On Staying Out Of It

Chess1

Chess1

I adore Twitter. I really enjoy it. I understand that not everyone “gets” it, and that’s fine. Many people don’t use it, and that’s fine too. But I’m into it.

This morning, like many mornings, I woke up and checked my Twitter timeline. I did a few ablutions between opening my eyes and internetting, but I’ll spare you the gory details. As I scrolled my TL, I was both shocked and not at all surprised to see that many of the people I follow were very very very angry, and all at one person. I had noticed the tumult last night before I went to bed. Someone had said something that was challenged by someone else and it escalated to offense and large factions weighed in on both sides. And I wanted no part of it.

I was surprised by my own reaction, which is why I’m taking a moment to write this now. I think it goes without saying that in the digital sphere as well as tactile offline life, choosing one’s battles is a wise way to go. We humans may be capable of great things and we often find new limits when we are pushed to them, but we have a finite amount of energy and emotion and it’s generally a good idea to be specific and purposeful in choosing where to direct them, when, and in what manner.

Perhaps you’re reading this and are someone who feels you have energy to spare, in spades. First, I would ask that you please message me and tell me your secret. Second, I would gently suggest that copious amounts of energy are a gift, which is all the more reason to choose carefully who and what you devote yours to. Having an excess of anything is no reason to be wasteful or careless with it.

But back to the Twitter exchange and my surprising reaction: as I scrolled, I felt a few things. Empathy for one of the main parties involved, who had expressed clear hurt. I also felt empathy for the “villain,” wishing I could find a way to get through to them but reading the dismissals of people who had tried. I know the word “villain” is loaded and of course I’m talking about real life and not a Disney movie, but that’s the way this person was being painted.

As for the initial conflict itself, I can see both sides. I can identify the one clear misstep on the part of the “villain,” which begat other missteps and caused offense, but I see so many factors affecting this interaction that it is far more nuanced to me than Good vs. Bad. And so I stayed out of it.

Therein lays my surprise. Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or an interpersonal conflict or the news of the day, in recent weeks I have been choosing not to engage way more often than I have chosen to engage. We may all see the benefits of and sing the anthem to choose your battles, but many of us, myself included, are still suiting up and hitting the front lines far too often.

And there’s the rub: Who’s to really say what constitutes “far too often”? I often bristle at people online who question the emotional responses of others, who judge their amount of time spent online and label their often legitimate anger as “faux outrage” or some other such hideously insulting term. Not only do people have no idea what any of us are doing while we’re getting those tweets off, but there’s an incredible arrogance inherent in saying Why do y’all even care about ___________? It can be infuriating, particularly in the context of a heated argument or debate. If one is already riled up, to then have that challenged condescendingly in addition to the initial emotion itself is galling. When I looked at this morning’s tumult, my lack of engagement concerned me: was I becoming One Of Them?

I’ve replied to those folks from time to time, momentarily setting aside the potential messiness in taking the time to argue with someone about the existence of the argument, because it has been important to me to make it clear that I don’t have the time for “faux outrage,” a term and a concept that I find repellant. Sadly, though, there are some who like to feel up on every issue who will bark with equal intensity about every topic of the day, regardless of personal investment or experience. By default, this makes some of what they say ring somewhat false, because that intensity on 100 percent of issues being based in sincere conviction is not genuinely possible.

But for me, I’ve spoken out when I feel strongly about something, and I also do everything I can to engage in nuanced arguments in the very un-nuanced space of the internet. If that is too much for someone on an internet platform, there are eleventy zillion other options. All this is voluntary. And that’s what I reminded myself this morning.

I haven’t become one of the Ewww why do y’all even care lot because it’s a choice to say that beyond just thinking it, and that’s not a choice I make. I never advocate for glossing over real situations for a Pollyanna outlook, but the absolute truth is that I consider it a privilege that you’re reading my words right now, and I’d rather choose to say this: thank you.

Not a one of us is guaranteed an audience or debate by virtue of simply having an internet connection. You’ve already seen me clap back in this space and it will happen again, but each day is different and on this day I want to remind you to really be selective about where and how you engage.

Personally, I had ideas about how not speaking up against injustice means silently “speaking up” for it, and other manifestations of the famous quotes swirling in my brain and making me feel guilty. But guilt is a destructive emotion and it’s a gorgeous morning.

And the thing is, if I truly wanted to interject, I would have. We have the power to shape our online experiences, and this is my vote for yours to be beautiful. Have a wonderful day.

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