Speak For Yourself

One of my many bad habits is spending too much time scrolling through the comment sections on controversial Facebook posts and internet news articles.  I know what I’m going to see will often disgust and anger me, but sometimes I do it anyway, in the vain hope that this time I will finally see some sensible remarks and reasonable arguments.  (I would love to say that this means I’m an optimist, but I think it really just means I’m the sort who tends to repeat her mistakes.)  Still, even bad experiences can be educational and I have learned a thing or two while wading through the muck and mire of on-line commentary.

First and foremost, lots of people simply can’t stand the idea that there are those who disagree with them, on anything, and the very idea of it sends them into a frenzy of self-righteous rage.  Which they then need to express, as often as possible, in case someone missed it the first few dozen times they vented in cyberspace.  The second thing I learned is more subtle, so it took me a while to spot it.  But eventually I noticed that people put way more time and energy discussing what they believe their “enemies” think and feel than they do in expressing their own opinions.

Phrases containing the word “they” dominate the threads, and are inevitably followed by all kinds of nasty statements.  “They” don’t care about the poor; “they” hate America; “they” have no sense of personal responsibility;  and so on and so on.  It doesn’t matter if the people commenting are conservative or liberal, religious or atheist, black or white, urban or rural, they all seem quite sure they know exactly what those “other” people are thinking, and they despise them for it.  Which isn’t exactly a recipe for world peace.

I know that we are living in scary times and that there is much going on around us that can make us feel angry and afraid, and that we all want our voices to be heard.  And we all do have the right to make our voices heard.  But I think that the trick is to stick to expressing our own beliefs rather than trying to put words in other people’s mouths and thoughts in other people’s heads.  Because unless we have asked someone who is different from us what he or she thinks, and then actually listened, really listened, to their answer, the fact is that we don’t have any idea.  I don’t know what your experience is, but whenever someone else tells exactly me what I believe, they are usually wrong.

I think the best thing we can do is voice our own concerns and express our own ideas in the hope that they will make a difference.  And I believe that instead of saying “They believe such and such,” it’s so much more effective to say “I believe in such and such,” because those words communicate rather than alienate.  Mostly, I believe that if we truly want to be a part of fixing this broken world, we need to learn to simply speak for ourselves.

78 thoughts on “Speak For Yourself

  1. You’re far braver than I am Ann with respect to delving the depths of Facebook’s controversial posts. For me, this media promotes quick and absolute statements (and as you mentioned, most focus on “they” references) and not much meaningful dialogue. Its taken me months to curate my Facebook newsfeed into a happy little diversion filled with hiker photos, family events, and the occasional funny animal-meme.

    But in the real world (and our blogosphere), I absolutely agree. We won’t begin to have meaningful conversations that will bring about change until we use our “I” statements again. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were a few million more of you helping us to get back on track!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are very kind to use the word “braver” when I think “dumber” would be more accurate! And I’m trying to do what you do and keep my Facebook friends, but remove some of them from my newsfeed. Facebook should just be a place for sharing the fun stuff, and maybe even some of the sad things in our lives when we need support, but not for political posturing and religious rants. The nature of internet arguments is accusations and self-righteous proclamations, rather than those all important “I” statements you speak of. But I guess all we can do is try. (Although the one thing this world most certainly does not need is a few million more of me! Trust me on that one.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • hehehe you’re too modest. But I’m all about equitable compromise, so lets split the difference… one million Ann’s evenly distributed across the planet.

        But we’ll have to be careful, because now I’m thinking about Bilbo’s wise sentiment in the Lord of the Ring (which Barb has stuck in my head after her recent top 10 movies post). Don’t want you to feel stretched thin, like butter spread over too much bread… 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I also venture too far down the rabbit hole of the comment sections and find myself getting upset. Best to just read the article (if that) and move on. I’d love to think that somehow we will find our way back to civil discourse, but I’m not very optimistic. The best I can do is to try not to add to the ugly noise.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a great point. I don’t read a lot of the comments, but I think you are onto something. I think more now than ever, there is so much negativity about other people’s points of views. As you say, it’s easy to go on a rant about what a person thinks other people believe. There isn’t much true dialogue going on, is there?

