Words can have power. This is true whether they are words you have brought together to create an idea or float a theory, or words you use to respond to someone else’s work. So in many ways, this post is the flip-side to last week’s. Considering when to reply to someone – what guides whether and how you respond? It’s been a question I have been thinking about lately, given my tendency to comment possibly more often than I should and without always thinking, on social media (and the same applies in real life, to be honest). I have been hovering around the edges of social media for a couple of years now. I read online papers and magazines, links that popped up via Facebook, other people’s blogs – and occasionally twitter. I still do. I often comment on the information I read and the combination of browsing and commenting has given me the confidence to try it for myself. As Bron from Heartfelt Living recently wrote:
Comments make the blog world go around because comments are what keeps a blog and its posts dynamic and active. Comments are a living, breathing thing that turn a blog post into a heartfelt discussion.
Which is true. However, I have been wondering if it is also important to be more targeted in commenting, and more considered in framing my comment. I can’t comment on everything, and because sometimes after I wonder if a) I have made the matter more muddled or more contentious or b) I have got myself worked up and ranty in the process. Was it worth it? Is it necessary to comment on opinion pieces, blogs or talk back radio (occasionally I do ring up), for instance, if:
- It’s ‘click bait’ – writing that contains such outrageous opinions or relies on misinterpreted / unrelated information in order to make something sound controversial, with the aim of generating readers and response.
Obviously not, however can you always tell? Could the author genuinely be trying to identify the problem? (like the confusion that sometimes occurs when a person genuinely puts forward an alternative view and is labelled a troll?). Is it good to put a counter argument or does this just get lost in the plethora of other comments (or worse, make you the target of some nasty responses?)
- It’s incorrect
We often read or hear things we know are factually incorrect, particularly when they relate to an area where we have knowledge. If that’s the case, is it worth responding? Sometimes maybe yes, sometimes no.
- It’s an important issue to me
This is related to the point above, but in this instance, the response may be to uphold or reinforce the issue. But is responding the best way to reinforce this? And how important is the issue, and am I sacrificing something else in order to provide this response?
I guess having some reminders can help work out when it is good to provide a comment and when it may not be. As a starting list, I’m going to test the follow:
- Is it supportive for the writer to receive a response?
Helpful and supportive feedback is a wonderful support for people sticking their neck out to form a view – but remember the Rotary four way test in providing the response (something I have retained from my Rotary overseas program days): Is it true, fair to all involved, build up goodwill and beneficial to all concerned?
- Is it consistent with my personal values to follow and comment in this area?
Is this an issue I even want to engage in? Is it one I feel so strongly about that I need to provide a comment? For instance, one of my values may be to increase awareness of a particular condition, or to build others up. This is a little tricky for me at the moment, as I am currently working through a clearer understand of what my values are. I hope to write a little more on this at a later stage
- Is sometimes the best approach to say nothing?
Some matters blow up and resolve themselves of their own accord without the need for a response at all. I’m currently finding this a lot with emails from busy volunteers on sporting or school committees rushing to fit in mass emails, for instance. Quite often, before I have tried to untangle an aggressive or confused message, a follow up email or text is sent, clarifying and smoothing annoyed emotions. Similar can happen with social media – others can jump into a topic, and it’s moved on without me needing to get het up. I need to think – will this matter in three weeks, three months? No? Then let it go.
- What’s really behind my need to comment?
I left this to last, because this is a big one for me, and something I hadn’t realised until recently. But it is important to think – Why do I feel the need to comment? Is it actually important, or is there another reason behind it?
For instance, when I am honest with myself, sometimes I respond to procrastinate. I can avoid housework, going to bed, or finishing a report for a bit longer, because I am ‘busy’. (Would I do this? Me? Never!)
Sometimes I comment on forums not because of the issue itself or the change that I will actually influence anyone’s opinion – for instance, commenting on sites or media opinion pages where I know I will NEVER share the same view. Rather, it’s a means of venting frustrations from work, or kid wrangling issues that are making me angsty. In those cases case, I need to stop avoiding the real issue and deal with it (surprisingly, this can work!)
Sometimes if I’m honest with myself, it might be a self esteem issue – to prove my greater knowledge or experience, for instance, or to feel part of the crowd. While that’s not always bad – it can be a way of building relationships, for instance – in the long run, I’d obviously be better off recognising and addressing this.
By thinking through these questions, it makes me pause – if only for a brief moment. But a pause is often all that is needed. It adds a step from what might otherwise be my approach of receiving the information and responding. It makes me reflect. Receive – reflect – respond (if necessary). Reflection can make all the difference.
What do you think? Are you someone who jumps straight in, or are you considered in when and how you respond? (and if so, how do you do it??)