I read an article this week about the use of words and their effect on others. After reading it, I felt compelled to respond, by reflecting on my own experiences of this topic, to see how I have coped with it, and what it all means; not just for myself, but hopefully for others who read this too who might have gone through similar experiences.
What struck me most in the article was the issue of accountability. It seems that in this new online world, it is common practice for people to behave with no sense of accountability; that they should not be held responsible for the effect their words have on others. To say antagonistic things, not out of any sense of challenging or inspiring debate, but just because they can. Of course we never can tell the true effect our words might have on people, and can only hope that with good intention they come across well, but to take the stance of being above responsibility, as some seem to demonstrate, to me seems totally bizarre and contrary. This new social media world is one which we are having to build from the ground up, it is a kind of new civilisation, I think. I suppose it is normal for there to be an imbalance in what is essentially the infancy of this new world, and a large part of me hopes that in time people start to respect the online realm and feel as accountable for their actions there as they would in the “real world”.
However, the truth is, in my opnion, there will always be people who believe themselves above accountability, or worse, are complelety oblivious to the damage their behavior causes to those around them; who think themselves saints, martyrs, the outspoken and the bold, who are in fact totally unaware of how insensitive they are and the true effect their actions and words have on others. There are also those who enjoy inflicting pain and misery on others; most probably because they are in unbearable inner pain themselves and need someone to take it out on. How do we make them feel accountable?
I think the reality is we just can’t. My life experiences have taught me this much. I grew up in a loving home, full of inspiration and stimuli. I was quite a precocious and headstrong child, who preferred the company of adults over those her own age; an “Old Soul” as they say. In the protective bubble of my loving home, I thrived. But then came school, and the real world. I went into it thinking everyone was like me, had the same values, same background. But they weren’t, and didn’t. I soon found myself feeling alienated for what I considered to be my very essence. I had a very hard time socially at school. Though those who know me will tell you how bubbly I am, I now realise this is a technique I adopted to cope with it all, because I really was confused and distressed by all of it. I was unlucky enough to encounter, and be the victim of, “bullying”. I was made to feel bad because I was different. It is only years down the line that I see this probably came from a kind of envy on the part of those who bullied me. I was everything they were not and they hated that, and felt better about themselves by punishing me for it.
So what did I do about it? I was a young person in the world and feeling completely out of sync with it. Whether I liked it or not, no matter who I asked for help, the bullying still existed, as did my feelings. So what did I do about them? How did I cope with those who felt it was appropriate to treat me in this way, those who felt themselves unaccountable?
I did what humans are best at. I adapted. And still am, for that matter. I will be adapting till the day I die. Don’t get me wrong, I did a good bit of fighting against it first; getting worked up, and bogged down, by the misery these people caused me, and the misery I caused myself because of the view they helped me create of myself. I tried withdrawing. Until very recently in fact, I had very little social contact at all because, well, it just all felt like too much. But in recent months, as I have begun to rebuild my strength (which, trust me, does happen, even if it takes ages and ages, like it did me), I have come to understand that the best way to get on in life, most especially with these people we encounter in this Brave New Cyber World, is to embrace and accept them.
Sounds odd doesn’t it? to embrace people who make you feel awful about yourselves, or who you see hurting those you love. When I say “embrace”, what I really mean is, accept that there is only so much you can do, these people can only change if they want to change, and that decision is out of your control, so give yourself a break :). You can fight and fight against these people, against the awful things they make you feel, against yourself; who you want to be, against who the world makes you become, work yourself into a frenzy of self-loathing and despair. It is very easy to do. Or, you can just say, “OK, this is how is, is it? Let’s try and manage this”. That is not to say I think there is no point in encouraging people to be more respectful of each other, that things can’t be better. But sometimes in life you need to protect yourself by just accepting things as they are and finding a way to make them the way you want them to be, in order to give yourself the life you deserve – a good life, a fulfilling and loving one. I know in moments of darkness this can seem an impossible thing to do, but believe me, it is not impossible. It might not come tomorrow, but it will come. I promise you that. What’s more, you may encounter unpleansantness again in future, and fall back into it (it wouldnt be life, otherwise), but know that you will come out the other side.
But how do I do it? How do I learn to cope? I found my way through this frustration by making several changes, over time, in small and manageable steps. I decided first that I needed to look after myself, because how can I be expected to deal with the stresses of people who behave horribly if I am not at my full strength? I did this by allowing myself the freedom to feel the way I felt, when I felt it. A kind of mindfulness if you like. It is something I am still mastering, but it does get better, as you let the skill mature over time and sink in. When I was having a “negative” thought, I would just let it sit there, like a cloud in the sky of my mind (trippy, huh! 😉 ). I would try to take myself somewhere I felt safe, either physically or mentally, and sit, and just watch it there in my mind. Look at the shape of it, how it made me feel. I would just let it “be”. After a short time, I would let the cloud pass on its way, off into whatever realm it wanted to go, and with it my negative thought would go. It took effort at first, but now I do it without even thinking. I find it a great way to deal with stressful or negative thoughts, because I am not denying they are there (which negative thoughts thrive on), I am accepting their presence and essentially just brushing them off.
I also decided I was going to allow myself to take ownership of my opinions, passions and ideas. To indulge in them, be proud of them, and let myself just splash about in them a bit! I did this by surrounding myself with things that inspire me, and by being brave and looking to places where similarly minded people might dwell (though I was still skeptical at the time that similarly minded people actually existed). I did this all online, as I was isolated to my room at that time, and just dipped my toe in to try the water out. I soon found myself laughing like I never had before with people who I trust as if I have known them for years. This was all through me deciding that I deserved to enjoy in the things I liked, and to embrace my passionate nature and ideas, and share and discuss them. I surrounded myself with things that strengthened me, and soon felt myself feeling more able to cope when negativity came knocking.
The final thing I realised was that taking a measured, calm and polite approach to all things seems to be the best way to help deal with them. To treat people as I would wish to be treated, even if I am furious with them for the pain they are causing me, to show them grace and patience, though difficult at times, has helped me function a lot better with those who cause me pain. A bully wins if they know you are upset, as do the negative thoughts we create about ourselves within our own heads. The best thing I have found is to act as if you are totally oblivious of their aims to hurt you, even if inside you know exactly what they are trying to do. Be sweet, and kind, and mean it. Those looking for bait will soon disappear when they can’t find it. or who knows; maybe even form a bond with you and become an unexpected friend!
Looking back on it all, as I can now, and forward a little, I think that despite my negative experiences, I truly do believe that if we are understanding and tolerant of each other; have respectful debates, explore our ideas together, engage and connect to each other, we are able to come closer to a better understanding of what it is to be human and how we all effect each others lives. Life is too short to hold on to hatred, and to be resentful of people. We are none of us perfect, so let’s just get on with embracing that and making life good for ourselves :).