Last month, I wrote about the new virtue I’ve created which enables us to restrain our responses, tame our tongues, and control our selves. I am calling this new virtue “Nicstrength” for obvious fiscal and copyrighting reasons. In the aforementioned article, I showed readers how they can avoid the exhaustion and hypertension that comes with diving facelong into every argument and debate that we find both online and in everyday life.
As if that alone wasn’t worth the hefty fee I’m going to charge to tell people more about Nicstrength©, this month we’re going to delve down even deeper. I’ll show you how Nicstrength®© can also guide you in the risky process of choosing your battleground. I’d like to suggest that there are better places to fight our battles than Facebook, Twitter, and Disqus, and I’m offering a platform that is perfectly suited for the exchange of ideas and aptly formatted to handle the confusion that comes as a necessary part of the learning process.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, let’s all go into our brain castles for a second and picture a scene. You’re getting ready to go pick up your kids from school. You’re just about to close your laptop when–BOOM–you see it: an ignorant comment a Facebook wall. You feel it rise up in you. The aghast exasperation at the realization that someone thinks that way. You glance at your watch, then at the screen, then at your watch, and you begin typing. Sure, there’s the one-frame, flickering memory of waiting children and their well-being, but they’ll totally understand when you explain to them how dumb this guy sounds.
Knowing you don’t need take the time to consider the dumb guy’s (DG) side because you already “get it”, you fire off a crippling reply in a matter of seconds, hit “post”, and close it up. When you return, you do all the necessary chores around the house, making sure everyone and everything is copacetic; all the while, the running ticker in your brain is eager for confirmation that DG has read your post, taken it to heart, and switched all political, religious, and funny animal video affiliations. You log in and find that, on all fronts, he has not. Oh well.
Another scenario: your spouse/kids/friends are all otherwise disposed. You have all the time in the world. Your finely-tuned opinion is now paired with the hours it can take to make this issue clear to others. You engage in a debate reminiscent of Gandalf and the Balrog, spanning multiple social media forums over many hours. At some point, you both realize that you’re spinning your wheels and you can no longer justify the amount of fiberoptic trees that had to die to host your epic debate. You log out, secure in your rightness and unsure why Gandalf can’t see your point and let you pass already.
Situations like this are so common that it can be hard to envision the meeting of the minds in any other forum. From tweeting to texting, we have come to accept the virtual world as the most fitting means of relating, conveying, and interacting. And why not? It’s quick, painless, inexpensive, and you can turn the conflict off at any point, which is the grown-up equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and humming loudly.
Granted, in some cases, that might be the wisest thing. If you find yourself bogged down in the mire that happens when two people have a one-sided argument with each other, a good dose of Nicstrength™®© can extricate you right quick. I’m not saying that digital media can’t bring people closer together and enlighten and unify. Not at all. I’ll be the first to utilize all forms of media for every inch I can get out of it and I know that people are touched and made better by the internet every day. I can’t imagine my life before Google, to be honest.
A while back, however, I started to ask myself if I was going about this whole human interaction thing in the right way. Whether it was seeing the 9,000th re-post of a condescending political talking head or the 9,001st “Amen” to an opinion so-and-so already agreed with, at some point I became deeply unsatisfied with our collective approach to each other and began looking for a different, possibly better, way.
Surprisingly, when I found it, it was literally right there in front of me all the while, staring me in the face.
Humans!!! Someone else – an Other Person (OP)! In the same room with me. My face facing their face as they faced me. It was the craziest thing! I would say something and OP would either agree with me or disagree, just like on the intrawebnet, but then I had to continue seeing OP in the room with me. Sometimes OP would disagree with me, which felt like online, but then I’d notice that OP had the familiar grimace of a headache and I’d think, “Gosh, headaches stink. I think I’ll give OP some painkiller or a shoulder massage.” I soon realized that shoulder massages made OP uncomft, so I backed off on that.
Sometimes OP would berate me and call me all kinds of hateful words like “uninformed” and “stubborn” and “condescending”, and I’d want to lash out; but then I’d realize that I had been standing in OP’s way in the pasta isle at the grocery store and talking as if OP was a 3-year-old, instead of the 35-year-old with a 3-year-old of his own that he was, and he was pressed for time and stressed for funds.
Suddenly, OP was everywhere and if we truly wanted to meet each other on any significant level, I had to continuously keep OP’s humanity at the forefront of our discussion. The trillions of factors that actual make up OP’s life were forced to come into play, and that was frustrating. It was also liberating.
Sure, I couldn’t turn off the conversation with a click. Sure, I could no longer mistake his tone for one of rudeness, because he was right there and I could hear the sincerity in his voice. Sure, I had to set aside at least an hour in order to really allow OP and me to see, hear, and care for each other while exchanging opinions and thoughts. Heck, I even had to deal with the hassle of re-scheduling due to illness.
OP was harder to forget once I knew about his childhood.
It was harder to disregard her anger when she told me why she was angry.
And, hopefully, vice versa.
Friends, choosing your battlefield is staggeringly important. Aquinas said that to love is to “will the good of the other”. Well, willing the good of OP might actually mean avoiding the conversation until it can be done in a mature way that respects OP’s dignity and worth, if ever. If you’re tempted to say, “I only have like five minutes”, then consider waiting until you can give OP the time required to affirm his or her goodness and to force OP to remember yours. Everyone is always worth more than five minutes and a flippant response.
Let’s get out of the trenches. If we choose slick, murky, sticky, putrid space to wage our wars, we shouldn’t be surprised when we end up fallen, clouded, caked, and reeking. On the other hand, if we fight the time constraints and bear the weight that comes with upholding every human’s dignity, we may cover less digital ground, but we will have gone a mile in OP’s shoes.
Basically, consider moving the scuffles from Disqus to your dining room table. That way, your faces will face, and when the talk is done, you can at least make OP do your dishes.