This week I want to share an experience with you that I had just a few days ago, and why it reminded me of the importance of discernment and taking pause – especially online. It’s actually a bit long, so I’m trying something new. Here are the practical highlights from the story. (If you want to read the full story in context, it will follow.)
- Generalized or sweeping statements (especially if they’re extreme), about any segment of the population or subject, are often not based in data and facts. They are a tool used to underscore someone’s opinion.
- Engaging someone who only wishes to argue and prove their opinion is “right” is a waste of energy. Use your energy elsewhere to create positive change.
- Practicing discernment is part of self-care. Knowing when to engage is just as important as knowing how to engage.
- Taking pause before speaking allows you to assess how best to engage.
- Attacking someone based on their opinion or manner of speech is still an attack and proves worthless in the end. Using facts and data to rebut a generalized claim is a healthy approach.
- Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. Everyone is not entitled to spread lies based on their opinion. Knowing and understanding this difference is important.
- Practicing discernment and taking pause is a key component of healthy connection, both with others and with ourselves, especially in heightened emotionally-reactionary situations.
- Never underestimate the power of choice and the role it plays in the quality of your life.
That’s it. That’s the basis of the story. But if you want the context, and to know what actually happened and how I handled it, then read on. Plus, there’s a great new announcement at the end of the email that I am tickled to share with you! xo
THE FULL STORY
I was on Facebook, and a friend had shared a political article. It was about Muslims or refugees, the specific details don’t matter with what I am about to relate. In the comments to my friend’s post, a person (unknown to me) shared her opinion on Muslims in America. Actually, she shared her opinion on Muslims around the world.
She made some sweeping generalized statements that are unverified, such as “none of them (the non-violent Muslims) are speaking out” about the violence and terrorism, “which means they condone the actions,” none of which were based in facts or research.
I had two options.
- Reply to her comment and provide actual facts with regard to her statements, or
- Stay silent.
Lately, with the escalation in hate-speech and fear-based language that I have seen bantered about so freely on the internet, I have chosen to disengage somewhat in order to preserve some measure of my own sanity. For me, it’s Self-Care 101: Be Discerning. My discernment meant being much more in control over my online presence, both in what I was posting, but also what I was reading.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about this, actually. She had read the comments on a thread and became immediately disheartened with humanity. I can relate. So, I told her that I have done my best to only read those types of things when a) I am in a good emotional place and can practice discernment, and b) when I feel like I need to take a measurement of things. In other words, when I want to get a temperature of the emotional climate.
In last week’s instance with regard to this woman’s extreme statements, I was in a good place, and it was a friend’s thread so I read the comments. Subsequently, I chose to respond.
I did not attack the woman. Attacking serves no purpose, and it’s the fastest way to assure that your argument will not be heard. Nor did I attack her values and opinions – they’re hers. Who am I to judge? However, I did decide to correct her on facts, which I think was important.
Where she made sweeping statements not based in fact, I offered data and examples. I shared how I located this information, and suggested that the blame for the lack of widespread knowledge of such (which she had placed elsewhere) resides more with the mainstream media, who seem to choose to focus on the sensational.
Specifically, I mentioned one example of non-violent Muslims speaking out against violence and terror using the campaign Not In My Name to refute her claim that “none of them are speaking out.”
I am sharing this story for two reasons:
- We all have choice. Always. It’s one of the basic premises of what I teach. The power of choice directly impacts your life. One of the ways in which to strengthen the power of choice is by practicing discernment. As I said, at other times I have also chosen not to say anything in response to some inciting statements. I have discerned when I think it is appropriate, based on whether or not I can meaningfully contribute. (In other words, if someone just wants a fight, engaging them in that process is often a waste of energy.) I call it seed planting. That also means that I don’t have a specific expectation or investment in the outcome. My goal is to share truth where there are lies, hope where there is fear, and give it time to take root. If I am able to do that, I have done well.
- How we choose to engage matters. As I mentioned, if we are employing the same fear-based or emotionally reactionary tactics that we are responding to, then we are perpetuating the situation and potentially escalating it. This holds true whether it’s politics or personal relationships. Reacting from a place of shame, blame, or attack inevitably results in further breakdown.
In this example, I was worried that I would end up in some back and forth with this woman, which caused me some distress until I reminded myself that I get to choose to engage or not. Discernment.
In the end, she actually deleted her comments, which also deleted my reply. I can speculate about what that means, but I am choosing not to. My hope, however, is that I planted some seed of truth that will cause her to pause before making generalizations against any segment of humanity going forward.
And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? That we practice discernment, choose to take pause before we speak, and ask ourselves a simple question: Is this true? And if we can’t answer it with 100% certainty, I would hope that it would prompt more research, thought, and discussion.
In this day and age of reactionary armchair politics and vicarious virtual reality, we have all but removed discernment and taking pause from our interactions. Yet, it’s this power duo that actually allows us to connect, not only with one another, but, perhaps more importantly, with ourselves.