Anti-social Media

Written by Bill Leebens

Despite appearances—and perhaps despite my self-description as a cynic—I try to be a live-and-let-live type. I am careful to NOT describe myself as “easygoing”; I once did so in the presence of my ex, and she laughed so hard I was afraid permanent injury would result.

To be clear: I try to let others be themselves, and I try to not hurt anyone, myself. The problem is boundaries. I have a very strong sense of them, and to my way of thinking, many others do not. Just as my dogs have a strong protective sense when someone broaches OUR SPACE, I become prickly when I am addressed rudely, presumptuously, or dismissively. But: my standards of what constitutes rudeness, presumption, or dismissiveness might be considered old-fashioned and hyper-reactive by some. I spent a lot of years in the South, and some of those old ideas about honor and dignity took root.

If one spends much time online—as I do, just by the nature of the biz—there are almost unlimited opportunities to take offense. I don’t mean in the sense of the meme, “Oh, NO! Someone is WRONG on the INTERNET!!” I mean in the sense of one’s work or life being slammed by a complete stranger, for no apparent reason. It is astonishing to me the lengths to which some folks will go to dump all over  anything on Facebook, or especially, on YouTube. The level of displaced anger combined with massive misinformation is truly frightening.

The great thing about social media is that it gives everyone a voice. Unfortunately, those voices often have only mean things to say.

I have always tried to be forthright in my online dealings, which does not necessarily mean that I’m goody-goody. If I think you’re an asshole and an idiot, my tendency is to say so, whether you’re online or directly in front of me. My rule is that I won’t say things online that I wouldn’t say to someone’s face, and I will only do so using my real name. My assumption is that most vicious online attacks are carried out only because the attacker is secure in their isolation, and likely, in their anonymity.

As the saying goes, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth only results in a land of the blind and toothless.” Deep down, I’m not sure that an aggressive response—like the kind that comes naturally to me—helps to correct the behavior I found offensive. It’s likely to just cause the nastiness to escalate.

As a parent, I had to develop the habit of allowing a 10-count to pass before responding to comments or actions from my kids that made me want to rethink having had offspring. My kids will tell you that such restraint did not come naturally to me, nor was it consistent. But I tried.

Entering my seventh decade on Earth, I am trying to take a deep breath, and recognize the sad fact that nastiness is often just a symptom presented by someone in pain. I am trying to be kind and generous and all those other things that have historically made me roll my eyes. I am trying to be more Mr. Rogers than Mr. T.

I am trying.

And trying can be very trying indeed, if you follow. It wears me out and makes me more susceptible to a secondary, delayed outburst—the kind that baffles onlookers and calls my sanity into question even more than usual.

Y’know—this whole being a grown-up thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be….

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