Dealing with toxicity and how to constructively express opinions.
If you're here reading this then I'm sure you're acutely aware of the toxicity that continues to plague our community on a seemingly weekly basis. I don't mean to apply humor to a genuinely concerning situation, but it's almost as if someone, somewhere, has a big wheel of controversial topics that they just spin on Sunday to blow up on Twitter on Monday. Before I dive too far into this, I want to grab something from a previous article and bring it to the forefront of this one; the P.A.U.S.E. model for dealing with something that you don't agree with:
P- Pay attention to what you encountered
A- Acknowledge your emotions and judgments
U- Understand other points of view
S- Search for a constructive, empowering solution
E- Empathize while executing your plan
Not to recycle old tools, but I believe that this is an excellent starting point for dealing with the toxicity that you may encounter on social media and all of the other sites that host members of the Anthro community. We all have to keep in mind that each and every one of us is unique! We all have different things that we like, don't like, or perhaps don't even understand. We are a global community that can be found in nearly every country and culture. Our diversity is part of what makes us great, and I think we should all try to be a little more inclusive.
In my article linked above about cancel culture, I lightly touched on ways to deal with the toxicity in our community, but now I'm going to dive head-long into it. I've spent the last couple of months completely immersed in social media for the launch of AnthroBrand, so I have had a taste of the good, and the bad, that comes along with it. The opinions expressed in this article are my own, but I hope the advice serves anyone who reads it, well.
Detox Tip #1: Unfollow is your best friend.
When it comes to social media, the biggest thing I have noticed is just how much information there is to consume all at once. It's way too much. Just this past Sunday I had to completely disconnect from everything because I felt so burnt out. I know I'm not alone when I say that just opening Twitter sometimes brings on a strange wave of anxiety, and I'm often standing in my own house when I look at it! As I'm scrolling through I will occasionally come across an account that I have followed because I liked something they posted previously, but all of the sudden, this new post by them is crazy political, or has an art theme that I really don't like. Luckily for me, all I have to do is hit the unfollow button and poof! That individual is gone from my timeline and I don't have to see their views, beliefs, or art anymore.
Detox Tip #2: Learn to use the "Mute" function.
Just recently, I discovered that you can mute words, hashtags, or phrases on Twitter. This has been a lifesaver! I am not political in any way and I like my world to remain really small. Call me selfish, and that's fine, but I don't even watch the news. So I have muted every word that I can think of that has any kind of political affiliation. Words like Republican, Democrat, Election, etc. are all invisible on my timeline because I have them all muted. This saves me so much time and spares me from all the built in negativity that surrounds these topics every single day. This setting can be found under Privacy and Safety, as seen below:
Detox Tip #3: Just keep scrolling.
Even after I have unfollowed and muted, there are still ways for toxic sludge to creep through into my timeline. But, I have a secret power. As a matter of fact, you have this power too! It's in the tip of your finger and it's a motion we are all very familiar with: The Vertical Swipe. Seriously, if I see something I don't like, I just scroll on by. Sure, I might be a little frustrated that I saw whatever it was after taking all those steps not to, but hey, I can't control the world and people are gonna people. Just keep scrolling and let it be.
Detox Tip #4: Don't argue.
I don't think I need to say this, but I'm going to anyway: When has arguing in a Twitter feed ever accomplished anything other than making everyone involved look stupid? More to the point, when has arguing on the internet accomplished anything at all? We all have opinions and all of our opinions are based on our perception of the world. It's unique to each of us individually! If you don't believe me, here is an entire other article about how a philosopher proved that arguing on the internet is absolutely pointless, over 150 years ago.
Detox Tip #5: Step away from the keyboard.
As I mentioned just a bit ago, this past Sunday I completely disconnected from all things internet. I do this by turning off all of the notifications on my phone. Each app we use has a setting for this and even though it's a bit tedious to turn them all off, it is so refreshing to look over at your phone screen and see absolutely nothing. I was sure things were happening, but I let everyone know ahead of time that I was taking the day off and guess what? The internet didn't burn down. Even the AnthroBrand Discord Server survived just fine without me and I'm sure it will continue to do so when I take future mental health days. It's okay to step away when you are feeling overwhelmed. If anyone's curious, I wrote over fifteen pages of a new sci-fi short story that day. It was a great day.
Detox Tip #6: Don't gossip.
"Oh, my, god, Becky..." You all know where this is going. When you're scrolling through and reading all of those tweets about how so-and-so did what to so-and-some more, you don't have to participate. You don't have to hit retweet and spread that drama fire to your audience. If I'm seeing a ton of call-out posts that day, I will usually just bail on Twitter entirely. My reality is this: No matter how many screenshots or bits of evidence there are, I will never know the whole story and I don't want that negativity in my life. I choose not to participate and that doesn't make me a bad person. If something illegal is happening, please contact the proper authorities! Help people the right way, in the real world. I highly doubt Twitter, Inc. is going to.
