Tag Archives: Boundaries

Not Everything Deserves a Response

There have been references to the argumentative nature of the Internet for as long as I’ve been aware of such a thing, much less an active participant in it.

Without giving away my age, I was around back when people got into never-ending arguments on message boards about topics that ranged from the serious to the downright silly.

For those of you who don’t remember those halcyon days,  message board discussions sometimes went something like this:

 

Thread title: Dogs Are Great

Anne: Here’s a humorous story about my dog not realizing that it’s Daylight Savings Time and waking me up an hour early for breakfast. I really wanted to sleep in, but he was so excited to spend time with me that I ended up getting out of bed early. Aren’t dogs the best?

Bernard: Oh, so you must hate cats then.

Anne: Wait, what?

Bernard: Obviously, everyone who loves dogs also hates cats. If you didn’t feel that way, you would have included cats in the beginning of this thread since they also like to ignore Daylight Savings Time.

Charlie: Yeah, what Bernard said. You really should have thought this rude thread through before posting it for these fourteen reasons that I will now list in exhaustive detail.

Diego: Well, I agree with Anne. Cats are the worst pets that have ever existed for these fifteen rebuttals to Charlie that I’ll now list in exhaustive detail.

Anne: ………..

Depending on how Anne responded once she realized that her innocuous thread about the joys of dogs had immediately been hijacked to argue about whether dogs or cats are the superior pet, this thread could go on for multiple pages and many days.

It didn’t matter what the original purpose of the message board was. I saw it play out on every one I ever visited. Maybe these kinds of arguments are an inescapable part of human nature in general.

At any rate, this pattern of behaviour carried over to social media as soon as such a thing existed. It’s shown no sign of of stopping since then.

No, this isn’t going to be a rant against social media or the Internet in general. Like many other tools, they can be used in all sorts of constructive or destructive ways depending on the intentions of the person behind the screen.

What I did want to talk about today is why not responding is sometimes the best possible thing you can do when someone online – or offline, for that matter – is determined to argue with you no matter what you say or do.

It Takes Two to Argue

I was originally going say that it’s impossible to argue with yourself, but I have seen a few examples of people so determined to win a debate that the lack of an opponent doesn’t do much to stop them.

Still, most arguments require at least two people to sustain them. If one person simply refuses to play the game, it becomes much more difficult for the other one to keep pressing their points. I don’t personally find any fulfillment in debating, but I’ve noticed that many people who do get a thrill out of any response you give them.

It’s not necessarily about the merit of the arguments themselves, it’s about the act of getting the other side to respond in any way.

Nobody’s Mind Will Change

There is nothing Anne can do to convince Bernard that her original post was intended to be lighthearted and happy. He is so determined to drag his own feelings about dogs and cats into every interaction he has that he’ll probably never stop.

Likewise, Bernard will never convince Anne that cats are better than dogs. That wasn’t why she originally signed up for this message board or started that thread. She has no interest in arguing with a stranger on the Internet on a topic she already has an opinion on, and there’s nothing Bernard can say or do to change that.

You’re Not the Cause or the Solution

A certain percentage of people have urges to do things like stir up conflict, always be right, or push their opinions onto everyone they meet regardless of the social context.

Nobody that I’ve known has ever learned to examine the reasons why they behave the way they do based on a conversation with a stranger. If or when they decide to work on changing those parts of themselves, they’ll seek out help on their own terms.

But you didn’t cause their behaviour and there’s nothing you can do to fix it. They are who they are just like you are who you are.

I Choose Peace

There’s something liberating about choosing not respond to everyone who wants to debate. The Bernards of the world obviously have the freedom to rant about cats and dogs as much as they wish, but they’ll soon learn that I’m not someone who will jump into fruitless arguments with them.

There are plenty of other folks on the Internet who are willing to do that, and I wish them well with their virtual battles.

How do you decide what you will and won’t respond to online?

Remaining Mindful on Social Media

Social media is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, I’ve met a lot of incredible people on Twitter and other sites that I never would have otherwise crossed paths with. I’m grateful for the opportunity to make friends from so many different parts of the world. They’ve opened my eyes to everything from social customs to tasty snacks that I would have probably never heard of if I hadn’t decided to sign up for accounts on those sites.

