Over the past couple years I have grown more and more tired of how adults resort to name calling on social media simply because they differ in opinion. It baffles me. When did being cordial get thrown out the window? Why do people think that they’re anonymity gives them the right to say anything without regard for other people’s feelings? Social media is a powerful tool for connecting with people but more and more it is used as a tool to destroy each other with verbal assaults.

I love debate. I was on my high school debate team. During election time I enjoy hearing differing opinions. What I don’t like is being called names because I support a particular party/candidate. Why? Because I don’t learn anything from that person. Democracy is based on the freedom to debate but debate requires supporting a particular opinion with facts and evidence. Simply name calling does not help someone understand why a particular opinion is held or why it should be considered.

So what does this have to do with playground?

In kindergarten kids learn basic manners, how to play well with others and the old adage of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” As adults, I believe, we should be role models to children. How can we expect the next generation to stop bullying each other, or work together, if we let differences divide us as adults?

I think most people would agree that name calling or insulting someone is bad manners and “not nice”. So why do it? What purpose it serving? Some people say that when an individual resorts to insults it’s to make themselves feel better. Maybe I’m idealistic but I find educating people about facts to be more uplifting than tearing someone apart. If they continue to agree that’s their prerogative. When someone challenges my opinions and beliefs and makes me think; I appreciate it. Maybe I didn’t know what they knew or maybe I just didn’t look at it from their perspective. Whatever the reason I can take the information they use to support their opinion, contemplate it and come to my own conclusion. It may change from my original opinion. It may not. But at least I had the option of considering their opinion more thoughtfully. An insult only prevents me from understanding their opinion.

So where do we go from here?

When it comes to confrontation, schools now teach the acronym WITS which stands for:

Walk away
Ignore
Talk it out
Seek Help

Talk it Out

Personally, I think trying to talk it out is the best option to start with. If I say something thatĀ upsets someone or that they disagree with and they walk away I don’t learn anything from the experience. If they tell me why my words are upsetting or why they disagree with me then I can understand them better. Maybe they misunderstood me and by talking with me I can explain myself better. Maybe I was being inconsiderate or harsh. Most likely I don’t see things from their perspective. Whatever the case, talking it out helps build stronger relationships when both sides are open to it.

Walk Away/Ignore

I’m a competitive person. Sometimes I think that the competitiveness in our society is why people get so passionate when arguing and so many disagreements deteriorate to insults. I try to remind myself that my goal should never be trying to “win” the argument but simply educate someone on why I hold my particular belief or opinion. What would the world be like if we sought to understand each other more rather than trying to change someone’s opinion?

Walking away from or ignoring someone is useful when one or both of the parties is not willing to talk it out. The fact is that no one has the ability to change another person. It’s 100% up to each individual to change themselves. When we try to keep this in mind it helps to not get overly emotional when talking breaks down.

I’m a highly emotional person and sometimes I need to walk away in order to calm down and think things through more clearly. Unfortunately, with the short attention span that social media can have, it often means that I skip the opportunity to try and talk it out with someone. It’s one of the downfalls to social media. Especially on Twitter where conversations can change so quickly. Walking away can be perceived as simply ignoring.

Seek Help

Seeking help, in terms of social media, is pretty much blocking or reporting abusive behaviour. It’s sad that we need this option but that’s the reality. It should be a last resort. False reports of abusive behaviour take time and effort of investigators from looking into more serious situations that need attention. Think of it from this perspective – making a false report makes you the bully and you’re no better than the person you’re disagreeing with. In fact, you’ve just stooped to their level.

My philosophy?

Beyond the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I try to always, whether online or face to face, treat others the way I want to be treated. I want people to challenge me. I want people to be respectful of me. So I try to do the same.

That said, I do get into a bit of trouble when calling people out. Not because I don’t want to be called out, because I do. Tell me if I’m being disrespectful, naive, misinformed. But give your reasons. I get into trouble because not everyone wants to be called out. Not everyone can handle criticism, even if it’s constructive.

Ask questions instead of saying “You’re wrong.”

Recently someone (I can’t remember who at the moment, I think it was my friend Paul but it may have been someone else in the conversation) suggested rather than stating an opinion backed up with facts, ask open ended questions. This is particularly useful of someone who may not have their facts straight or may not be considering all perspective. I like playing devil’s advocate so this sounded like fun to me. I have tried it a few times. It’s harder than it sounds. I have a natural desire to give background to why I’m asking something. However it is possible to get one’s point across while basically forcing someone to really think about what they’re saying when only asking questions. It just takes practice in finding the right way to word things.

If all else fails, remember that social media is a powerful tool. It can build people up, strengthen communities, build friendships, connect people in ways we have yet to imagine. But also remember that it’s powered by people. If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t put it online. Social media has an extremely long memory and words written in the heat of an argument could come back to bite later on in life.

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