We’ve all heard the mantra, “Be kind, always”. But when it comes to how we behave online, it can be easy to forget to be kind. Yesterday something happened that hasn’t happened to me before – someone took offence to something I posted and told me about it. They offered a perspective I hadn’t considered. I’m not upset by what they said – in fact I think they tried to be considerate in their word choice – but the incident has got me thinking.
When I write, I always re-read what I have written before posting. I imagine I’m reading it to various people to gauge whether I’m still comfortable posting. Whilst I am incredibly honest and open, I need to be maintain a level of privacy. I also don’t want to hurt or upset anyone with what I say. I’m not really interested in creating controversy online. Sure, talk to me in person and I might share more of my opinions, but words are powerful and I think it’s important that what I say online is considered.
Having said that, my posts are largely an account of what I am going through. Sometimes I write about topics in the hope that it will help others, but the most popular posts are always the ones that are just me sharing my life. I can’t change my experiences to protect others.
So how did I upset someone? The person didn’t like that I was posting about miscarriage while I already have a child. But I can’t and wouldn’t change that. I understand our experiences are different; that doesn’t invalidate either of our pain. I don’t think I should keep the truth of my experiences hidden in case someone thinks they have it worse. In fact, I strongly believe that we should all be talking a lot more. I don’t share to hurt, compare or judge – I share to show we are all in this together.
When this person left a comment my first reaction was sympathy for her. And empathy – I’ve been there. Lashing out at people I love because I can’t deal with the pain I feel. Rather than taking it personally, I automatically presumed that the issue must be with her. Of course, I did reflect on what she said – was her point valid? Should I have changed what I said? Am I in the wrong? But having carefully thought about the words I use, I am happy to stand by my writing. Having said that, I have no problem saying sorry, removing or amending content. We are all only human after all and sometimes that means that our perspective grows or shifts. However, in this case, that doesn’t apply. Loss is loss.
Despite not agreeing with her comment, I also think she had every right to share her opinion in a considerate way. Discussion, debate and accountability is really important in personal growth. But being considerate is hard. It’s all too easy to get angry but I wouldn’t lash out at someone online. You never know what someone is going through and words stay written as a permanent reminder of your anger and hurt. I do not want to memorialise the moments I am least proud of by leaving my misdirected anger all over other people’s posts. Having said that, I don’t think this person did – I think she managed to hold back. She said I was controversial, not inconsiderate. And there is the irony – I’ve wanted to avoid controversy but have caused it anyway. Because we can’t please everyone all the time.
We are living in a digital world and I don’t think we have perfected online etiquette yet. It’s all too easy to use much stronger words online than you would in person. But there are still very real people behind the screens. Those words can be just as, if not more, powerful. I think we need to be more careful with the words we use online – not more careless. We need to consider what we say, how we respond and react. We need to remember that there are humans reading our words. We need to be kind. And if you don’t like it, or if it doesn’t resonate with you: move on, scroll past, unfollow.