However, there are times when I’ve grow tired of the argumentative and dramatic cultures that have arisen on these platforms. There’s something about typing words out on keyboard that removes some people’s filters. They have the urge to say things online that most folks would never say out loud in front of everyone.

Some of my friends who are also interested in mindfulness have reduced their time spent on social media because of this. Honestly, I don’t blame them. I’ve cut back certain aspects of my social media usage, too. The gap between what these sites could be and what they actually are is simply too big to ignore in certain cases.

With that being said, something interesting has been happening to me on the various social media sites I use now that I’ve been practicing mindfulness regularly for a while.

For one, I’ve started to become hyper-aware of how I feel before, during, and after I use each one of these sites. When a particular leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world goes off on yet another prejudiced, incoherent rant online, my timelines fill up with people arguing over, joking about, and attempting to decipher what that person was really trying to say.

It’s not my place to tell others how to react to the things he says, of course. That’s not what this post is about at all.

What I am talking about is focusing on that moment when my body and mind begin to react to what I’m seeing or hearing. I feel conflicting needs to always know what terrible thing he’s planning to do next while simultaneously wanting a long, quiet break from all of that foolishness. It’s difficult at times to know when to lean in for more information and when to pull back and watch cute animal videos or take a walk instead.

This isn’t even to mention all of the other destructive things happening on various social media sites: mass outrage over something someone said or did; harassment; bullying; doxxing; pictures and stories about things that either never actually happened or that are so heavily edited it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on in them.

Filtering

The beautiful thing about mindfulness is that it doesn’t always have to be something that comes from within. There is definitely something to be said for learning how to focus in a noisy or distracting environment, of course, but there is also value in filtering out certain types of stimuli when such things are possible.

To give you another example of what I’m talking about, Ontario is having a provincial election today. (If you live here, go vote as soon as you finish reading this post!)

Many of my friends from this province have been talking about election issues and which party they think they’ll be supporting this time around.

I’ve been playing around with my filters during this election cycle. Sometimes I want to follow every hashtag and account related to the four major parties in Ontario. On other days, I only want the highlights or maybe even nothing at all. I decided who I’m voting for so long ago that there’s really no need for me to continue entertaining the various options.

Saying No

Sometimes saying no to certain hashtags, websites, groups, or users is the best possible response to something that is such contradictory mixture of helpful and harmful content.

I used to have a harder time letting go of stuff that

One of the beautiful things I’ve learned through the practice of mindfulness is how to say “no, thanks” without making a value judgement on a particular thing.

I’m not saying that everyone should mute that hashtag or stop visiting that site. If others find them useful, good for them.

They’re simply not things that work for me right now, anymore, or ever again.

Trimming the Excess

Yes, this means that I’m visiting fewer social media sites than I used to.

I’m no Luddite, but I do see the value in trimming away the things in life that no longer bring you joy. Why balance four or five accounts if they pull you out of what is happening at this very moment and make you worry about what might happen in all of the moments to come?

This isn’t something that makes sense to me, especially for ordinary people who aren’t celebrities or public figures. Again, this isn’t a guide on how everyone should live. I don’t judge others for updating Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Youtube, Google+, and a half-dozen other accounts every day.

Some people are content doing that.

It’s simply not something that brings peace to my life, however.

Respond

What have your experiences with the various social media sites been like? How do you remain mindful while using them?

Related posts:

What Twitter Taught Me About Mindfulness.

Why Unsolicited Advice Is a Terrible Idea

Yes, I appreciate the irony in writing a blog post about unsolicited advice that could be read as unsolicited advice.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of never giving anyone any advice that they haven’t asked me for, though, and I thought it would make a great topic for a post here while I’m adjusting to the idea of keeping my mouth shut until or unless I’m asked for my opinion.

Perhaps someday I’ll revisit this topic once I have more to say about it? For now, let’s talk about why giving people advice they haven’t asked for is a terrible idea.