Detox Tip #7: It's possible to have too much of a good thing.
Even if everything is going great and you're doing okay, you should still take time to pause your online life every now and again. Being glued to your screen all the time just isn't good for anyone. I know it's hard right now, but there are other things you can do beyond spending time on social media. I have seen people sharing their quarantine fitness regimens, new books they are loving, and even I have weird offline hobbies like using typewriters from the 1940s to do my writing every now and again. If you can, get some family time in. Break out the board games, get a deck of cards and learn something new and frustratingly complex. We recently got the family edition of Cards Against Humanity and played that with my grandparents. I'll leave it up to your imagination to decide how that went.
For those times when you just can't help yourself:
We all have opinions, there is no escaping this fact. See what I did there? There will be times when your opinion is so strong that you absolutely must share it in order to satisfy some deeply held belief or urge to just have your voice be heard. I struggle to relate with this because I simply don't think I have the authority to push my negative opinions on other people on the internet. Who am I to tell you that I don't like your art and that I think you should draw something else? Who gave me the authority to stand in judgement over the things that you enjoy? I guess I missed the memo.
In the event that you want to share your opinion on a topic that is trending this week, in the bad way, I have a few things that you should keep in mind before putting your words on blast. This advice is sourced from the Newfield Institute article on Negative Opinions:
"Two considerations are important in regard to our negative opinions.
- Any opinion, positive or negative, expressed by a speaker says more about the speaker than it does about what or who the opinion is about; this is because the only place an opinion can be made from is the existing perceptions of the speaker, which contain [their] preferences and prejudices, beliefs and values that they have learned from the history of their life experiences. What [does] the opinion you have written say about you – about your preferences, prejudices, beliefs and values?
- Our opinions can “have us” because we become deeply emotionally attached to them – fall madly in love with them – and be utterly convinced we are “right”. Love can make us blind. You are encouraged to look at the relationship you have with the negative opinion you have written and consider whether you can develop a healthy emotional detachment from that opinion and be open to questioning it."
They also recommend a five question process to help you further break down your opinions to see if they have any substance or not. I strongly recommend you give these some thought before hitting go on the little blue bird if you have something to say that might lean towards the negative:
- "We always speak to serve some purpose, often without knowing what that purpose is. What purpose is served by you having this opinion of the other person – how does it take care of you? You are especially encouraged to be open to listening to the first thought that comes into your thinking. (This question can be unusually expressed as “For the sake of what do I have this opinion?”)
- One of the risks with negative opinions is that they can be generalizations, lacking specificity about particular behaviours in specific situations, which may result in people being labelled or stereotyped. Our opinions usually arise from specific occurrences we have experienced but we can lose touch with the specifics that gave rise to the opinion. What are specific circumstances and behaviour(s) to which your opinion is referring?
- Every opinion is always a comparison with one or more standards and criteria about how things should be and could be. Negative opinions are judgments that what has happened does not meet our individual standards and criteria (which may also be shared by others). What precise standards and criteria of acceptable behaviour of yours have not been met?
- Part of being prepared to substantiate an opinion is to provide factual evidence to verify what you claim to be the case. Be careful of falling into the trap of using others’ assessments as your evidence - they are not facts. With regard to behaviour, what is required are specific occurrences that have been witnessed [by you]. What can you factually point to that the person in question did and/or said that was not satisfactory that lead you to form your opinion?
- There are always two sides to every story and not every aspect of someone’s behaviour matches our negative opinion of them; it is likely we have experienced positive aspects of their behaviour that we can verify. In the interest of ensuring balance in the formation of your opinion, what can you factually point to about the person’s behaviour that does not support your opinion?"
So, before you launch your own missile with it's negaton payload, run through these questions. Are you really getting anything out of it? Do you know this person? Is all the information you're getting second hand? Do you actually need all of their negativity in your life and on your feed?
I know it's a big world out there just bristling with opposing views and opinions. The Anthro community alone is full of them. There are plenty of things about our community that I don't like, from art themes, to character types, and even certain crafts, but running around creating toxicity for each other isn't the way to handle things you don't like. We should all try to be more inclusive, learn about each other, and do our best to understand and be tolerant. We all joined this community for one reason or another, and it's up to us to make it a nice place to be. Rather than being negative about the world we have built, let's get together and make it better than it was yesterday! We can do it, even if it's just one little piece at a time. We all belong here, and we all have something to offer.