PART 1 – From Facebook to the Police Station
Some weeks ago I was doing my usual Facebook feeds reading as I made my way home from work. ‘Terrorism’ was the common denominator in a series of posts, which triggered an unpleasant emotional response in me. That’s when I decided to impulsively react to Facebook’s ‘What’s on your mind?’ question.
With the same three words I started this text, I began saying what was on my mind. And that Facebook post of mine spiraled into a great life lesson. Thankful and still overwhelmed by the magnitude of some of the reactions, I decided to share some thoughts on it.
I am not writing this as a corrigendum to my original post nor do I want to reopen the discussion via social media. As an individual, I am entitled to my own opinion. As a social being, I am open-minded enough to hear others’ opinions with respect. And as a human being, I make mistakes. Having said this, I hereby elaborate:
In my original post, I addressed my frustration with Islam and the unfortunate connection that the world’s current deadliest terrorist organizations have with the Islamic faith. And the content of my post do reflect my opinion on the subject.
Opinions reflect an individual’s own subjective inferences about a given matter based on his/her own set of beliefs, experiences and observations of the world. Opinions cannot be taken as conclusive in the broader sense, for as much as they might be based on facts, they will always be someone’s views on the facts, and not the facts themselves. Thus, the content of my post reflects my very own interpretations about the given subject and my statements should be respected as my right to freedom of speech.
“Why did it go so wrong?” – I asked myself, followed by “I should have seen that coming!” And this is why:
After the several discussions carried on the subject following my post, I gathered input from several contributors. Publicly or privately, some people chose to agree with my opinion, some chose to politely disagree with my opinion and others chose to disagree not only with my opinion, but with me – altogether! And this is where things went wrong. The subject matter of discussion shifted from the opinion itself to the holder of the opinion, in this case, me.
I allowed myself to be understood as a ‘hater’ and to be described with a variety of flawed traits and swearwords by people who do not know who I am and what I stand for. When sharing my views via text opened to hundreds of friends in the way I did, I chose the means (text), the channel (Facebook) and the audience (people who do not truly know me in real life). Thus, it was my choice to do so – my mistake (!?).
To summarize my point, I must quote a saying in my mother tongue, Portuguese, that goes: “Onde há pães, há ratos.”, which literally translates into ‘Where there is bread, there are rats.’ The interpretation of this aphorism can be manifold. On one hand it can be understood as ‘Say what you want. (bread) Hear what you don’t want. (rats).’ whereas it can also be read as ‘Knowledge (bread) decays to be consumed by ignorance (rats).’, both interpretations which I spotted in the context of this experience. And from this came my first lesson learned from it.
Hence, I reiterate that I’m entitled to my opinion and that having shared what I did via Facebook was my own choice, all of which allowed me to learn how such social media interaction can be prone to fiascos because of 1. The lack of emotional context and familiarity with the message sender as well as the receiver, 2. The sender’s deficiency in expressing the right tone of the message via text and 3. The misevaluation of the willingness to understand points 1 and 2 by the receiver.
Well, this post was a true ‘shitstorm’ in my social media life. While I carried out every discussion focused on the subject matter with pleasure, it overwhelmed me to see how I, Thyago, became the target of several offensive messages.
I initially wondered why the authors of such messages chose to withdraw from the discussion quite early. I questioned whether they would be able to sustain their arguments at all, for I was highly interested in the topic. But then I realized these belligerent messages were the ones filled with the fiercest anger towards me as a person. And as I lost Facebook friends, I wondered how exposed I was to such expressions of rage. And it got me scared!
Being an active Facebook user, I had never felt unsafe or vulnerable because of my social media life – until that day! I received one particular message with words such as “(…) you should care for your life next time you cross my way (…)”. This message led me to a police station as the anger in the author’s words felt like a life threat. Consequently, as advised by the police, I had to withdrawal from going public in the last Free Hugs action, which took place on Saturday, June 18th, 2016, in Vienna. And these two happenings really had an impact on me. Facebook goes real life!
I decided to step down and take some time off social media. I had to make sense of all that happened. And I could never be thankful enough for all the hatred that fell upon me. It was EXACTLY what I had to experience in order to be able to re-evaluate some essential aspects of my social media behavior.
PART 2 – The Weight of the Useless
In my 31 years of life, I have met so many different people, places and cultures. One of the most important things I learned from the people I had the chance to meet is that the wisest men are not only the ones who accumulate knowledge and experiences, but those who know how to ignore the useless.
As I underwent the stress of dealing with the reactions to my Facebook post, I felt scared and unhappy for having been bombarded with such aggressive attitude and words. And when I found myself dwelling in thoughts about it all, it occurred to me that the real conflict had nothing to do with what the essence of the discussion was all about. After all, I stood by my words. The conflict was between myself and I.