    Liked by 2 people

    • There really isn’t much dialogue at all. And I am probably naive, but I honestly think that if there were, we could find some common ground with most people and at least begin to move forward a little. As it is now, everyone is too busy ranting (up to and including our President, I believe) to do any real good at all. I just think we can do better, I really do!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Such great advice Ann! I try very hard not to get involved in any political or religious conversations on Facebook or the internet. I will do so in person with family and close friends that I trust to all respect differences of opinion, but don’t feel the need to online (most of the time – lol! – sometimes I really want to!). Heck – my husband and I each voted for a different president this year – Sheesh! If we can get along and love each other with different political opinions, why can’t everyone else?! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly! I have good friends and family all over the political and religious spectrum and yet we manage to get along just fine. Why is that so hard? My hubby and I usually vote the same way, but we also have significant difference in some of our beliefs, and yet we love each other and are happily married. It really can be done!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have the same bad habit – no matter how many times I tell myself “don’t read below the line” my eye is still drawn there. I get angry and can’t do anything about it because I never comment back – I don’t want to draw the opprobrium down on my own head. I hadn’t really thought about the “they” statements, but of course you are right. The issues are different here (though Trump still gets plenty of comment) but the nature of the discourse (read slanging match) is the same. What I also notice is that it tends to be the same people all the time (do they have any other life?) so I hope that means most people are better natured and can see that there are at least two sides to every story. Even if we strongly disagree we should acknowledge that there is another viewpoint.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s odd how some of us are drawn to those comments, isn’t it? I think I’m naturally curious about what others think, but I’ve got to learn that the comment section isn’t really a good way to find out. As you say, it attracts mostly people who like to argue and who aren’t concerned about any point of view other than their own. I think it’s good to hold strong opinions (I have them, too!), but it’s not good to discount everyone else’s opinion. And the worst is when people get on a tear about “them.” I guess we do that because it’s easier to discredit people when we can assign the worst of all possible motivations and thoughts to those who don’t agree with us? I’m not sure. But after our disaster of an election, it’s worse than ever now.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, it’s very hard, and I’m not always successful. But I’m trying to remember that I don’t really know what others think or feel at all unless they have actually told me. And that also means that when someone tells me how they feel about one topic or issue, I can’t assume I know how they feel about all other topics and issues either. The more I get to know someone, the more I realize how unique and complicated each person really is!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent point, Ann. When I was working in business one of the things that irritated me the most was that person who was always quick to point out the problems we faced but never took the time to create or work out a solution. They never had their own thoughts, they were simply content in tearing down the ideas of others. So it’s not surprising that you read the type of comments you do. The world is filled with accusers. What we lack sometimes is those who choose to heal instead.
    I can only imagine the conflict that comes into your mind as you tell yourself not to read those comments but go there anyway..:) maybe take a piece of chocolate instead😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • As usual, you hit the nail on the head! It’s so much easier to point out faults and problems than it is to try to find solutions (especially if the solution involves, God forbid, compromise), and I guess that’s why so many people get stuck in the accusing mode. They drive me nuts as well, because all they are doing is making things worse, although they don’t see it that way. The real work that needs to be done is figuring out solutions to our problems.
      And I like your suggestion of the chocolate. I think I’ll keep a candy dish full of it next to my computer, and next time I see a controversial post, I’ll think, “I can read the comments, or I can have a piece of chocolate.” Because I know which one I’ll choose, each and every time. Thanks, George!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This was a courageous post. About a year (or more) I gave up with Facebook and only recently popping in, skipping over the controversy. I know of people who have allowed this to cause a rift between family and friendship as a result of some of the nastiness going on there. Although in these uncertain times much of this has been come increasingly hostile, I found it to be just too much prior to this. Yes, I agree if we have an opinion we may as well take credit for it rather than pointing a finger at someone else. Just the mere posting of these controversial items hold some accountability anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I usually cannot stand the tribal chest-thumping of political comments… but I must admit that I have spent waaay too much time sparing with a good friend on Facebook. He’s a funny guy and neither of us has any hope of changing the other’s opinion – but it is therapeutic. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think sparring with a friend you respect is one of the few good ways to have a political argument! Even when you know there is no hope of changing someone’s mind (and honestly, how many people do you know who have changed their mind about politics? It’s usually just a handful at most.)
