well.  

I have a love/hate relationship with social media.

Facebook is where I met my husband; it is where I found so many like-minded people who I consider good friends (even though we have not met in person); it is where I reunited with so many childhood pals, former coworkers, and others. I would be lost without it at this point. It is part of my life, and it’s been good to me. But, what has happened to kindness on the internet?

What have we become as a society? And, how can we fix this, and for goodness sake, be kinder?

I am not bashing or judging anyone here. I am simply asking for all of us to consider and practice more kindness. I am guilty of not being nice as well, so no judgement from me.

It is blatantly obvious on social media channels that people’s viewpoints and beliefs are on opposite ends of a wide spectrum these days: Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Antifa, White Privilege, Fascism, LGBTQIA (most people don’t even know what that is), racism, women’s rights, Covid-19 (a hoax?), Cancel Culture, Trump this, Trump that, Biden this, Biden that, the Russians did it, and now we have Kanye West running for president (and, fill in the blank where I missed something please). The list goes on and on. So much negativity. It never stops.

Despite the media doing a superb job of constantly propagandizing and baiting us with the latest “breaking news,” I’d like to look at the big picture because I believe everything that is happening these days is a good thing.

Let me explain.

Due to the ongoing events of this unprecedented year 2020, people are unexpectedly being forced to review their beliefs and values. This is a positive thing. Nothing will change for the better if people are not willing to first examine their unconscious beliefs. Of course, there are those who will never do this and remain in their own self-imposed ignorance, but I am seeing many people rise to the occasion of inner reflection. This is a win for positive evolution.

Social change is messy. It takes time. It will show up like a monster on steroids. It is ugly. We are seeing the beginning of a new era of societal uprising. I believe we are in the mud right now. Those who value egalitarianism and human rights of all sorts are stepping out, marching, making headlines. We are witnessing the beginnings of good things to come.  

So, back to my original question: what happened to kindness on the internet? Better yet, what can we do to be kinder during this unparalleled time in history?

two female hands locking pinky fingers and wearing bead bracelets with a green tree background

I am committing myself to behaving better on the internet, especially on social media platforms (in addition to being part of the positive societal change). I am committing because I truly believe the world needs more kindness and more compassion (and it’s the right thing to do).  

By no means is this an exhaustive list, but this is what comes to mind:

I will ask myself what I want to accomplish before posting anything online.

What is the point of my post? Am I posting for a laugh, to educate, to convince, or to just share my day? If I am posting something negative or insulting, why am I doing this and what am I trying to accomplish? Very scary questions to ask, aren’t they?

I have posted some insensitive things in the past. I luckily have friends who care enough about me to call me out on it by not embarrassing me in public but by emailing me about it.  I appreciate that immensely, because although I am passionate about human and animal rights, and I am not a fan of the current president, I want to express that passion without being insulting to others.

You can, too.

I will ask questions before I assume something about a comment online.  

This one hit me hard recently.

I responded to someone on a Facebook post in a certain way because I assumed he meant something, when in fact, he meant something else. I should have clarified what he meant before responding. It was rude of me to just assume and put him in my “self-created mental box” and reply to him from that box.

Words are misconstrued relentlessly on social media, and since communication is mostly non-verbal, how are we to thoroughly understand what someone means on a Facebook or Twitter comment when it is not absolutely crystal clear? Yes, the writer has a responsibility to write clearly, but we know this is not always done. I firmly believe that a lot of miscommunication like this occurs on social media platforms and contributes to the unkindness on the internet.

It is my responsibility to clarify before I assume. As a matter of fact, this is something I should do in real life, all the time.

I will ask questions from now on if something is ambiguous.

You can, too.

I will respond, not react.  

There are so many horrible comments on social media sites. Most comments that I read are reactive, not responsive. They are ego-driven. I have contributed to this also at times, and I am ashamed to admit it. I have not taken the time to think before I responded, and instead, let my emotions cloud my decency and wrote something I regretted.

What I should have done is take a deep breath, put myself in the other person’s shoes as best as I can, think about what I wanted to express and why I wanted to express it, and then responded firmly but kindly.

Sometimes we are communicating with someone who is not at the same intellectual level or is not knowledgeable about a certain topic, and it is easy to insult them. This never works to change their minds, though. It only makes us jerks. I have found that when I take the time to respond by educating, the other person usually responds with kindness, even if we disagree. Once I have said my peace, I move on and do not engage further.

I will choose to respond after thinking about what I want to say. I will not react.  

You can, too.

I will delete and /or block people and move on, if necessary.

Deleting and blocking happens a lot on Facebook, especially, and I am not a novice to this. I will block or delete people who are rude to me or to my friends. I do not delete or block if we disagree. If someone cannot have an argument without insulting others, then I will remove them. I do not tolerate racism or extreme political or religious zealots.  

Sometimes, it is best not to engage with people who are diametrically opposed to my beliefs or values. Deleting or blocking is better than engaging in an argument with a potential stranger and being tempted to be unkind.

