Yesterday was one of those rough ones. You know the kind. The one where you pile on ten more problems for every one thing you accomplish. Yeah, that kind of day. On days like these, I tend take deeper breaths, pray, think too much, and cry. I also like to find quick little spirit lifters: a deep thought someone shares, a hilarious video, etc., a nice convo with my husband (which could do the trick if he’s not facing the same ish storm that I am.)
There are people that I hold so very, very close to my heart because of their love for humanity. They use their gifts to help others. And I draw inspiration from them on the daily and, most especially, when things are bleak.
So you can imagine my utter dismay when at the tail end of an emotionally curl-up-in-a-ball day, my husband says to me, “Ta-Nehisi Coates has left Twitter.” And why did he leave Twitter? The only explanation offered by Coates was that he “didn’t get in it for this.” And what is “this” you ask? From what I understand, it is the onslaught of eerily wide-ranged criticism he has received in the past couple of days from all walks of life, from high profile cats to the everyday joe/jane.
I can hear the clapbacks a’flying: “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”, “That’s what you sign up for when you’re a public figure”, “Aaaah, little Ta-Nehisi Coates got his little feelings hurt; man up!” [cue violins]. If you ascribe to any of the aforementioned opinions, please tell me what has happened to the part of your conscience that reminds us all that kindness, even in moments like these, is essential. I ask because I believe it is the benchmark from which all comments should flow. If your opinion lacks civility and care for your fellow human being then perhaps it really doesn’t need to be said. Out loud. At all. Ever.
I’m not looking for a world where we only gas each other up. We all need constructive feedback; it is elementary to civil discourse, but what is considered to be constructive, unfortunately, is subjective. In the world of healthy boundaries, there has got to be a distinction we make between what we need to say and what we want to say.
What we need to say (helpful): discussion points that are relevant to the matter at hand; questions/comments to provide clarity
What we want to say (not helpful, emotionally immature): sharing our opinion because we keep it 100; giving someone a piece of our mind with no care for the potential harm, putting someone on blast via social media without bothering to connect with them personally first; valuing the clapback as more important than the conversation.
So what are the rules of engagement for appropriate discourse? Unfortunately, there are none. But I would like to create some. And I am just foolish (or revolutionary, depending how you look at it) enough to think that there are some people out their who give a damn, too, and would like to reclaim online civility. So here goes:
3 Self-Imposed Think Before You Post Boundaries
- If you need to vent, social media is not your starting point. God created best friends, confidantes, wise people, therapy, punching bags and many, many other avenues for us to release our frustrations. Don’t use someone else’s online account to intellectually vomit all over them, no matter how justified you feel it is.
- Are you jealous? If you were quick to say no, ask yourself again and be courageous to find your ‘yes.’ Maybe this person has a little too much shine for your tastes and you can list all of the ways that they don’t deserve it. Or maybe you just wish you had their shine. The jealousy question is sometimes brought up to discredit someone’s unpopular comment. I don’t mean it in that way. I mean it in the soul-searching, if I stop-defending-myself-and-just sit-in-the-honest-truth-about-myself kind of way.
- I wasn’t born when the TV show Dragnet premiered but I know its famous tagline and I will use it here: “Just the facts…..just the facts.” If you are not well-studied in an area, perhaps you should get somewhere, sit down, read, study, research, engage in a civil discourse with a friend who has done the same, study some more, think about all you have learned and then venture to share an opinion IN THAT ORDER and not the other way around. Speak last, not first.
In the end, all I’m really saying is funneled from one thought. It is an almost dead truism but it is so necessary to see its revival. And we all learned it by age five. Most of us have heard our whole lives “If you don’t have anything nice to say (or if you can’t say anything nice), don’t say anything at all.” And yet we grow up and do the opposite. Nice doesn’t mean we all hold hands skipping down the street with glee. Nice is intense care for the words we use. Nice is holding our opinion because although we “know” we’re right, we also know nothing truly productive will come from our sharing our rightness. Nice is a conversation with the actual person before posting a comment for the world’s consumption. What I’m asking is that we all dig down deep and find the humanity within ourselves that cares more about the effect of our words than the freedom to share them.
If this is all sounding a little too “can’t we all just get alongish?”, it is the how we get along in the midst of disagreement that kept me up last night. Yesterday one of the voices I respect the most has shut it down, not because he can’t take the heat, but he can’t stomach what our sense of civil discourse has become. I can’t be the only one concerned. We all should be.