My first week of graduate school. Behavior Management 101. The assignment was to answer a question posted online and then respond to two other comments within that thread. Being the overachiever that I am, I was one of the first in the class to respond, and I checked the website repeatedly in anticipation of other classmates’ posts that I could respond to. I was shocked when another student posted a response that was opinionated and offensive and downright stupid. Of course, I responded with my own thoughts and maybe with a few fancy words that may or may not be synonymous with curse words. Within 24 hours, the thread had grown so contentious with other classmates taking sides that the professor deleted the entire thread, reprimanded us all for not abiding by online etiquette, and started the assignment over with a different question. We were all aspiring teachers. And that was our first lesson in Behavior Management.
Did I regret my response that I voiced from the safety behind my computer screen? Yes I do. Do I wish I had allowed myself to stew for an hour away from the computer before posting a response? Of course. Do I wish I had just shut up and walked away the bigger person? Absolutely.
And that is when I learned The Art of Shutting Up.
I’m pretty active on Facebook. In fact, I probably get most of my current event updates as well as social interaction via FB. But as much as I love Facebook, I realize that it’s a breeding ground for negativity, hurtful opinions, and the snowballing of hostilities. It’s very easy to hide behind a computer, just as I did in graduate school, and spew out a whole bunch of brain vomit without thinking before typing. And once you hit that POST button, it’s out there, and people are already responding before you have a chance to regret what you’ve written and figured out how to delete it. Before we know it, our words have gone viral. All it takes is a few people to copy and paste or click on that share button. For better or for worse, our opinions are shared. And there is no professor, no referee, standing by to monitor our words and give us a do-over.
There’s always interesting chatter in the military spouse Facebook community. From the SpouseBuzz post about comparing complaints, to the news about the president’s plan to downsize the military, to the annoucement of the dates of the MilBlog Conference, Facebook has been abuzz lately with passionate opinions and equally passionate responses. It’s so easy to get sucked into the drama, whether we agree with someone’s thoughts or vehemently oppose them.
After my graduate school experience, I learned to take a step back before offering up my own snarky response that accomplishes nothing but feeding into other people’s childish behavior and exhibiting an inability to fully think through an issue and tame my own emotions. I made a fool of myself that first week of school, and I think of that harsh lesson every time I consider responding to an offensive post on Facebook. Pursuant to the Art of Shutting Up, I now bite my tongue, remind myself not to take offhand comments personally, and allow a full hour to pass before posting a response. Usually, by the end of the hour, the urgent need to share my thoughts has dissipated. And if that desire does still remain, then at least I’ve had an hour to compose a more refined reaction than the knee-jerk one I would have initially posted.
As much as I believe in freedom of speech, I also believe in the importance of shutting up, especially when it comes to the viral rantings and ravings on Facebook. But when the rantings and ravings carry on, and the ability to keep my mouth shut and be the bigger person gets too difficult to maintain, I also firmly believe in the UNFRIEND button.