I got into a fight on Facebook the other day with someone else’s friend. Shame on me. Especially as it’s a thing I dread. When it has happened to me I’ve felt that beetroot shame of a teenager confronted by their crush. One of my opinionated friends gets into a heated online discussion with another of my opinionated friends and they start hurling insults like lost boys at a food fight. We should all know better. These online spats are unlikely to translate when we meet in person but shielded by our phones we lack identity, we lack human contact and the sensitivity that normally (hopefully) would prevent us from behaving like arseholes. Modern technology possesses an inane talent for turning us into desperately biased keyboard warriors spoiling for a fight.
A friend had shared a political post (ooh politics not again) and I had appreciated the post and liked it. That should have been the end of it. Have you noticed that now Facebook show you the first or usually the most inflammatory comment as you scroll down like a school yard bully trying to start a fight? Sneaky old Zuckerburg knows just how to get our blood up, our thumbs tapping and apps opening. So I looked at the comments and no I didn’t like what I saw. Here’s where it went wrong. Instead of moving away from something that really did not concern me I got involved.
The thing that bothered me was not the subject or the context. It could have been about anything. The thing that really irked me was a massively discriminatory comment about a particular group of people specifically from someone I can only assume was a liberal minded person about the political right.
Most people who know me know that I stand on the liberal side of the fence. I have never voted for the Conservative party and although I would not like to limit myself by proclaiming I never could it is highly unlikely that I ever would. As I get older I am learning that politics like any subject is rarely if ever cut and dry. In this world of pressing issues there are always at least two sides to any argument with good and bad in both and we must at least try to learn to understand, listen and respect both sides even if fundamentally we are unable to agree with them. In order to ever reach any kind of agreement or state of peace I believe this is a necessary skill. The more we fight, the more we resist what is, the more we pour tireless energy into trying to force things a certain way the more we miss.
There is a definite and tricky art to learning how to oppose a side or evil super power without turning into them. We are absolutely horrified by people like Donald Trump calling all Muslims terrorists, all Mexicans rapists and all immigrants animals and then we go and do exactly the same thing in reverse citing that all Conservatives are self serving Oligarchs, all Brexiteers are Nationalist neanderthals and all Americans are like Donald Trump. We are so blinded by the issues and understandably infuriated by the sentiment and very real ramifications of dangerous actions that we replicate the behaviour when ultimately the behaviour is the problem.
Then we go online and shout about it forgetting that we are not encased inside our own laptop. We do not seem to realise that just because all we can see is our phone and keyboard that does not mean that nobody else is listening or indeed reading. From the outside these comments, opinions, thoughts and views may come across more than a little strong to an unknown observer.
I am not in any way, shape or form claiming to be exempt from this. I have made a millennia of sweeping generalisations in my time often in anger. It’s a very easy thing to do. Sometimes I write angry blogs that do this on a much larger scale sparking off several of these heated keyboard fights. However what I’ve gained from this experience is an ability to become less attached to those thoughts and feelings once they’ve been exposed and because of that I am now a bit better at engaging in conversation and debate with people who do not share the same views as me. Well, most of the time! It is equally easy to become nasty and offensive when you get really into the comment thread on Facebook, vigorously writing and re-writing your witty retort. It’s easy to start a fight. What’s difficult is having enough discipline to speak your truth or voice your opinion clearly and evenly without getting emotionally involved or derogatory about anything or anyone. It’s difficult to walk away.
In this recent fight my opponent made lots of good points, clever foot work and quick jabs. I’m certain that she and I share similar views about a lot of things. Unfortunately she was not able on that day to recognise that her initial generalisation, her preliminary sweeping statement was entirely unnecessary in making a valid point. Looking back she clearly wanted to vent. She was so inflammatory, accusatory and angry that I jumped on the social justice band wagon and started flying my flag for the moral high ground which obviously incensed her even more. Striking my match under her bonfire I made two comments and walked away. It was a sunny Sunday and I was in a field selling dog food. My surroundings offered me distraction and distance from imaginary cyber conversations and honestly I’m not going to read half of what she wrote. I have no desire to fight with a stranger or upset my friend who no doubt felt she had to try and referee. The conversation became about one of us being right and one of us being wrong totally hijacking the original post of which I quite liked.
I realised the fight was probably all my fault for getting involved in the first place. I had spotted something in her comment that had angered me and my ego wanted to point it out so I did. This poor woman wasted precious minutes of her life forming long winded arguments, even threatening to tear my comment apart at one exciting juncture, so I did her the favour of closing the app.
It’s easy to blame Zuckerburg or Facebook for these silly little fights. Social media and modern day marketing is turning human behaviour into a valuable malleable commodity. We have seen evidence in the recent past of large scale manipulation becoming a huge influence on how our world may be conducted and yet instead of changing our own behaviour we lash out at the external moderators. We are angry and frustrated with what we see in the news and so express our frustration on the most accessible platform there is, which today is often social media. It makes us feel useful, satisfied, part of the solution when all we are really doing is adding fuel to an overloaded fire.
We cannot change the world by extinguishing all opposition. By refusing to connect with people on the other side of the fence we risk becoming part of the problem we are actually trying to solve. The only person we can ever control is our self and if instead of shouting louder and metaphorically closing the door to our opponents we let them in and demonstrate a different point of view through our own behaviour maybe we would have a different result.
If we are able to master our thoughts and experience our emotions while being truly self aware in the present moment channelling the energy from this fighting talk into intelligent and sensitive conversation as a rule I wonder what our world would look like?
Janna Fox is an actress, writer, yogi, aerialist in training and creator of many things. She started blogging for The New Establishment in February 2017 and her pieces are published every other Wednesday. Janna also contributes to sex blog Hitting the Spot. For more information please visit www.jannafox.com