I wanted to make some observations on the back of an incident yesterday in my timeline where Person A decided to accuse Person B of something that, at least from where I was sitting, was absolutely not the case. Having personally been the victim of abuse after similar incidents, I understand how horrible and distressing this can be, especially when the people concerned fail to factor in a key point: you’re human too. This is far too often simply ignored for a tirade of abuse and unpleasantness because, at least in Person A’s eyes, what you did was clearly an intentional slur.
Let’s stop the bus right here, shall we?
I hate to break it to you, but not everybody on the Internet is a monster. Most of the time people are just doing what they always do, and just because they don’t think the same way you do does not mean that they’re bad, wrong or indeed evil. It just makes them different. Learning to deal with this deviation is a life skill many people just decide to totally ignore. That’s sad, depressing, and ultimately will result in an introversion of character that could, in the long term, have some fairly serious consequences. So, let’s try and break down what this means, but also highlight the flip-side to the argument. Just because you think someone is wrong, this does NOT make them an abuser. That’s something that is potentially almost as dangerous as failing to deal with the deviation of opinion.
The best way, it seems to me, is to present an argument and then discuss what was the truth and what was not:
Once upon a time, a girl wrote a blog post, about how she thought it was ridiculous how certain things were named in a game she loved to play. She picked one item in particular, and highlighted the truly ridiculous nature (in her eyes) of the name given to it. What she didn’t realise is that was the in-character name of a friend of someone in her circle of acquaintances, who’d had the item named after her. They automatically assumed the girl was jealous (as she had no in game item) and decided to attack the post, assuming this was a deliberate and malicious action. Many people waded in and did the same. In the end, the true motivation for the post became totally irrelevant.
That story, of course, is mine. I know only too well how it feels to do something in total innocence and then be the victim of a genuine mistake. However, by that point it doesn’t matter, because you get to grasp that actually? Those people who you thought were friends actually weren’t to begin with. Their agenda is not the same as yours, and they see the world in a different way. It wouldn’t matter how friendly or approachable they’d be, in the end that would have happened regardless. Everybody learns their lesson and (presumably) moves on. Except, in many cases, they don’t, and people remain ignorant of others motivation, and then go onto assume that everybody is the same. Which, in the end, is such an utter falsehood it beggars belief.
When these situations arise, I have learnt over time to take a mental step back. I can see when someone quite obviously decides to take offence at someone based not on the truth, but how they perceive it. Often this is also influenced by their own personal circumstance, or the emotional and cultural baggage they carry. A lot of the time it can be abundantly obvious that Person B had absolutely no intention of doing anything except stating an opinion, or doing something they enjoyed. Not everything on the Internet’s a political statement, or an attack on somebody else’s fundamental beliefs. Most days that’s as far from the truth as you can ever get. Mostly, what Person B needs to take away from this situation is this:
- Understand the context of your actions to a wider audience. What you might think is funny, for instance, won’t be when opened up to a more objective outlook.
- Realise that however hard you try, someone is always capable of being offended. On those days there is nothing you can do but just chalk it down to experience and move on.
- If you choose to intentionally provoke or inflame a situation, be fully aware of the consequences. That lion’s mouth is dangerous. Be careful what you stick in it.
There’s a coda to this, that really bears repeating too. The person who attacks you, the vitriol that issues forth from them, is mean and horrible and makes you want to vilify that person or those people. It also gives others watching the argument a chance to feel powerful, that they are somehow able to defend you from the bad and wrong. That person you’re attacking’s a person too, just like you. You need to understand that actually, maybe they’re doing this because that’s the way they get treated in real life, and they are simply reacting in self defence. It could well be that they have issues of their own to deal with and actually, this isn’t being malicious. Mostly, you do need to see all the sides of the story. I understand only too well how it feels to be on both sides of a particular fence. I have been cast as both accuser and accused, and grasp how sickening both can feel if you understand how this game is played online.
Mostly, I wanted to spend over 1000 words this morning making a basic point: everybody needs to be better. I’ve learnt an inordinate amount over the years over how words can affect people, and I’ve grasped when it’s more sensible to say nothing at all than to even try and salvage a situation. Sometimes you realise that actually? No, you weren’t really friends to begin with, and you can both move on without penalty. The people worth keeping in your circles and friends lists will eventually become apparent, and those will be the ones worth cultivating and nurturing. Mostly, you can blame yourself, but keep that part small. Life is about grasping what matters, retaining the portion that works for you and then moving on.
In the end, you’ll never keep everybody happy. Simply focus on those people who accept you for what you are and not what they want you to be.