How to avoid the social media trap Mindfulness man Martin Stepek
Ifound myself inadvertently caught up in one of those emotionally charged social media threads the other day. I won’t even dignify the original perpetrator, nor the subject, for that would be to keep alive a flame of hatred that doesn’t deserve another moment’s publicity. I’ll give a general summary of what happened. There had been a major news item. I checked it out on Twitter. Looking through the latest news and views about it, I came upon a hate-filled innuendo about a section of our society. It really doesn’t matter which section of society – gender, race, sexual preference, football team, religion – because the hatred applied is always just a variant on the same theme.
My mistake was to be drawn by the hateful comment to see how others responded to it. As you can imagine there were comments on both sides. Some who disagreed with the original comment vilified the person who wrote it. Others agreed with the prejudiced comment and added their own for good measure.
I didn’t reply, which was, in my opinion, a good thing. One more comment in an avalanche of views makes no difference. Each side is already converted. Besides, any comment I made would have produced another lot in response, which I would probably read in due course, agreeing with some, disagreeing with others.
The ones I’d disagree with would rankle in my mind for several minutes, maybe longer, disturbing my peace of mind, to no positive effect whatsoever.
In fact that’s what happened without me even getting further involved.
Immediately after I read the thread of comments I went out for a short walk around the block, something I try to do hourly or so in order to get some fresh air, destress my mind, exercise my body, and enjoy some peace of mind by noticing the views, the sounds and the feelings associated with taking steps.
The walk usually only lasts seven or eight minutes, but for at least half that time my mind was suffering. It was trying to work out what one could realistically do with this person who made the inflammatory comment. To say it ruined the whole point of my walk would be an exaggeration. But it certainly poisoned much of it.
This article, you could say, is my attempt to not only salvage some purpose to my walk, but more than that, to create something positive, helpful and pleasant out of it. My conclusions were reached well after the inner pain and anger had subsided. My clearer and calmer thoughts were, I think, likely to have been produced by my mind even if I had never had the negative experience of reading the unpleasant comment in the first place. I know this because I have had previous similar thoughts about social media without the negative stimulus. My view is clear. Try never to get caught up in such toxic matters, no matter how much you feel about the subject or the incident it refers to. There are in equal measure professional and political provocateurs online, whose sole purpose is to ignite strong reactions in order to propagate a political view in the case of political firebrands, and for money in the case of “professional” writers and personalities.
If we don’t read their initial comments they are starved of the flames that send their destructive messages further. Just as mindfulness tells us about our own negative mental traits, let them fall by the wayside without influencing you in any way. You don’t feed your negative traits, so slowly but surely they become weaker and less frequent, and therefore much easier to handle.
It’s the same with the social media stimulators of hate. If they get no response, they get no reward, political or financial. Moreover, not indulging them in the opportunity to make further comments means they have less chance to feed their own hateful mental habits.
This begs a bigger question of how we are to relate to the media more generally, including news programmes on television or radio as well as social media, and of course the newspapers, including this one.
I have followed the news since I was a kid, but seriously from my early twenties. I am still a habitually checker of the news and political activities. However, because of the development my mindfulness practice has given me of awareness of my own feelings from moment to moment, I now know just how much absorbing the news and political produce drains and irritates me. My political views have not changed at all since I was a teenager, and are highly unlikely to change in the latter part of my life.
So all of my listening to, watching or reading political news and comments, unless they were enjoyable to do, are a complete waste of my time. Moreover they are not only not enjoyable, but rather unenjoyable, and cause all sorts of negative states in my mind that I consciously don’t want to be there.
We feel there is a need to keep up to date with “the news” but the news is simply a biased edited selection of the most sensational recent events, probably less than one in a million things that happened in the preceding twenty four hours. So it’s not an objective choice and it’s not representative of what life is actually like. In short in my opinion it adds absolutely nothing to your life and we’d all be better off without it.
That said, I still indulge, but much more carefully and much less frequently. My addiction is fading but it hasn’t yet gone, and I am definitely thinning out my social media activities.
Martin Stepek is founder of TenforZen, offering guided mindfulness sessions in handy, 10 minutes a day, audio courses. Author of four books, he is frequently asked to speak on mindfulness, his remarkable family heritage, and on business. See tenforzen.co.uk and www.martinstepek.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org