How to avoid the so­cial me­dia trap Mind­ful­ness man Martin Ste­pek

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Mind Body -

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 ten­ and www.mar­tin­ste­ or email martin@ten­

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