From time to time I just have to disconnect from online media. For me this usually means not looking at Facebook. That happened earlier this month when I just couldn’t stand the aggression, anger, foul language, and general verbal violence any more. Even people I like and get on with face to face were acting like dicks. Enough was enough, I signed off for the rest of the month.
It was interesting how many positive responses I got for that. People agreed with me, told me to have a nice Facebook-free break. One even commented that driving me away should act as a reminder to my friends just how distasteful things had become.
I really rather liked that one.
Tomorrow is the first of August, and so I shall officially return to posting on Facebook.
Here are a few observations, and one confession in connection with my return.
First of all, I really didn’t miss it all that much. The people I have the most contact with, family, close friends, my two doggies; I don’t need Facebook to keep track of them. Secondly, there was much less aggravation in my life. I’ve noticed the same thing out in my car, when I turn off NPR and listen to the classical music station. Things are just…. Quieter.
And thirdly, because I was off Facebook, I kept my mouth shut. And that’s where the confession comes in. I still looked at Facebook.
You see, my phone kept telling me when people had posted things. And sometimes these posts were from people I don’t otherwise hear from; friends back in the UK, family on the other side of the country, people whose ideas I really want to hear.
So every now and then, I peeked.
Two or three times over the past month I was glad I had peeked. Mostly it was just as bad as ever. So, to my well-wisher who hoped people might get more civil in my absence, it didn’t work. But one thing did happen that I want to talk about.
Because I was “off line” for this month, I didn’t comment on anything. I didn’t post. I couldn’t. Otherwise people would know I was peeking. So I kept my mouth shut.
I just read, looked, thought, and didn’t say a thing. I was present, but disengaged. And that was almost as good as not being there at all.
The Buddha teaches “detachment.” Christians speak about being “In the world but not of the world.” I call it, “Keeping your trap shut.”
It takes two to tango, as they say, and you can’t have an argument with someone who doesn’t answer back. And you can’t get involved in an argument if you don’t say anything in the first place. What’s more, if you aren’t talking, you just might be listening.
And here is what I learned, by listening on Facebook.
People have very strong feelings. They often have strong arguments in favor of one thing or another. The two are not the same thing. Just because your feelings are heartfelt, doesn’t make your argument strong. Actually, the stronger your emotions, the less likely you are to be rational.
Furthermore, you can’t argue someone out a position they arrived at through emotions. Because emotions are illogical, Jim. Illogic does not respond to logic. So arguing with someone who is emotionally involved in a point of view is a waste of time. Especially when your strong emotional attachment to your viewpoint leads you to attack the individual, call them names, and swear a lot.
Trust me, calling people names is never, ever, going to sway them over to your side. Just not gonna happen.
Now, stopping and listening to someone you disagree with might be frustrating. But if you do, you might just find the person behind the opposing point of view. And since you will never be able to change the point of view, you might, over time be able to reach the person and change them.
And besides, wouldn’t you want them to listen to you, instead of shouting? In other words, stop being a dick? Like you are?
I admit, it’s a long shot. But until one of you starts listening, and that means keeping your trap shut, nothing is going to change.
And you know the coolest bit of all this? The person who benefits most from keeping quiet is you. Because not talking requires you to be detached. In the argument, but not of the argument. You can listen, and study what is said, and understand. “This is just invective, this is ad holmium attack, this argument is based on false premises…” And if there is a valid point, you might just be able to dig it out of the paragraphs of screed.
It’s hard, sometimes, not to put in your two cents worth. Hold fast! Stay strong. Bite your lip. Shut the eff up. Just listen. After a while all the noise just seems to blend together, and becomes a kind of background drone, like a hive of bees or white noise. Something you can ignore.
Guess what? You feel better. The problems that cause rage don’t upset you anymore. And because they aren’t upsetting you, you might just be able to do something about them, instead of arguing about what should be done.
There were a lot of people on Facebook this past month, people I like, friends, who were talking a lot of nonsense. What’s more, they were being insulting and verbally violent towards each other. And I didn’t have to hear it. And if they all just followed my example and didn’t post their reactions?
Kittens! Look a puppy!
Oh, lord, do I have to see your lunch? Oh well, alright.
If you shut up long enough, you might hear another voice, one deep inside you reminding you:
Shut the eff up. Don’t be a dick. Listen.