I will delete and block and not participate in unkind dialog.

You can, too.

If all of the above fails, I will close my browser and step away.

There is not much to say about this last point. If I am not in a place where I can be kind (for whatever momentary reason), I will step away and not post, not reply, not comment, or not engage in social media. This is my responsibility in being kind to others.

I will not engage in social media if I am feeling “off.”

You can, too

One last thing…

In the midst of a pandemic, unrivaled unemployment, fear, anxiety, food lines, a crazy election year (in the U.S), and a lot of uncertainty, it is human for all of us to lash out, even at someone who has nothing to do with us. However, we must rise above this. We must be kind to ourselves first by acknowledging our feelings, and then asking ourselves whether it is the right time to engage with others on any social media site. We must become better people and choose kindness. We must for the betterment of this world.  

I am going to end by referring to what is usually taught to most children worldwide (and I am no exception) – the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. Honestly, this needs to happen for us to bring in the new normal. It does.

Join me in spreading more kindness on the internet.  

Heed the Big, Blue House

Do you ever wonder what is behind the front doors of the houses you see in your neighborhood? Do you ever wish you could take a peek? Do you ask yourself, “Who lives there? What is their story?”

I do. Many times.

I live near a serene, beautiful walking path that I frequent often. There, I find deer, rabbits, birds, insects and worms (and sometimes snakes) enjoying their small, undisturbed plot of land. On the way to this path, I always stroll past a beautiful and big, blue house.  Now, my neighborhood is not unique; every house is made from the same, cookie-cutter, corporate mold, even though each house has a distinct aura about them, of course. The big, blue house is different. It stands out. My eye is always on it, each and every time I pass by.

The big, blue house is immaculate. When I say, immaculate, I mean utterly without a fault. The paint is crisp, sky blue, almost as if it is touched up every day (it isn’t, of course). The trim on the house is a simple shade of white without a single speck of dirt. As a matter of fact, there is not a smidgen of dirt anywhere on the outside of that house – no oil in the driveway, no cracks in the pavement, no leaves blowing anywhere in the vicinity. The landscaping is jaw-dropping – a variety of beautiful trees, red and pink rose bushes, lovely irises and dahlias, sparkling, healthy, perfectly-trimmed (definitely real), green grass that inspires me to knock on their door and ask what kind of manure they use! In the spring and summer, the front porch is decorated with large, gorgeous hanging plants and a lovely, pleasant wind chime like a harp that seems to make peaceful, beautiful music (it makes me want to sit on the porch, but I dare not). The big, blue house should be on the front page of Home Magazine, every month. There is nothing out of place – not even a blade of grass.

There is no doubt in my mind that someone is working very hard keeping this house “up to par,” and I do wonder what the inside of that house looks like. Is it as immaculate on the inside as it is on the outside? Do the people within those walls take the same care inside as they do outside? Do they care for themselves as well as they do their house?

I will probably never know the answer to those questions, but I do know how it makes me feel when I walk by the big, blue house. I can’t help but think about how we, as humans, focus on what we see and not what might exist behind or beyond appearances. I determined that the reason I am so mesmerized by the blue house is because I realize the house is a metaphor. It is a reminder of the human condition: we assume it is greener on the other side (in someone else’s life) by outward appearance.  We assume the other person must have an easy life, or the person at work must have not suffered like we have. Or, we assume, they have it all together and have perfect lives. Things might appear immaculate, but are they really?

May I encourage you to look beyond the appearance of the big, blue house? You see, deep down, we are all the same: we all seek happiness and avoid pain; we all want love, acceptance and intimacy; we all want to live joyful lives and feel safe. Most importantly, we all share pain of some sort, one or two experiences that are the catalyst that shaped our lives for the better or for the worse. We are people. We are human, and there is more to us than how we appear to each other. May I encourage you to look at the people in your life – at work, at home or in the neighborhood – with a new, compassionate love? It does not matter what their color, race, nationality, sex, class, religious or political affiliation is. They have a story just like you do, and it’s those stories (heart-felt life experiences) that help us make much needed, genuine connections and bridge differences.

It seems that people today are afraid of each other’s differences and make many unfounded assumptions. Social media is full of people determining who is right, who is wrong, who is a troll, who is a friend, who is a conspiracy theorist, and who is a jerk. We make generalizations and believe these determinations without merit or facts. I have fallen into this trap as well and have made wrong assumptions.  Although it is normal to make an assessment of someone by first appearance (even on social media), the truth is we do not know much about them unless we see beyond their “big, blue house.”  Let’s rise above this. Let’s take a step back and attempt to see the whole picture. May I encourage you to try to empathize and understand people from their perspective, even if you might not agree with them? Can I inspire you to look beyond their house, what they show to the world?

So today, as you go about your business and find people around you, take the time to ask, or simply do not assume. It will make the world less BLUE and more BIG.

© 2017, Vilma Reynoso, vilmareynoso.com