Nothing specific for you today. More of a general observation that applies to me just as much as it applies to anyone else. I love me some social media. It’s a great way to keep in touch with friends across the country and even the globe. I love being able to know what people are up to and keep tabs on the latest news and my friends’ responses to that news. But it doesn’t come without costs.
Because we’ve all got windows into many people’s lives, we get to see them making decisions or standing up for things we disagree with. And it can be really tempting to think less of those people because of what they do or say. I’m not saying you shouldn’t hold it against your Aunt Millie that she keeps retweeting Trump quotes, but rather that the influx of social media has forced us to know more about casual acquaintances than we otherwise would have.
Unfortunately, I see this being a bad thing more often than a good thing. If you meet a nice person and talk to them for an hour or two, that used to be the end of your interaction. You’re left walking away with a generally good impression of the person. Maybe you run into them two or three more times over the next month or so. Fine. But with social media, you might end up Friending them, and then you see all sorts of stuff about them that you didn’t know. And that’s when the judging can begin.
In a way, judging relative strangers isn’t as bad as judging friends and family. Certainly the effects can be much worse with friends and family.
I’m meandering a bit with this, but maybe here’s one point I’m getting at: social media forces us to know what our friends and family think about a topic. it keeps shoving our face in it, repeatedly. And since it’s come on so quickly, many people don’t know how or when to share things, and how to limit whom they share what with. Online etiquette is still an abstract thing for many people, and often those people seem to be all over Facebook.
You would think that this online forum would be a net good thing. That it would get lots of people to see things in ways they hadn’t thought of before. But how often do things actually play out that way? Instead, you find people picking sides and having flame wars with anyone who might disagree with them.
The thing is, you don’t typically get those sort of interactions with close friends and family. Just with the ones you don’t see too much and don’t (let’s be honest) care that much about. Yes, every now and then a close relationship will implode online, but it’s rare. Instead, we’re left judging the people we don’t know that well. And the verdicts can be pretty scathing sometimes.
Here’s the thing: it’s easy to judge. It’s easiest when you don’t know the person (or group of people) you’re judging at all. It’s easy to be racist when you only know your own race. Easy to hate when you don’t personally know and care about anyone of the group you’re hating. If you don’t know any transgender people, it’s easy to make your mind up about who they are and what’s “wrong” with them. If you don’t know (or realize you know) a Jew, a Palestinian, an African American, a homosexual, a Mormon, a whoever. So easy to judge.
Once you *do* know a person and are close friends with her or him? It’s amazing to me how much more slowly we are to judge. How all sorts of extenuating circumstances explain why they made a mistake or acted a certain way. I think it’s just part of human nature: if someone else cuts me off in traffic, I yell at them and call them an awful driver. If I cut someone else off, I apologize, but I’m quick to reason why what I did was necessary or justifiable.
Same principle, except on a universal level, where it applies to everything else.
I wish social media would connect the world in a deep enough way that it would help with this, but in the end, it seems most social media connections are fairly shallow. And so we’re left instead with comments that aren’t thought through, accusations that don’t hold water, and hurt feelings all around.
What can we do about this? Be a little slower to judge. Keep in mind that everyone has extenuating circumstances. Remember that not everyone has the same values you do, and that your values aren’t even necessarily the “right” ones. See the world as less of a black and white place, and try not to miss opportunities to be more understanding instead of more critical.
Or am I just being wildly optimistic?