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“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

~Aristotle

It seems like the public discourse on social media these days is either all thumbs up or a wasteland of insults where people feel the need to personally attack one another because their opinion differs from their own. In either regard, there is very little significant dialogue. Have we forgotten how to listen to other people? Have we forgotten how important it is to hear differing viewpoints? We have these perfectly crafted interfaces from which to share our lives, ideas, and talents, but we don’t use them to their fullest capacity or intent. It is time to re-think the way we engage in social media and use these platforms consciously as a vehicle for connection, collaboration, and social change. Here are a few online rules to live by.

Stop the Shaming

There is this disturbing trend to shame one another. Whether it is about being overweight, too thin or not making healthy choices, we feel the need to weigh in. If you post something on social media for all the world to see, you should expect feedback. But even if you don’t agree with a person’s choice, there is no need to publically shame that person. Part of this is not saying anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone face to face. Although we aren’t anonymous, there is a still layer of separation. It can feel like there isn’t a real person behind the photo or story you are commenting on. But they are real people with real feelings. This isn’t about political correctness, but it is about productive public discourse. Sharing our well thought out opinion on things, offering solutions or constructive feedback is important. We should be able to debate the ideas and not be disrespectful to the person. As the saying goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say. Well, you get the point.

Obviously what we do to others we do to ourselves. We are losing our ability to be compassionate and see the importance of an opposing opinion. When we attack others with a contrary viewpoint, we stifle creativity. We create limitations and boxes where there need not be. Right now with all the challenges we face we need to broaden the pool of imagination. There have become many topics that we just can’t talk about because they have become so polarized that any dissenting opinion is met with a vitriolic attack. Anytime we shut down conversations we do a disservice to the public good. Vaccines, alternative cancer treatments, religion, socialism are a few topics that fuel personal attacks.

Be Open to Ideas

Often shaming arises from our love of taking our perception of scientific evidence and making it truth. Some feel justified in condemning an overweight person in a bikini because being overweight has proven to be unhealthy so it is worthy of shaming. They feel justified because the ‘evidence says so’, not knowing anything about the person, their lifestyles or their choices. There have been many instances of people who have chosen an ‘unproven‘ alternative treatment and told they deserve to die because they opted for an unscientific approach. Is this the world we want to live in? It is time to take a moment and decide compassionately and consciously how we want to engage with one another.

Not everybody sees things the same way. What may be true to someone, to another is opposed to their worldview. This is what makes us unique and interesting. People understand and convey ideas and information in different ways. Let’s not dismiss ideas, talents and opportunities because they don’t fit into our worldview. If anything give them pause. It is a great way to consciously challenge your beliefs. If you feel strongly enough about something that it triggers you, it presents a great opportunity to dig deeper and ask yourself why? There is so much power in the questioning why.

Don’t share things unless you know the source.

Now that being said, we do have a certain responsibility to not just share everything that fits into your worldview. Viral media in its very nature is meant to antagonize or evoke deep emotion. Often things are spread around so fast that we don’t even realize that the post is satirical or worse, blatantly false. So before you share look into it and decide if this is really something you want to contribute to your sphere of influence. Is it authentic? Does it represent who you are and the world you want to live in? Often times, we spend so much time trying to convince another person of their ignorance that we share things that aren’t true. Or they happened to a friend of a friend. Share your personal stories, if you want, but not third-hand information. Let’s keep it real.

Use Your Real Voice

Some of the most powerful social media commentary comes from people being able to meld their work voice and their personal voice. It may be tricky if you are the social media person for your company, but many of us are soloprenuers. We want to blend our work and our social lives. There is a level of authenticity when we are able to do that. Social media shouldn’t just be a billboard for our work. It is about engaging in conversation. Who you are should come through on your page, so you need to say things that represent you. If there is a huge incongruence between your work voice and personal voice, again ask yourself why?

If you like it, don’t be lazy.

We have become accustomed to just giving the thumbs up. This is the equivalent to saying something is good. Not great, or fantastic, just good. If you really like something then comment. Share it with people. Support the people and things you love. The world needs more authentic human interaction. More creativity and less attacking. So share the love and spread the word. These are what these platforms are designed to do.

Social media is not going away. While the platforms may shift and change, our ability to connect virtually will continue to grow. Bringing a level of consciousness, integrity and authenticity to our interactions can go a long way in creating another vehicle for social change. We should use these platforms for building communities and not using them as a way to vent frustrations or tear down people with differing worldviews. Our online world is reflective of our outside world, if we create harmony and respect there, we can do it offline also.

Interested in this conversation. Listen to this blast from the past podcast with Dr. Nick Campos on great social media etiquette.