      And I like the phrase “tribal chest-thumping of political comments!” Because I’ve always thought that “hurray for us!” is really the base message in most people’s political posts, with “at least we’re not as bad as them!” coming in a close second.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh my goodness! This is so true! I see the “they” remarks all the time and I’m sure I’m plenty guilty myself. This probably happens because if we can put words in other people’s mouths and assume what they are doing, saying, and believing, it makes it a lot easier to defeat them and win and argument. So sad! If we could do more listening and understanding before we go on the attack to be proven right, maybe we would see some change in this world.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are so right! I don’ know about you, but when I have an argument with someone in my head, I always win, because I think I know exactly what they will say, and I have an answer for it. Of course, if I get in a real argument, they say something totally unexpected that usually floors me. Which is why, I guess, people like to argue online by attacking “them.” It’s so easy to feel superior to those we have branded both stupid and evil. Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  10. Isn’t that something we learned long ago? To use “I” statements: I feel this because…. Recently I heard a TED talk about the political tensions in the US and the speaker said that years ago when people disagreed the discussions were about taxes, the economy and specific things. But now, he said, it has become personal: if someone disagrees, they become a bad PERSON in the other person’s mind–you don’t agree that all immigrants should be kept out so you are un-American and a terrorist sympathizer. We seem to be unable to have educated and reasonable discussions as you say here, where each person listens and can simply agree to disagree.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. It’s territory I don’t wade into very deeply these days, and while I’ve hidden some folks whose angry spatter spreads the ugly, some leaks into my feed. I try to find websites that report the news responsibly and read those comments; like you, we need to listen and I am trying to understand views different than mine. As reads in the previous comment, educated discussions seem to be lacking. It’s far too easy right now to see something, a meme, and re-post it regardless of the facts. We’re also very quick to group each other, as in “democrats,” or “republicans,” without regard that those in said groups may differ drastically. Assumptions will get the best of us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly! I hate grouping people, because it’s usually so false. Each group contains individuals who have their own unique beliefs and thoughts that get lost when we see them as simply part of a greater group. And if people could just express their beliefs reasonably in the comment section, we could get a keen insight into how other people think, but sadly, that’s not what we do. The comment section could be a means of learning about different kinds of people, but instead, it’s often just a battleground. And a battleground that seems to be populated by angry children at that!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Dear Ann, I am not a ‘saint’ as far as social media are concerned. The main reason I stay away from the endless chit-chat on Facebook is that I don’t have the time to deal with it. You are right when you say ‘I know that we are living in scary times’. However, they have been made even more fearsome with our immediate access through modern technology to all the troubles, wars, crimes, violence of all description that happen daily on our planet. Our news media are presenting the bad news as a form of entertainment, which in the long run dulls our senses toward human suffering. I am afraid I got off the topic. So let me say: the conversation we have with genuine blogging friends like you is infinitely more meaningful than the shallow exchange of repetitive phrases. Thank Ann for your inspiring post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a very good point! Someone recently told me that studies have shown that there is actually less violence in the world today than in the past, but it sure doesn’t feel that way, thanks to our instant access to all the bad news everywhere. And I agree that after a while, we are just numb to it and it doesn’t really touch us anymore, which is a very sad thing. And like you, I have come to value the conversations I have with my blogging friends, because what we say to each other is real and it matters, and I learn from it. Thanks for being one of my blogging friends, Peter!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Facebook really is getting tough to deal with lately, Ann. I’ve always tried to keep my posts light and simple, highlighting my kids, fun things we’ve done, etc. I’m still trying, but there is so much hate and anger. I get it. I am constantly torn between wanting to pretend things are happening around me and refraining from jumping into the fray. I’m scared at how divided our country is and how much hate and anger there is. I always remember the phrase, united we stand, divided we fall.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I know! The division is scaring me as well. I hear someone say the other day that is is almost as if our country is in a civil war of ideas, and I think he is right. (He actually said and idealogical civil war, but I have no idea how to spell that). I sometimes thing that people forget how very dangerous hate and anger can be, because we are all so sure that we are RIGHT, and that seems to be all that matters.
      Honestly, I would take a break from Facebook if I didn’t post a link to my blog there, and have lots of regular readers who don’t follow my blog but simply wait to see the latest post on my Facebook page. So I stay, but I don’t answer the political “bait” posts, and I’m starting to delete a lot of people from my newsfeed. The hatred and snarkiness is just too depressing for words!

