"The world is flat" according to the book of the same title by Thomas Friedman. The opportunities for fame across social media platforms are wide open. One rightly placed video could make you a star in some places. I've seen creators of YouTube and Tic Tok videos on local and national television shows because the number of views they got online was high enough to make news. You can express a point of view, grow a business, and if the gurus are correct, make a lot of money by connecting with customers online. The power of social media can bring us in closer proximity to those far away personally and professionally.
At the same time, I have been watching the tone of some communications on social media; the fights, name calling and manner of discussion that used to be considered childish is now the norm. For example, recently I was invited to join an online neighborhood community. When I logged in and looked at the discussions, the second post was about the "indoctrination of our children by the radical blah blah blah," and the "name-calling, disagreeing blah blah blah responses." I deactivated that account 23 minutes after creating it. Whether we are experiencing cancel culture or the former dog whistles (now bullhorns) used to incite a particular group, our way of talking and not listening to each other has reached a decibel level that has some covering their virtual ears. I am no longer shocked by the tone of online social discourse, just wearied of it. Consider the following quote from a recent Atlantic article:
"Even without a clear risk to their life, people felt obliged—not just for the sake of their career but for their children, their friends, their spouse—to repeat slogans that they didn’t believe, or to perform acts of public obeisance to a political party they privately scorned." (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/10/new-puritans-mob-justice-canceled/619818/)
The parents and educators of my generation would call the above behavior "influence by peer pressure." Back then it was considered a teenage problem that we would grow out of when we became adults. It seems, however, that we are regressing. Are we as a society lazily swayed to a position, political or otherwise, by who is speaking loudest, incapable of developing our own thoughts on an issue? Do we engage in mob mentality or group think more than we readily admit to avoid the uncivil consequence of "standing out"? These are questions for you to consider as we ponder this issue of humanness in our communication, not your neighbor. You.
Civility, defined as formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech, is most often the missing ingredient in many online public conversations. If we are to become humane in our conversation, unconditional agreement is not a prerequisite for formal politeness and courtesy. Intelligent discussions and even disagreement require mutual respect most easily expressed through courteous speech. If we take away the need to win and instead listen with the intent to learn, we may find ourselves growing in our acceptance of other points of view. Imagine that! We may also experience richer relationships as we learn to value those who think differently than we do.
Apology. Humility is required to apologize, or admit you were wrong in an action, a choice of words, an assumption. It is the unhealthy form of pride that denies an individual, or group's ability to do wrong in actions, words, or assumptions, to the harm of another. Pride says the wounded people need to change, not be so sensitive. As a child I was taught that "please" and "thank you" were magic words. Those words were to be used courteously in requesting and acknowledging another's kind acts toward us. There are two more magic words: "I'm sorry." Those words acknowledge that I, as a less-than-perfect human, might have offended you, another human. It is possible to unknowingly offend another whose culture you are not familiar with. The correct response is not, "They shouldn't be so sensitive," it is, "I am sorry. Help me to understand so that I don't do this again." If you have never apologized, there's a website that shows you how: https://www.apologyletters.net/
Regard. How do you consider or think of others in relation to yourself? Do you believe that "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?" Or do you regard some "more endowed" than others. Our regard for those who are culturally different, or who differ in opinion, can be observed in our conversation with them. This is gut check time: do you believe your (race, sex, financial standing, religion, etc.) entitles you to greater regard than someone else? If so, where did that belief come from, and was the source a factual or subjective one?
Empathy: Have you cultivated the ability to understand the feelings of another, to imagine the world from his or her perspective? In so many instances we approach a discussion or a concern from our perspective, and that is certainly understandable. If we want to solve problems instead of merely winning, though, we must learn to view an issue from another perspective. That part ta
kes intentionality and work, but it is possible to develop empathy for others.
This lack of "humaneness" can also be seen in business. There are initiatives around DEI in corporations all over our country. For some, these are merely exercises where we check off the boxes, in our minds or on an actual form, saying we have "done it." True diversity, equity and inclusion
must start with curiosity about how our actions have impacted diverse populations, and our willingness to accept responsibility for the times and ways we have "missed it" with them.