I have a confession to make. Sometimes I really don’t want to. Most of the time after I do, my body goes through an immediate stress-response. My muscles tighten, I get shivery, and I start breathing shallowly or holding my breath unintentionally. Basically, my physical reaction is the exact opposite of how I want to feel and remain: cool, calm, collected.
I post political opinions and controversial articles and confrontational statements knowing full well they will stress me the heck out. Before posting or responding, I do an evaluation. Half the time, I delete the comment, the tweet, the link, the thing that makes me quiver. It’s just not worth it; I don’t have the time to follow-up with any subsequent conversations. I’m not emotionally in a good place to engage as my best self or some approximate. I’ve learned when to delete and close out. Those boundaries are part of the discipline of self-care.
But many times I share, reply, comment. Then experience the stress, and then go into a cycle of a dozen decisions. What replies or comments do I engage with? How do I show up? When is anger appropriate; when is it harmful? How long to I engage before putting up a boundary? How do I show I’m listening? How do I push back without personally attacking the other person? How do I truly respect the person if they don’t understand me, don’t agree with me, or say something completely offensive to me? How do I push back on ideas that violate respect and the humanity of others? How do I acknowledge the emotion without relying solely on the logic? How do I engage not to win, but to show up?
On and on these questions swirl. And I’m not complaining about them. The answer to each one matters to me. Each is a consequence of that first decision: to share or not to share.
And then, the inevitable question comes–not as a comment or a reply online, but in person:
“Why do you share that stuff? Why bother?”
Followed closely by:
“No one’s mind was ever changed by a comment or article they read online.”
And I pause. Because these questions are also important, and their answers also matter. But, for me, they are weighty and jumbled in some deep stuff and don’t come out in a nice sound bite. Instead, it’s more of a torrent of life experiences added to belief systems, piled on top of a preference for action.
Also, I disagree with that latter premise. My mind has been changed and continues to be changed by hundreds of things I have read online. Quick comments that completely reframe an issue. Long back-and-forth conversations that force me to understand the multiple perspectives. Articles that point to data, research, and verifiable truths that don’t let me hide in a mistaken ideology. And stories. Always people’s individual, heart-wrenching, mind-blowing, awe-inspiring stories.
I have been and will be forever be changed by what people have decided to share in a public forum.
I’m not idealistic. I hold on to my lived truth while acknowledging the social science that points to how very difficult it is to change someone’s mind at all, and especially with issues that connect directly to their concept of self or identity. I remind myself of this every time I find myself feeling particularly self-righteous or on-point. You are one voice in a sea of noise, floating above a foundation of tightly held and emotionally charged beliefs.
However, I have to remain optimistic. I’m a teacher at heart, and an educator of 12 years in practice. If I didn’t believe that stories and information could change people’s minds, I wouldn’t have dedicated so much of my passions, skills, and life to that very mission. I believe in the power of words, the catalyzing energy of experiences, and the important role of conversation as we all try to evolve to our better selves.
There’s so much more to this answer which I feel I’ve been waiting to articulate here for months, or maybe even years. Stay with me as I strive to unpack and understand why I bother and why I care and why I have not deleted every social media app ever invented. It would also be awesome if you shared with me when and why YOU bother; when and why you don’t, and if your mind has ever been changed by something you’ve read or heard online. Let’s explore this together?