Now, I am not one of those people who think things were better in the past. Of course, some things were and other things weren’t. However, where social media is concerned, I feel troubled about the way it is making us communicate these days.
I am not against social media, as I use it daily to keep in touch with my students. But facebooking, tweeting and texting are not only the most predominant, but also the preferred forms of communication today. A study found that even if people have a chance for a face-to-face interaction they preferred to stay at home and communicate on their devices. Personally, I believe you will gain much more from having an in-depth, face-to-face conversation with a friend, rather than tweeting back and forth with them.
However, this is not my main concern. I believe social media has replace our ability to communicate in an honest and thoughtful way. Social skills we once learned by having a face-to-face conversation have been diminished. We seem to have lost the capacity to be thoughtful and kind. We don’t seem to be able to give our opinions without being disrespectful to one another.
Last week, I was reading a news story on-line and at the end there were over 30 comments. I started reading the comments and was totally shocked by how vile, hateful and truly mean-spirited they were. I couldn’t read them all, as they were starting to disturb my mind. These on-line comments are anonymous, so people believe they can be as mean as they want, and not have to face any consequences. The problem with that is if someone hits you the bruises will soon heal, but a cruel and unkind word can stay with you for a very long time.
When our conversations were face-to-face we had to look people in the eye, so our responses were moderated. Also, you cannot always tell what a person wants to say by their words. You need to see their body language and facial expressions as well. This is something social media is not able to do, so we are starting to lose this important communication skill.
As social media and digital communication are here to stay, we need to find a way to use them more thoughtfully. This is where mindfulness comes in handy. When we are not being mindful we may tweet or text something we regret later. However, once something is out there, it’s out there. You may delete it later, but by then many people have seen it and the damage has been done.
When we are being mindful, it means our awareness comes before our actions. So, to put it simply, we think before we act. Instead of firing off a reply or response straight away, give yourself time to think about it. Especially if what you have received was unkind or hurtful. The time it takes to do three slow, deep, calming breaths our whole perspective changes. It gives us chance to think about what we want to say, and how we want to say it. If it is unkind, hurtful, cruel and intolerant, then don’t send it.
Remember, words can be misinterpreted, especially when we cannot see the other persons face or body language. So, it is extremely important we think carefully before we post any message. Sometimes the most powerful thing to say is nothing. We don’t have to have an opinion about everything, and even if we do, we don’t need to share our opinion in a cruel and damaging way.
If we don’t become more mindful with our digital interactions, we will soon find out that social media can be as unhealthy as fast food.
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Lying, not speaking what is true and fact, is unwholesome.
Missinterpretating is unwholesome.
Censuring and deleting (taking and destroying) is unwholesome.
Disrespecting Dhamma, rebukes, critic, is unwholesome.
Communication without the senses eye, nose, body is more difficult for the untrained mind, for unintructed people, because one relays even more on simple ones preoccupations and ideas. Being not aware od feeling, mind, body an Phenomenas, one communicates and hurts even more only toward one self.
Very good Yeshe. Bernat Font has written an excellent post on Facebook and social media on the secular Buddhism in Aotearoa New Zealand website here – http://secularbuddhism.org.nz/the-facebook-sutta-sn-57-1/. It very much echoes what you’ve written.
Thank you. I will check it out.
Yeshe you may please write about communicating dhamma mindfully as well.
Anyways here are my unsolicited views.
It depends on how you use things. The Karmapa has built a huge social media presence. Empowerments, ritual dances, mahamudra teachings are all streamed live. Sitting in India, I could watch him give teachings on mind training in London. The negative aspect of this maybe that many people who have no or little knowledge of buddhism may nisconstrue some of the more advanced Teachings. There are teachings on bardo, dzogchen available on YouTube.. some well intentioned people post pithy ‘buddhist’ one liners removing the context in which the line should be understood. Tilopas 6 words of advice were posted by a friend who holds no interest in buddhism. These words can easily confuse a neophyte between the path and the goal. “Emptiness is form and form is emptiness”was also floating around WhatsApp. Some who are not in the know may conclude that buddhism is nihilistic.
So maybe a little less dharma promotion is warranted. The Japanese masters may be an ideal in this day. When asked what is the fundamental principle of buddhism the master replied ” there is enough breeze in this fan to keep me cool.” (Alan Watts)
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche had written a social media guideline for so called Vajrayana students. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/americanbuddhist/2013/01/is-this-the-first-ever-buddhist-social-media-code-of-conduct.html It makes a good reading which all of us who are following any spiritual path may consider.