In this day and age, there’s nothing quite as unexpected as someone being kind on the internet. A person who speaks respectfully on Facebook is like some kind of a magical unicorn.
The rules of common human decency don’t seem to apply on the interwebs. We give ourselves a free pass to say things we would never say (hopefully!) to someone’s face.
This is a missed opportunity.
Because if we really, actually, believe that preemptive love is the answer to conflict, why are we not acting like it on social media? Facebook often feels like the frontlines of the world’s most polarizing conflicts. Or maybe it’s just my feed.
Think about how different social media would be if this love anyway ethic ruled online culture. Imagine how many messy, friendship-ending conflicts we could de-escalate if we practiced preemptive love on social media.
Why do we think preemptive love can make a difference in Middle Eastern politics when we’re not willing to attempt it on Facebook? It is because we don’t think it’ll work online? Or is it because we think peace is something that other people make in other places? Or maybe we value being right more than we value being in relationship with people.
The great thing about online peacemaking is that anyone and everyone can participate—no matter who you are or where you live. There are zero excuses for why you can’t make peace on social media.
Here are three things to avoid and three things to start doing if you’d like to make peace on the internet.
What NOT to do:
Don’t comment until you read or watch the entire article/video/post. Be willing to listen to someone else’s perspective before adding your own.
Don’t respond if you are really angry. If you’re seething about a post (we’ve all been there), take a minute to calm down first. Vent to a trusted friend or write down your most scathing response—somewhere you can’t accidentally push “send”—and get it out of your system. Then respond... with kindness, respect, and love.
Don’t internet yell by USING ALL CAPS or overusing exclamation marks and emojis!!!!!!!!!! It’s not respectful and it will likely discourage people from hearing you out—all of which is counterproductive to peacemaking.
What to do instead:
Speak to the person with a respectful tone. Tone is tricky to navigate, especially in digital conversations. But try thinking of someone you always speak to respectfully (your boss? your grandma? your mentor?), then write your comment the way you would speak to that person in person.
Stick to the facts. Anger and sarcasm can often distract from your point and can sometimes counteract your words. If you are using respectful words with a snarky tone, the snark is the only thing that will come through. Trust me. I’ve learned this the hard way.
Criticize policies or actions… not people. This applies to everyone—the person who posted, famous politicians, everyone. Attacking people is not loving or respectful. Instead, address issues or actions and their impact on people.
Finally, as you respond, ask yourself this question:
What is your goal in commenting? What are you hoping to achieve? Do you just want people to know that you’re angry or upset? If so, sit this one out. If you just want to be right, don’t comment. Being angry for anger’s sake doesn’t accomplish anything.
If you’re commenting to push back on hatred, bigotry, prejudice, or misinformation, go ahead and post. Just remember the words of the venerable Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
So if you want to push back hate, if you really want to make a difference instead of just yelling, then approach the conversation, the issue, and especially the person with love.