My mind was fighting against itself for having allowed myself to be portrayed in a way contrary to that what I stand for. That is to say I allowed myself to be pictured as someone who is ‘sharing hatred’ while my most crucial principles stand for ‘sharing love’.
And this conflict happened because I was overrating the weight of my social media life in my real life. I assigned too much value to what it meant to me and let the output from it influence the real me. In other words, I was minimizing my ability to feel joy because I was giving too much weight to the reactions I had faced online. The people whom I wanted to know me as someone who ‘shares love’ were then labeling me a ‘hater’.
And this was my second lesson learned from this experience. The essence of my conflict can be found in the words of the last sentence in the paragraph above: “The people whom I wanted to…” This was my mistake! The conflict started when I gave them the power over me by “wanting them to…”
As people say: ‘Living and learning!’. Sometimes it is hard to ignore the useless in life to make room for the good because it is not always the most convenient choice in the first place, and at times, like this time, it is only after an eye-opening experience that I realize how much weight useless things had in my life. This realization is the trigger of my learning, which takes the chaos away from my mind. And chaos, after all, is not really disorder, but rather an unknown order. Once known, I found my peace of mind.
As I figured how wrong I was in “wanting them to…”, I stopped concentrating on what I could not change and focused on building my self-confidence up again. And this led to yet another fantastic self-discovery triggered by the questions “Why did ‘I want them to’ in the first place?’ and ‘Why was my desire to share so dependent on the recognition gained from it?”
PART 3 – Thank you, Negativity
As aforementioned, ignoring the useless is a successful strategy I keep on learning to find joy in life. And ignoring the useless entices understanding what the useless is. In this regard, my rule of thumb has always been: ‘It is OK when something does not add to my life. But it is not OK if it subtracts from it’ and this goes specially to problems that I cannot do anything about. ‘Why bother after all?’ The problem lies in the fact that not everything that does me harm is explicit. At times, I might actually be the one feeding its very existence in my life without being aware of it. And this was the case with my social media behavior approach, which only came to light as a consequence of the incident talked about before.
The way I see social media and the way I go about it is comparable to an open stage (like Facebook) where artists (users) have the chance to express themselves. Every single status update, photo and shared link, video or other media content is used as the artist’s means of expressing him/herself. Whether the content shared is the artist’s personal output or not, it is nevertheless the manifestation of his/her perception over a certain idea. Thus, every single post comprises the result of the artist being moved by a piece of information, making it a creation, whether authorial or not.
Having this metaphor in mind, I therefore understand my very own social media behavior as an artistic way of expressing myself.
As artists differ in the motives and purposes of their creations, I have come to understand myself as an artist who uses his creation as a means of bridging the gap between the real and virtual worlds by obtaining acknowledgment. Thus, I seek to heal the isolation experienced due to the virtual gap between real life and social media with my intense desire to share my creation. And as I exhaust my energies in the process of creation, I find relief in the acknowledgment obtained from it. And here’s where the third and most important lesson from this experience starts.
As much as acknowledgement serves as a reinforcement, which motivates the creative cycle to continue, my happiness comes from the making and not only from the result and other’s approval of it. And if happiness can be found in the creative process itself, why give third parties the power to dump the value of the joy obtained from it by ‘wanting them to…’, thus, expecting them to be the seeders of my satisfaction? And with expectations come disappointments, which in turn allow negative feelings to flow into my joyful process of creation.
Well, as I learn more and more how imperfect I am and how much room there is for growth, I choose to integrate this insight and accept the negative. Yes! I choose to integrate it, for it entails accepting, including and not resisting. And by being aware about the existing negativity, I no longer perceive it as troubling. Thus, I have no reason to undergo the additional effort of avoiding it, for avoidance creates resistance, yet another negative exertion of energy.
Hence, I have come to the conclusion that it is alright for me to connect to the despicable side of life that social media exposes me to. And the way of going about it is by acknowledging and praising its negative sides instead of fighting them, for it will ultimately lead to me fighting my own faults and emotional problems instead. Therefore, I choose to integrate and accept it, which means I am open to experience it while retaining my intellectual discrimination that things might be different from the way they are manifesting, and it is OK.
With all that in mind, I can continue to enjoy the pleasure of the creative process as well as the joy of acknowledgement without letting the latter’s failure harm the ecstasy of the former. And by reassessing the weight of social media, I distance myself from the possible negative impacts it might have on me, and allow only the good to come through.
I normally say that time is my most valuable resource, after all, there are no second chances for the time wasted. And as I see now how much I troubled myself with overthinking and introspectively trying to interrogate myself asking Why, What and How, I realize that this ‘self-defeating’ time was not wasted at all. The aftermath of this ‘shitstorm’ was exactly what I had to go through so that I could activate the unknown order inside through an intellectual approach triggered by the influence of others. And this is what ultimately allowed me to rationalize how much good the hatred I experienced had on me. And I love it!