The world is in a precarious place right now. There is a lot of angst across multiple issues and fear appears to be in the driving seat. It’s not a pleasant time and whether online or off, it feels there’s no escape from the turmoil. We must pull the world back from the negative, divisive, fear-based path we are on. We must, before it’s too late.
Today, I want to discuss how the Corona Virus has entered this challenging global landscape and what I am seeing happening on social media. A topic I have chosen not to share information or opinions on, because:
- There are people better equipped to communicate what is going on and what must be done
- I can’t identify anything of value to share that will make a difference – other than what I am now writing, which isn't about the virus
- I don’t feel the same way that many do, so if I decided to participate in the conversation, I would need to be very empathetic with people who feel strongly the other way
What do I mean by point three?
I am watching and waiting to see where this virus goes. I believe we have a few more weeks of it being an unknown, but based on everything I’m reading about its lethality, speed of transmission, and more, I do not think this is the pandemic the world fears. Of course, I could be totally wrong (which I hope I’m not), but I will wait, watch and remain cautious.
I am reading information from the medical fraternity in China and worldwide, the World Health Organisation, attempting to understand the reason for the virus’ existence (Pangolins perhaps), the political and business ramifications of the virus, and I am tracking the emotions around commentary on social media.
There are many lessons here
However, many people have decided they do want to participate in this conversation.
On one side, people are sharing great advice from the world’s experts or leaders doing a great job, while others are sharing messages of love and calm, even humour.
On the other side, people are sharing their fears and anxieties, which are very real to them. Very very real.
We have witnessed much in this short time
- Terrible racism towards the Chinese, not just in China, but globally. This depresses me so much. We are all human beings sharing a planet and we are all in it together. The ability to package an entire race up into “one thing” is crazy to me. Some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met are Chinese! I abhor racism. I long for the day humanity can move past it and yes, I do believe it is possible, we’ve just got to want it enough
- Racism towards others – I read a post about a Malay nurse being called stupid. This lady showed tremendous grace in the situation, because she understood people are scared right now and scared people lash out. Front-line medical workers terrify people in situations like virus outbreaks. The simple act of wearing a uniform is all that’s required
- There have been more stories of emergency workers (like ambulance drivers) denied food from restaurants/food stalls for fear they have the virus, but luckily, there are also many stories of kind citizens who helped them get food. The emergency workers definitely understand the fears others have
- And the political discourse happening around the world, which is concerning too. More divisive rhetoric
The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, has received high praise for his communication and it is very well deserved. Take a look at his recent video if you haven’t watched it. Open, honest and transparent. Exactly what is required in times like this.
Video Credit : Prime Minister's Office, Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong on the 2019-nCoV situation in Singapore on 8 February 2020
An empathy boost is needed
What I really want to speak about here is empathy. The need for a massive empathy shot for all of us, because if you have ever been in a place of fear and anxiety, you know that when it is dismissed by others, it is not going to be something you value or are open to.
We MUST be gentle in our approach at times like this, because when we are not, we create more division between us. And we don’t need anymore division. We must come together. Not just for the Corona Virus, but for all issues where people are feeling fearful and anxious. We must have empathy.
I shared this article on social media yesterday about the global information wars. It is a frightening read, but my biggest take-away was the need to be empathetic to the people who are the targets of this disinformation. They don’t know that their fears are being manipulated, heck the writer started getting very confused very quickly about the truth! It is very targeted and very compelling for its intended audience.
To get through this time, as well as the bigger issues facing the world, people need to develop a deep level of empathetic understanding if we want to help alleviate fears. Attacking them and diminishing them will not help any of us move forward, and surely we want to move forward?
My lessons and some guidance
Because I have been blogging and actively participating on social media for a very long time, anyone who is connected to me knows I am not scared to share my opinions and stand by them. What most don’t know, however, is how much thought and time I put into anything before I send it out there in the world – especially if it’s a hot or contentious issue.
I’ve also seen many in my community on the receiving end of some negative responses in recent weeks, and I’ve noticed many shaken by it. Their intention behind sharing was not always received in the same light, because it is a very delicate balance getting it right when emotions are running high.