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Great observation! I try to separate where I express various aspects of what’s on my mind. Facebook = real life friends and family. We do share politics but I know who my most conservative F&F are and don’t impose all my POVs on them, by using FB lists. One reason I have a blog is so that I can express more of my political concerns more freely and in more depth. My big objection to so much online discourse is that it is so, well, COARSE.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think that’s a very smart way to do it! That lets you express your feelings while still considering the feelings of others.
      To me, the saddest thing about the tone of online discourse is that it keeps people from getting any real insight into the thoughts and feelings of other people. Sometimes I’m just at a loss as to why someone would hold a certain point of view, or vote a certain way, and I’d genuinely like to know “why?” So I look at the comments. But all I get is a big helping of attacks and counter attacks, with everyone talking about how horrible “they” are, and no one bothering to spell out why they feel the way they do. Yet I still believe that the first step to peace is understanding, and sadly, that’s what’s missing in today’s world. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I made the same observation as Dave, which is that at least all the ‘theys’ present here are civil and decent. 🙂 I suppose the extension of free speech that the internet brought us at least teaches us something about human nature; or does it? What I find interesting are those stories I occasionally hear, and read of, in which trolls are invited to meet their victims. What seems to happen is that the real character of the troll is revealed as being far less obnoxious than their online presence would suggest, and usually there’s a huge amount of remorse — for having vented their otherwise latent and checked misogyny, or racism, or misandry, or aggressive side. I know you’re not dealing with trolls here specifically, but perhaps there’s a connection in that many of an irrationally contrarian bent (those who you refer to) similarly seek to draw attention to themselves? To be honest, Ann, I’m inclined to believe that peoples’ better nature outweighs their failings, for the most part — even if they can only express the former to a limited circle of friends and family. That said, then of course there are many sociopathic types around, and the internet provides the perfect playground for their cowardly antagonisms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve actually never had a problem with comments on my blog, or read any nasty ones on the blogs I follow either with one or two exceptions. And I do believe that most people are basically good and that all people have some good in them. It may well be that people who spend their time arguing on the internet are just seeking attention (I believe the “trolls” are), or it may be that there is something about on-line communication that makes people feel defensive and respond by lashing out.
      But what I’m particularly interested in are the comments that focus so much on what the people we disagree with are thinking and what motivates them, because I think that is the cause of so much misunderstanding. It reduces those we disagree with to caricatures rather than the unique individuals they are, and makes it so very easy to hate them and/or dismiss them. And I think that is dangerous and inaccurate. To my mind, the best way to avoid that is to stick with articulating our own beliefs rather than speculate on the beliefs of others. Thanks for the comment, Hariod! Your comments always make me think.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Facebook is a scary place and I venture there as little as possible. Of course, you’re right about not reacting to what we assume people believe but only to what they actually say and also not lumping people together in an unfair way. I do try to follow those rules as best I can, but if my entire history of online comments were suddenly presented to me, I very much doubt that I’d be prepared to stand behind every single sentence of them now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think few of us would! That’s why I comment as little as possible, and I stay far, far, away from the arguments. I was just talking to a friend of mine who said she saw a political post where people she actually knew were responding by attacking each other. She finally couldn’t stand it any more, and chimed in by saying, “Let’s try to calm down a little and actually hear each other.” The good news was that it did unite the two opposing sides. The bad news is that they united only because they all turned on her!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I see the same thing in social media though I must admit my small group is somewhat limited to happy inspiring posts and travel pics. But beyond that it seems far too easy for people to judge and comment and assume they know everything about a topic when in fact they don’t. I think some people actually thrive on it. Maybe if more people curtailed their judgements and just spoke their own mind instead of throwing negative comments around the world would be a better place. Wonderful post Ann.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Reading your post makes me feel bettter. Right after the election I was standing in line to board an airplane and I could not believe the hostility that was taking place. My Facebook page is public and it is mostly about cooking. But I have picked a couple political issues that a dear to my heart and I will post about them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad the post spoke to you, and thanks for taking the time to let me know. I think you are brave to post your political views on a public Facebook page, but I’m glad you are sharing your own beliefs. I honestly think that is how we learn from each other, by listening to the beliefs of other people. And when we truly hear someone, it is usually much harder to hate them.

