When Social Media isn’t Social

When I first entered the courtroom I had no idea of the events that were about to unfold. I didn’t know I’d be there for around six weeks, listening to dozens of people being questioned by prosecution and defence lawyers.

It was many years ago and I’d been chosen to serve on the jury of a criminal case. The case was estimated to run for a couple of weeks but one and a half months later we finally ‘retired to consider a verdict’.

It was only after all the twists and turns of the evidence, direction from the judge, copious legal arguments and much more along the way that we were ready to consider all that we’d seen and heard and then deliver a verdict on each of the charges.

It still took the twelve of us many hours to finally agree. That process involved reviewing the case, including expert evidence, and discussing various points together to ensure justice for everyone involved in the case.

What fascinated me at the time was the media reporting.

I had no doubt that people would have been making up their own minds on the case based on the occasional 90 second television reports and the two or three hundred word reports in the paper.

We had heard countless hours of in depth evidence, they had seen a 90 second report. How could they make a solid decision on such a small amount of evidence? Quite obviously they couldn’t.

Judge, Jury and Executioner

Unfortunately, when it comes to social media we seem to have thrown out all need to understand an issue before we decide where we stand. We base our position on existing prejudices and decide that anyone holding any other view is an idiot who deserves our contempt and hate.

We don’t take the time to research a topic, weigh up the evidence and then have a reasoned conversation. Instead, we see people jumping in with inflammatory statements devoid of any attempt to hear another perspective or to show respect.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against developing a conversation and seeking the facts to understand more about what happened but that’s a million miles away from taking on the job of judge, jury and executioner based on media reports.

Whether it’s a major news story or simply a fun YouTube video, our unlimited access to various forms of social media has given us unprecedented opportunity to share our opinions and the fact that most of those opinions aren’t supported by the facts doesn’t seem to trouble anyone.

Whenever someone publishes anything online you can almost guarantee a barrage of comments that range between sycophantic worship and death threats. Where’s the middle ground? Where’s the reasoned discussion?

We’ve lost the ability to display compassion and empathy.

Many seem to forget that those involved in the stories they pronounce their opinions on are real people who are very likely to read those comments and suffer from the words of those who don’t know or care to understand the wider story.

When we cross the line, when we mess up and get it wrong, we hope that others will take into account what brought us to that point, not to excuse our behaviour but to understand it, and then that they’ll offer forgiveness.

Why are we so unprepared to offer that to others?

Why are we so quick to pass judgement on those we don’t even know? Why do we feel such a strong desire to vilify others publicly without knowing their story?

Sadly, as well as causing untold damage to those who are targeted, those making comments can end up looking foolish and uninformed. It would be better for many to simply remain silent.

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent. – Proverbs 17:28

Social media has given us an incredible platform to share our stories and our humanness but we shouldn’t take it lightly and we shouldn’t simply use it as an opportunity to bring others down.

None of us ever know what lies around the corner for us but whatever it is, I hope that there’ll still be people ready to offer words that heal rather than words that tear down.

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A Conversation Could Save a Life

Losing someone to suicide is such a devastating experience. There’s no chance to talk things through and work towards a solution. It’s an event that fills the rest of your life with so many ‘what if’ questions.

It’s heart breaking to think that some people believe that death by their own hand is a better alternative than continuing to live.

R U OK? is doing something about the tragedy of suicide. They believe that something as simple as a conversation can make a world of difference. That means that you and I can do something that may save someone’s life.

R U OK?Day is a national day of action on the second Thursday of September (13 September 2012), dedicated to inspiring all people of all backgrounds to regularly ask each other ‘Are you ok?’

By raising awareness about the importance of connection and providing resources throughout the year, the R U OK? Foundation aims to prevent isolation by empowering people to support each other through life’s ups and downs.

More than 2,100 Australians suicide each year and men are around four times more likely to die by suicide than females. For each person that dies in this way, another 30 attempt to end their life (Lifeline).

R U OK? aims to inspire all Australians to help reduce our suicide rate by reaching out and making contact with others.

Most people don’t openly share their feelings, particularly when they’re struggling so don’t wait for a sign and trust your instincts. A conversation could change a life.

The best thing we can all do is regularly ask the people we care about: “Are you OK?” regardless of whether they are at risk because connection is good for us all.

Today has been named R U OK?Day. It’s a day that reminds us to stay connected to those around us and to make sure that those we love are doing OK in the journey of life.

We want to stop little problems becoming bigger by encouraging all people to help each other through life’s ups and downs. We all experience relationship problems, financial difficulties, stress, illness and death and we can all benefit from the support of those around us.

While we do deliberately target specific groups (including youth, older males, regional and rural communities, Indigenous Australians, people with mental illness and people who are bereaved), we are a universal suicide prevention intervention. This means we invite all people, of all ages, of all backgrounds to take part and to help one another access support before problems escalate to a crisis.

While R U OK?Day is an Australian initiative, suicide is a world wide tragedy. Who will you reconnect with today? Who needs you to ask if they’re OK today?

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Merging into conversations

Merge_Sign.jpgHave you ever noticed how some people have no idea how to merge in traffic? In theory, vehicles should speed up or slow down slightly to allow for everyone to enter the lane seamlessly. When it works right it’s a wonderful thing but that’s often not the case.

Conversations can be a little like that at times. Some people seem to have no idea how to enter a conversation. They cut you off or cause you to swerve out of their way. Sometimes there are even nasty collisions.

I had an interesting and somewhat frustrating experience recently. I was involved in a conversation with someone I’d only just met. We were both adding interesting elements to the discussion and feeding off one another with a variety of anecdotes. The person I was talking to was a fascinating older gentleman who I could have talked to for hours.

Suddenly another person wandered over to where we were standing and without waiting, introduced himself and then derailed the conversation. We were both happy to welcome the other guy to our conversation but he didn’t want to merge, he wanted to cut in and completely hijack the conversation. Instead of merging we were suddenly moving in a completely different direction and the discussion we were having was lost.

What are you like at merging?

Merging into a pre-existing conversation shouldn’t be all that difficult. First, ascertain whether the conversation is a private one or an open one. If you believe it’s an open conversation, acknowledge the others involved and then listen for a while. Listen to the tone and direction of the conversation. Develop an understanding of what’s being discussed then join in when appropriate. That doesn’t mean taking over with bigger and better stories but adding your thoughts, sparingly at first, to see whether those already talking are seeking your input.

Sometime soon I hope to catch up with that older guy again so that we can continue our conversation that was halted so abruptly.

Have you experienced people who don’t know how to merge into a conversation? What are you like at joining others in their discussions?

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