Like pretty much everyone I know, I am in the world to do no harm, but I’ve had a few bumpy rides along the journey speaking up on social media. As such, I’ve learnt some great lessons and I want to share them with you, hoping it helps.
My six biggest lessons when emotions are running high
- Do not get involved in any conversation too quickly and do not share the first piece of information that connects with how you are feeling. With fake news a real thing, take the time to read and watch the story from multiple perspectives before you share anything. Make sure it appears on multiple, highly regarded media sites - those that extensively validate sources and have high levels of journalistic integrity. If you select three highly regarded sources, the chances of sharing incorrect information is significantly lower. Equally, by waiting for it to be covered multiple times, you reduce the chances of spreading fake news. Whatever stance you take, there will be information that aligns to your feelings, but feelings are not facts. Therefore, ensuring it’s been published in multiple sources is good practice. I believe we must validate ourselves as much as the media do, and even better, when we wait until strong feelings subside, we can reflect and share from a more reasoned place. If we force ourselves to wait, we give ourselves more time to lower our emotional intensity versus reacting
- If emotions are running high in your community, especially if the emotions of fear, anxiety, worry, panic, concern, dread, etc… are a strong part of the narrative around you, be very cautious in participating in the conversation. It is critical to factor in these very real feelings people are experiencing, even when you don't share them. If you appear to be trivialising, patronizing or dismissing people, there is a strong chance you will receive a negative response. How can you track the emotional sentiment? Watch how your community is participating on social media and consider what they are sharing. Read through the comment threads on significant posts. As an example for the Corona Virus (Covid-19), I follow the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, on Facebook. Reading the comments on his posts is a very good indication of how people are feeling in Singapore. Twitter provides an abundance of conversation threads you can review on any topic you’re interested in
- If you do both and decide you want to participate, ask yourself: what do I want to contribute to this conversation? Who do I want to reach? What impact do I want to have? And how can I best achieve that?
- If you want to be funny, it’s important to be conscious that many people are unable to find humour in this situation. I am receiving a lot of private humorous messages, because the people sending them know it’s not an appropriate time to share publicly. If you decide to go public with humorous content, you must consider potential impact. Some people can not see any funny side in this situation, so just be cautious and if in doubt, don’t post
- Be sensitive culturally. I once shared a non-Caucasian story about a woman being slandered because she was “ugly.” This perspective was separate (in my mind) to the bigger story, but readers attacked me for defending her terrible behaviour - even though I said in my post I did not excuse her behaviour. What I was attempting to do was call out women being attacked online for their looks – something I will only do now, if the woman is Caucasian or Australian. It taught me a great lesson in cultural sensitivity and since then, I am very cautious about getting involved in anything where my race can divert from the real issue. A great lesson to learn and definitely appropriate in this case
- After all of that, the final step to consider is: if your participation is challenged or questioned, or if someone misinterprets your comments, how will you respond? Being ready to respond to both the positive and negative is very important, and I am seeing many people unprepared for this. More so, because the negative responses are usually so shocking, even jarring, because your intention was never to upset anyone, right? It really puts people off their stride, so be prepared for this. It is vital not to dismiss anyone’s response, although sometimes – no matter what you do - the conversation does escalate and get out of control. Be respectful, understanding, listen and thank them. It’s not always easy, but so many people miss the nuance of social media conversations. I regularly have my comments misinterpreted and it doesn’t matter what I say in response, the other persons interpretation of my comments stand. I don’t have a magic pill to answer this challenge, but being aware that it does happen is half the battle when faced with a tricky situation
I hope my sharing this blog is received with the intention I have put into my words – to help ease us through this time together. We live in precarious times, and something we must all do is build our empathy muscles, be respectful of each other even when we don’t agree, step back when emotions get the better of us (our own or others) and we must be better listeners. It’s the best defence we have for getting the world back on track.
I’d appreciate hearing any thoughts on the above, additional ideas you would add to my six lessons, and happy to answer any questions if you’re still feeling concerned or confused.
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