How should we deal with emotional and toxic people on social media? Should we just discard the conversation? Should we engage in it and try to explain our views to those people? Should we explain to them why they are wrong? What would you have done?
A lot of our communication around what’s going on in the world is done over social media. We read our news feeds, we read other people’s responses to articles, tweets, FB posts and so on. Sometimes we take the risk to engage in conversations ourselves. The risk is mainly emotional, we fear of being attacked or misunderstood. We usually choose to avoid our difficult emotions and conflict with others. Sometimes the risk is professional: we don’t want to be seen as part of any group or side, because we are afraid to lose customers.
I engaged in a heated conversation on Twitter about a tweet Greta Tunberg wrote (link):
I was truly asking Jerry for his perspective and didn’t expect to get this extreme response:
Oooh, that hurt.
I felt misunderstood, my heart started beating faster. My ego was crying out for justice.
I was eager to respond. In my mind, if I would just explain to him how he was so wrong… and who did he think he was to call me a bitch? He didn’t know me at all!
I took a deep breath.
And then another one.
And another one.
In the space created between one breath to the other, I cooled down a bit. I could think clearly again. I thought “This guy is very upset. Trying to explain to him how much he is wrong probably won’t be very useful.” “Bitch,” I thought, smiling to myself. Tzephora Berman, the veteran environmental activist, told me she’s been called an eco-terrorist. That’s one way to measure you are doing something meaningful!
I could stick to being hurt and misunderstood, but instead, I asked myself what is important to me right now. To be right? Or, to learn something new? I decided to try and learn something from this conversation. I wanted to learn more about this guy and why he was against Greta and the Climate action.
That was all that he needed to calm down. He turned out to be a very intelligent man. A conversation had started. I learned about the difficult life in Africa, why he seemed to support the Oil and Gas industry and why he was so angry.
It was like he was just waiting to be asked. He was eager to share his understanding and views. I was so happy to hear the deeper truth underneath the anger and hate. At this point, I had my own set of thoughts like whether renewable energy really was more expensive. I could do some online research, to check and counter his arguments, but I decided not to. It’s not important if it’s the absolute truth or if I agree or disagree with what he said. It’s not important now, because I wanted to hear more, learn more, understand deeply what is important to him and not waste this opportunity on debating facts.
The conversation was eyes opening. He offered his solution to Africa’s problems:
The solution he put forward was so simple, clear and straightforward. Rich countries that have damaged the planet for decades should support poor countries to have a decent life. I love it!
Now, pay close attention here. He was attacking me on Greta’s thread saying fossil fuels are here to stay, and it’s wrong for Africa to divest from them. But, after he had a chance to express himself and felt heard, he actually wanted renewable energy! He believed this was the long term solution for Africa!
Many times, we disagree with each other on a superficial level yet agree when we dig a little deeper. We started to exchange emails. Hemal had opened up to me, apologized for the insults and wrote:
“Please accept my sincere apologies for the insults and whatsoever offended you. I have been through your website briefly and I am impressed by your analysis and thoughts and posts which are very informative, advocative for the truth and effectively perceives the reader and make the reader believe that still the world is a marvellous place and still there is kindness.”
Hemal felt heard and was willing to read what I write about. He was willing to listen.
What had happened?
When people get a chance to express themselves fully and are able to vent their frustrations, they end up in a different place emotionally. They have shifted from a FULL state to an EMPTY state. They are able, and many times want, to listen to you too. They drop their defences and want to get to know you as well.
This is a fertile ground for real solutions to emerge, solutions that work for everyone.