August 26, 2011

Digital Mindfulness: How To Not Drop Cyber Bombs

Lately, I’ve come to think more and more that procrastination happens for a reason. This is a reassuring assumption which is increasingly granting me peace when guilt clouds my mind.

I’ve been meaning to write my last instalment in the Mindfulness Revolution series on Digital Mindfulness for a few weeks but I’ve suffered from a mild case of pregnancy brain, writer’s block, and post-move blues combined.

Procrastination led me to browse the internet, and catch up on press and blogs after two months without wifi at home. I’ve been reading Elephant Journal, of course where I’ve followed loosely the controversy around the video that Waylon posted last week and how it all blew out of proportion. It started the mental grumbling that sometimes gets me brewing a new article and I thought this was a good opportunity to write about digital mindfulness.

I won’t go over the whole story but the phenomenon itself really struck me. Ben Ralston wrote a tongue-in-cheek article -although the tongue is not the part of the anatomy he chose to illustrate his point- about nasty comments, and I think a lot of bloggers and writers were grateful for his contribution on the subject.

Nasty comments and petty attacks online can prove rather hurtful especially when they get personal. This strikes me as a contradiction particularly when I find myself navigating on a yoga/ mindfulness/ Buddhist online publication. It instantly brings to mind that the first rule of our non-Fight-Club is: ‘you will not hurt’. I’m going to play up my naive side for a minute here, but why would you attend a yoga class, a meditation course, or any kind of mindfulness practice, and then go home and vent your spleen on complete strangers?

Well, we humans are woven in complex layers of goodness and badness, and light reflects our infinite shades of darkness and purity. Even if the internet is a good place to cast some light on our best selves, we do misbehave here as well. That’s alright -we’re not striving for cyber sanctity, after all- as long as we become aware of it and try to make amends whenever appropriate.

What mindfulness teaches us is that we have a choice. We can decide how we react or not. When I read a gratuitously cynical, overly sarcastic or plain aggressive comment online, I tend to think that the author has chosen to be nasty, offended, or cynical.

Whenever I’ve left a negative comment somewhere, I’ve felt on an all-powerful high in the moment and then quickly quite uncomfortable and vaguely ashamed that I’ve let anger get the better of me. It’s never made me a bigger person, one who affirms their identity healthily, shares their wisdom and grows a bit in the process. Not at all. It has always felt like a regression, a step in the wrong direction.

Call me cheesy, but I love the film:‘You’ve Got Mail’. I think Nora Ephron sometimes writes some clever pieces of dialogue, so allow me to quote here Joe (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen’s (Meg Ryan) insightful anonymous internet exchanges:

‘Joe Fox: [talking via email to “Shopgirl”] Do you ever feel you’ve become the worst version of yourself? That a Pandora’s box of all the secret, hateful parts – your arrogance, your spite, your condescension – has sprung open? Someone upsets you and instead of smiling and moving on, you zing them? “Hello, it’s Mr Nasty.” I’m sure you have no idea what I’m talking about.

Kathleen Kelly: [talking via email to “NY152”] No, I know what you mean, and I’m completely jealous. What happens to me when I’m provoked is that I get tongue-tied and my mind goes blank. Then, then I spend all night tossing and turning trying to figure out what I should have said. What should I have said, for example, to a bottom dweller who recently belittled my existence?
[stops and thinks]

Kathleen Kelly: Nothing. Even now, days later, I can’t figure it out.

Joe Fox: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could pass all my zingers to you? And then I would never behave badly and you could behave badly all the time, and we’d both be happy. But then, on the other hand, I must warn you that when you finally have the pleasure of saying the thing you mean to say at the moment you mean to say it, remorse inevitably follows.’

Don’t get me wrong, I do think that a respectful, well-argued, balanced debate is a healthy tool to tune our critical minds. I’m always grateful when reading a comment that broadens my vision or unravels an angle I hadn’t envisaged. Anyone, however, can spot a bitter commentator from miles away: they tend to hide behind an agenda. Often it’s not even the one they think it is.

Let’s speak in hypothetical first person for a bit. If I leave an anger-loaded comment on an article about let’s say yoga fashion, chances are my annoyance has little to do with fashion or yoga. It could for example stem from a deeper issue, like my body image, and how discontented I am -as most women are- with the shape of my hips. Reading about fashion might trigger that sense of inadequacy and shame. If I pay attention enough to the stories in my mind, I’ll dismantle this little bomb, and the digital world would have participating in making me grow a bit. The key is to question what our real motives are when internet rage is looming, and consider how we really should react.

If I indulge in a rant, not only am I missing an opportunity to self heal, but as Joe Fox says ‘remorse inevitably follows’. Remorse that is ultimately damaging to one’s self-esteem. And that’s how I would feel before even starting to think of the person I’ve ‘zinged’!

To conclude this article and this series, I’ll leave you with a quote from The Mindfulness Revolution. In his beautifully written article entitled Digital Mindfulness, Steve Silberman – WIRED magazine writer and editor- explains how he takes his practice into the digital world. He gives us good advice on how to not detonate our little bombs in the cyber world and ponder on what battles are worth campaigning for:

‘Mindfulness of speech also applies to words online. It’s so easy to fire off a testy reply or detonate a self-righteous blast in the comments section of a blog. After exchanging more than 300,000 e-mails, I’ve learned to be thankful for the petulant messages I never sent, the bristling reactions I zapped into the void. When I feel hot anger quickening my fingers at the keys, I try to take a mindful breath (or ten) or even a walk around the block. If my response is so important, it will seem so when I sit back down at my computer. Not every reactive blip needs to be broadcast to the world.’

Read 14 Comments and Reply

Read 14 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Sophie Legrand  |  Contribution: 3,440