There’s nothing quite like October in an election year to make you realize how much your opinions may differ from the people around you! It is no secret that we all find posts, memes, tweets, etc. that we don’t 100% agree with, or even partially agree with, when we are browsing our social media pages. It first needs to be stated that disagreement is perfectly acceptable. The world would be fruitless were it not for the different visions, actions, and views of all people. But many of us seem to be getting caught in the cross wires of how to handle our varying opinions. There are two ways in particular that we fail to effectively communicate our thoughts via social media.
The first misstep is when people feel it their responsibility to vehemently degrade and discard any opinion that is not their own. While voicing disagreement is essential to well-rounded growth, it is never necessary to do so with anger, hate and pride. We especially see this with the upcoming election. Excessive loyalty to one political party or another has so many people lashing out with prideful strikes. The reality is that neither party is 100% correct on any issue. We need to have the courage to be wrong and accept that other people could be right! Lashing out with nothing but venom for the beliefs and values of people we call ‘friends’ leaves hurt, confusion and anger in the place that could hold understanding, compassion and an expanded view of the world around us.
The other misstep was first inadvertedly advocated for in the popular Disney film Bambi, when a main character Thumper proclaims his mother’s advice on voicing opinions. He quotes, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”. This comes into play when someone presents a view not held by perhaps a majority of people, but no one stands up for the collective belief or what they perceive to be right. Social Media causes a mental disconnect in people where things that would inappropriate, even horrendous, to say in person become commonplace internet banter. This trend is hurtful, for all parties involved. And so naturally we gravitate to the responses that will earn us likes and follows, rather than backlash. The rule-of-thumb has become, “If you can’t say what the person wants to hear, don’t say anything at all”.
But what are the real effects of this passive approach? Oftentimes, people fail to hear what they need to hear. With the voices of optimistic encouragement flowing from their notifications tab, who is there to warn them if real danger lurks? No one. Instead, they continue on their destructive paths unhindered because the people who love them most are afraid of being blocked, or worse, causing offense.
What parent, teacher or leader would withhold truth, knowing that it has the potential to save someone from dangerous choices and consequences, simply for the fear of “offending”? Being offended doesn’t hurt. There are no physical marks left, and hardly any mental ones. In fact, being offended is entirely a symptom of the individual’s choices, not those of other people. So really, why are we letting this non-epidemic run rampant, costing lives, friendships, families? The damage you could prevent is more than worth whatever “pain” you could inflict through offense.
The Thumper quote is sound advice for seven year olds, but adulthood changes the game. If we are expected to go through life silently unless what we have to say will be construed as “nice” by every single person in hearing distance, then hardly a word would ever be spoken. There is too much variance on the idea of what “nice” constitutes. As such, we have to make a necessary adjustment and instead say, “If you can’t say something nicely, don’t say anything at all”.
The line between when to speak and when to say nothing is obscure at best. But I believe that almost anything can be appropriately communicated and received if it is brimming with love for the person you are addressing, with respect for their differing opinions and choices, while also holding true to your own beliefs and convictions. While some find this idea contradictory – and it is certainly contrary to popular belief – it is entirely possible to love someone without agreeing with their choices; just ask any parent of a teenager.
With all this in mind, we need to evaluate the messages we are sending out – both written and unwritten. Are we standing for what we believe – at all times, in all things and places? Do we do so kindly, with compassion and charity? Or do we blatantly disregard any opinion not our own? Do we truly believe that we could be wrong and give room for other people to be right? Do we seek to learn from them? Or do we silently hold our pride and dignity while quietly cowering in the corners?
They say everyone has a voice. But if we fail to use it appropriately and with the general welfare of the people we love in mind, we may as well be speechless.