      Like

  19. Personal political pique is damn near untranslatable, and collective social grievance finds voice in the lowest common denominator. I personally blame the Congress that inserted ” Under God” into the “Pledge Of Allegiance,” and Thomas Jefferson’s hyperbole toward the end of the “Declaration Of Independence” But the real villain is the largest publishing platform in the world has little to no interest in the editorial content of it’s product. Which, I guess is OK, when you can parlay current event angst, anger, and insecurity into a top down feed that generates billions of dollars a fiscal quarter.

    Doug

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I just re-read this and want to comment again, lol. I posted an article on fb about what is happening with children of immigrants in schools since the recent elections. People can agree or disagree about whether the information in the news re; immigration is true or false, but working with immigrant students every day I can attest to what their perception is. And how it affects teachers, schools, etc. The article is from the National Education Association (the NEA) and isn’t just someone’s opinion but a serious article. I didn’t think it was provocative at all. But was about what, as educators, we can do and what we are faced with at the moment. I was shocked when the first comment was by someone I don’t know personally and her comment started out with “those people.” Those people she was referring to were not the point of the article. This woman is certainly entitled to her opinion about immigration, but she was reacting, I’m assuming, to the title of the article and not the article itself. “Those people” were not the students.
    When I was a supervisor in a non-profit organization, it would kill me at staff meetings when employees would say things like “It’s unfair what they are making us do.” I would say who is “they”? It’s me. I’M the one saying you have to do this.” Yes, but they….. I would respond there is no THEY, there is only I. People need to take responsibility. I love that you said start things out with I believe, I think. Not they. Great post, Ann.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is amazing how many negative things we can attribute to “they,” isn’t it? And yet when we have to put an actual face to “they” and actually interact with them, it becomes some harder to demonize them. We can only speak for ourselves and share our own perspectives, and allow others to do the same, I think.
      I am in awe of the good work you do with your students who are trying so hard to integrate into the American culture! And of your willingness to share your perspective in a way that is respectful of others and also allows others to see at least a glimpse of your world. Because that’s the kind of communication that is needed if we are going to move forward. Thanks, Barb!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you. I am guilty of thinking of “they” as well. But I try to remain cognizant of not going down that path. Plus, if I start blaming all the “theys” in the world (especially politics) I just get mad. Which is useless, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

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