“Have a great rest of the day and a safe trip!”
It sounds genuine, like he really means it, and the warm impression is underscored by an amicable smile under his grey beard.
A friendly gesture, a kind word and my spirit is immediately lifted, despite the fact that it’s not even 8 am, meaning I’m not fully present just yet. As I try to shake off my fatigue, I revel in the friendliness of my interlocutor. I gift him a smile in return and wish him the best of days as well.
“If only we could be this kind with each other all the time”, I think to myself, unable to suppress a wistful and tired smile.
Where do people get their good mood and energy from in the morning? Is it the promise of a brand new day? The mere fact that the day wasn’t long enough yet for frustration to pile up? Is it because we were not exposed to the negative influence of the bad moods of others yet? Or is it a matter of natural predisposition? Are fundamentally happy positive people in a good mood because that’s just how they are? And maybe negative people are too tired in the morning to let it out on others. Maybe it also helps that we experience the first minutes and hours of the day after a break from online activity.
I can think of a whole wide range of reasons, but one thing is certain:
The internet is not usually conducive to a good mood.
I open Facebook and immediately regret it. The platform has become a biotope of frustration, where haters have won the war. Those who could jumped off the sinking ship. Same with Twitter: I only visit the platform when I feel ready to deal with the inevitable waves of stupidity one encounters there. More often than not, even Instagram makes me feel like I am not enough, like my life is not enough. A decidedly negative, destructive sentiment.
In those moments I pull the plug – and go offline. Why give such negative emotions more space than necessary?
Frustration, anger, hatred
I sometimes wonder what makes people behave the way the do online, what makes them attack and abuse others. Which impulses trigger hate comments addressed to real life individuals? And I say that firmly believing that sometimes confrontation is inevitable, even healthy. But I would never seek out confrontation for the sake of it. Discussions are often a necessary means to an end, and I frequently feel responsible to add my point of view to ongoing exchanges, particularly in racist or inhumane threads. I can’t help it. But more often than not, I observe a tendency among people to confuse passion for a certain cause or issue with passion for confrontation.
The truth is, discussions that grow out of hand are rarely about the issue itself. Years of countless discussions and arguments taught me that one has to raise their voice from time to time to be heard.
I learned the hard way that argumentative domination stems is more often the result of rhetoric techniques.Arguments weigh much less.
Above all, I learned that there are situations where there’s genuinely no point in even entering into a discussion. A real discussion requires at least two genuinely interested and open parties.
I am describing a culture of exchange and conversation in which logical, plausible arguments can lead to a free change of opinion. It’s a rare and ideal scenario. We are, however, much more accustomed to the verbal equivalent of trench battles, with each party pursuing the goal to seize as much of the other’s territory as possible. How rare it is to encounter someone with the capacity to truly change their mind based on a solid argument.
Why this ubiquitous stubbornness?
And how is it possible that so many people are ready and willing to hurt others online?
Hate comments and mobbing are two omnipresent phenomena in our digital world. Do those people act the same way in the real world, without the abstracting shields of physical distance and anonymity to hide behind? I really doubt it. What has happened to us to make us only see icons and avatars online, to the point that we forget the real people behind those digital representations?
Why is online hate such a widespread problem? I mean, surely we all learned at some point that words can cause more hurt than actions sometimes, and that emotional wounds heal far slower than many physical ones. It seems that what many of us take as directness in our virtual exchanges is really nothing but a lack of verbal restraint. The resulting brutalization of language has become a core problem of our society, one that links directly to real-life marginalization and discrimination of the “other”.
Please don’t get me wrong here: honesty and directness are important qualities, even though they sometimes challenge us in our own maturity when confronted with them in our daily lives. But directness needs to be delivered with and married to empathy, if we are really looking for conversations that matter.
Why is that so difficult for so many of us? I guess it’s partly to do with the fact that we’re never really taught these skills?
There is broad agreement that communication skills are among the most important factors for success in today’s professional world as well, so why are these skills not taught in school?
Why is non-violent communication not an integral part of our curriculum?
How much pain and suffering could have been and could still be avoided if we’d be more capable of talking respectfully with one another, on an eye-to-eye basis. Imagine if we’d all talk to others the way we want to be talked to.
While these thoughts swirl around in my head, I open Twitter and read a few tweets. Trump, one of the opinion leaders of our time has just excreted another stanza. This is the reality we live in.
But I refuse to give up hope.
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