Is there a safe space to make mistakes?

Yesterday i wrote a post in which i shared this inspiring piece of writing with the phrase ‘Fiercely Kind’ which cautioned us against letting our anger turn to meanness.

And spent another one of THOSE DAYS on the internet experiencing in a variety of places people not doing so well at that.

Ah, ye olde Internet Fight…

internet fight safe wrong

Where can i go?

It is true that Facebook and the Twitterer are generally not the safest place to go with genuine questions or curiosities, especially when it comes to topics like faith and science, gender and sexuality, climate change and animals… so ja, pretty much most things.

It is also true that some people are just lazy and don’t do the work and it becomes a lot harder to be patient and kind with them, especially when they have shown it to be a habit as opposed to a possibly once-off thing.

Then you have people who are overtly [or sometimes unconsciously] racist or sexist or anti [insert specific group of people] and in a lot of those cases i have committed to a #NotOnOurWatch lifestyle which promises to not let that kind of comment or attitude pass uninterrupted. An example of this for me is rape jokes or the word rape used to mean anything other than the predatory sexual attack that it is. So there are times that i believe call for a stronger response.

internet fight wrong angry

The first rule of Internet Fight Club

Also, it does happen sometimes that it’s a crazy busy internet issue day, month or week and i have just dealt with 99 angry/crazy/mad/shtupidt people and your comment is #100 and it just goes down to unfortunate placement and timing… i have definitely got it wrong at times and been sarcastic or irritated or meme-friendly when there was no real call for it. i do think that is more the exception than the rule for me.

internet fight

Lastly, there is the very real phenomena of the fact that oftentimes, the internet does not convey tone accurately…  i won’t say ever because a carefully placed ‘F you!’ or a particular middle-fingered meme can very much convey tone, but i learned the hard way that sometimes something i am very calm and gentle about posting, the person on the other end is reading as if i was writing it while throwing things at the computer and frothing at the mouth. And vice verse. The online word can be a lousy translator of tone and sometimes that gets people into trouble.

ask questions online

So how do we get this right?

  • As people who tend to deal with issues of race and faith and gender and more, we can do a little bit better by seeking to be more focused on the concept and idea of being ‘Fiercely Kind’ when it comes to people who don’t think like us.
  • We can start by assuming the best of people and try to work from there.
  • For those with genuine questions, commit to doing some of the work first. Our social media spaces should be places where you can safely ask questions, but sometimes a quick Google can also get you that initial answer and then you can ask a more specific, educated or nuanced question which can help move us all further.
  • When it comes to tone, sometimes we need to pause and check in with the person [often an inbox is a safer, quieter place to do this] – “It feels like you are being super sarcastic/angry/hurt… what’s going on?” before responding to what we think we are getting from them, especially when it is someone we are friends with and generally would not expect to have the kind of tone we think we are getting. Just ask.
  • Police your own spaces – if you create a space on your FB wall for honest conversation about a topic and the trolls arrive, then feel free to dispatch the trolls – it’s my wall! Nobody has to come and comment on your wall and nobody has to avoid commenting, but it is your space and so you can determine the playing conditions absolutely.
  • Unfollow, Unfriend and if necessary Block. These three options are good friends of mine. To be honest if you get blocked by me you absolutely deserve it, because it takes a whole lot before i go that drastic. But if your actions and words suggest that we are not friends then i am happy to let you go and make space for someone else. Again, fairly extreme so you have to mean it. But Unfollow? That option is gold. i may be open to connecting with you and letting you comment and engage and challenge and fight, but if you write about crap too much of the time then you can be one less person on my timeline. Streamlining so you get more of the good stuff is a gift that is well worth using.

This is all a mirror for me, because navigating spaces of race and privilege in particular have been completely confusing and tricky and difficult and i have no doubt got it wrong on many occasions. But i have people in my corner who will point that out and help me to be a better version of me and i do try to get up today and do better than i did yesterday. If we all start working on this stuff together though, maybe we will be able to create more places for people to ask genuine questions and express valid concerns without feeling the need to shoot them down from a dizzy height.