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March 19, 2020

What we Say and How we Say it Matters: Finding Calm Inside a Pandemic Storm.

If you’re actively contributing on social media, you may have noticed by now that the times—they are a-changin’. And when it comes to what we communicate in posts, tweets, texts, private chat groups, and emails—critics: well, they are a-waitin’.

A-waitin’ to pounce.

Because these are very sensitive times given the worldwide coronavirus pandemic right now. And separating fact from fiction is vitally important—especially as we stop the spread of misinformation in a focused effort to protect ourselves and our families.

Misinformation and unintentional false claims result in unnecessary panic and alarm. And as a result, what we say about the coronavirus, or in reference to, or even, 6-degrees of separation from, is at risk of being scrutinized.

Not just scrutinized either, soon what we say could be quarantined by law. Currently Facebook is combatting misinformation with facts from health experts at top of news feeds.

To be clear though, I am writing about the people who need to find certainty via scrutiny, not people who represent the law. Not the ones who will be charged to do this work soon en masse.

And quite honestly, I am thankful for these people. I believe there is a place for this. We need to ask questions with eyes-wide-open, and never (ever) settle for mediocre, and potentially false messages.

Legendary singer and song-writer, Bob Dylan thought this way too, way back in the day, as he famously sang, Times They Are A-Changin’ by Simon & Garfunkel:

“Come writers and critics

Who prophesies with your pen

And keep your eyes wide

The chance won’t come again…”

But he also cautioned:

“And don’t speak too soon

For the wheel’s still in spin

And there’s no telln’ who

That’s it’s namin’.”

And now more than ever, what we say or mean to say, or could have said better—kinder & softer, or, should have been cited and sourced, is now being looked at through every possible lens, filter and algorithm available to people. People–who need to find certainty via scrutiny behind their iPhone or keyboard.

But here’s the thing: do we have to be so aggressive about how we offer our comments?

Can we find calm inside the pandemic storm and be open for discussion instead?

And maybe this isn’t just a coronavirus issue and looking at combating misinformation. Maybe it’s an aggression issue—and working through feelings of not having any control over people, places, things, and circumstances over a lifetime.

Maybe it’s about how we are triggered by world events right now, and how we are not showing loving-kindness towards ourselves, first–to help us manage the inner turmoil.

Over the past weekend, I wrote about how drinking green tea was a good practice during the pandemic. I made sure to mention there was no cure for the coronavirus right now. I gave my reasons around anti-viral properties and boosting immunity, including why drinking warm to hot water was also beneficial—especially sipping it throughout the day. My sources were not cited in the tweet, but I did have them at the ready if questioned.

Being new to Twitter, I had no idea what could happen to a person who spoke out-of-line, or out-of-science—until Sunday.

Moments after the tweet went out, I was annihilated with insults and concern that I was spreading misinformation.

Everything about me was questioned, including the initials beside my name, and where I went to school. Professors and scientists laid down the hammer, and were backed up by others in the same or similar professions. Many of which were female academics.

I was so surprised. What was up with my sisters? Why so cut-throat?

My family urged me to take the post down–telling me that this is a sensitive time in the world right now.  Others feared further repercussions. And once I noticed a spike in views to my other social media accounts, I started to sweat.

First though, before the heat came, I had replied to the professor—the one who had pounced. I thanked him for his information, but questioned his approach, including why he felt he had to hit below the belt, and at my credentials. I asked him to practice calm and be open for discussion.

He came back angrier and justified.

I decided to look at who I was tweeting, and visited his account. A man. Maybe a husband. Maybe a father. An academic and educator. Definitely an ecologist. An environmentalist. Maybe a coffee-drinker. Definitely passionate.

Possibly scared by world events?

Possibly.

I then decided to look at who I was. A woman. An educator. An academic working in the healthcare sector. A writer. A triathlete. Coffee-drinker. Lover of animals—dogs especially. An ambassador. Definitely passionate.

Possibly scared by world events?

Possibly.

We had a lot in common.

And although we never found this ground together. I did find compassion for him and the situation. I also rediscovered my place on Twitter.

After reflecting, I decided to stop talking shop about COVID-19, because it was not my place.

I decided to own that.

Although I work in Public Health, I am not an epidemiologist or a scientist. My specialization is something else altogether. Besides, there are many qualified people who can share evidence-informed messages on Twitter and elsewhere.

And I cleaned up my bio on Twitter to reflect who I want to be there. A woman. A writer. A triathlete. An ambassador.

But wait, you might say: you gave in too quickly!

The fact is, I did give in to better serve en masse. It is not about being right and proving a point. At this stage of any pandemic, it is about getting out of the way and doing the job we are qualified to do.

We do this because we are about healing the collective.

We heal the collective with kindness and compassion, and not with further aggression.

I have always been a fighter. I believed that I had to fight to be seen, heard and valued.

But, as I heal forward, I know we don’t have to fight for these things.

Quite the contrary.

We need to surrender.

“Come mothers and fathers

Throughout the land

And don’t criticize

What you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters

Are beyond your command

Your old road is

Rapidly agin’

Please get out of the new one

If you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin’”

~ Bob Dylan (Simon & Garfunkle)

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Cynthia Menzies  |  Contribution: 8,655