 You Don’t Have All of the Facts

Everyone has private parts of their lives that are only shared with very few people or maybe even no one else at all. It could be as simple as a soothing bedtime ritual or as complex as an uncommon hobby that they only discuss with others who have also devoted their free time to perfecting the art of underwater basket weaving.

The parts of someone’s life that others see  almost certainly don’t give a full picture of who they are or how complex their problems – or their perceived problems –  really are.

Sometimes what looks like a banana isn’t actually a banana after all. (Also, I love this picture in and of itself. Isn’t it interesting?)

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I’ve seen this happen multiple times with various friends of mine who are living with serious, longterm mental or physical health problems.

No sooner do they mention having a particularly bad day or dealing with a troublesome, new symptom than someone else will jump in with a half-dozen suggestions for how they should fix their disease once and for all.

Yes, they’ve tried all of those cures already. No, that random Internet article isn’t going to magically fix deep-seated health problems that have been bothering them for decades and that have been treated by multiple doctors and other healthcare professions over the years.

I’ve only ever had this happen to me briefly once or twice, and even that made me irrationally angry. I can’t imagine what my friends who must deal with possibly well-meaning but ultimately wrong and judgemental assumptions about their bodies over and over again go through.

What works for one person can fail miserably for another even if they’re both dealing with similar circumstances or diseases.

 It Doesn’t Work

Advice is only useful when the person receiving it is open to the idea of changing. It’s not like a vaccine that will protect someone from dangerous diseases regardless of what thoughts flutter through their minds while their immune systems are learning how to recognize and destroy inactivated polio germs.

One has to be ready to accept what the advice-giver is saying in order for it to have any hope at all of working. Changing your personality, habits, and/or current situation is such a difficult task that there’s no other way of going about it. Anyone who isn’t motivated to keep going even if they don’t see any results right away is almost certainly going to give up long before any of the work they might have put into their current personal project has had any chance at all to fix things.

Unwanted advice also doesn’t work well for adult relationships in general. When someone who isn’t in an official place of authority over me tries to control what I do or how I live, I feel annoyed and confused. If they continue to do it over a long period of time despite being asked to stop, I slowly begin to share less about my life with them.

Not only does unsolicited advice not work in the short term, it makes me much less willing to listen six months or a year from now if they have something else to say to me.

Rather than prompting me to change whatever it is they think I’m doing wrong, what this kind of interaction teaches me is that they’re not a safe person to confide in. I will often start spending less time with them and guarding myself when I do see them. Their intentions may have been noble, but the results of their poor boundaries are going to be the exact opposite of what they might have hoped for.

Some Lessons Have to be Learned the Hard Way

Not everyone is willing to take the experiences of others as the ultimate truth.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have the urge to warn other people about certain types of mistakes I’ve made in the past, but you can’t live someone else’s life for them.

Sometimes they have to find out for themselves that something is a terrible idea regardless of whether it takes thirty seconds or thirty years between their decision and reaping the consequence of it.

The only thing the rest of us can do in the meantime is to respect their boundaries and hope that they’ll learn their lesson as quickly and easily as possible.

Why You Don’t Have to Respect Your Elders

This post was originally published in October of 2011.

Respect your elders!

We’ve all heard this.

But why should anyone be afforded more (or less) respect because of something as out of our control as the date and time we entered this world?

If I told you Bob is 60 years old and Susanna is 15 could you tell me which one of these people is kinder? more compassionate? wiser? more loving?

Yes, sometimes people do grow wiser with age but it isn’t an automatic process.

I’ve known “Bobs” (both male and female) who lived the same year over and over again, never applying lessons learned from one day to the next. There have also been “Susannas” who tumble out of childhood with more wisdom and common sense than most people three or four times their age.

Story Time

Drew and I spent a week visiting my parents and siblings a few summers ago when our nephew, Aiden, was a toddler. At the end of the visit I asked for a hug. He said no. Our last visit had been when Aiden was an infant and it was completely understandable that he’d be a little shy. These things happen when families are geographically scattered.

I also couldn’t imagine pushing this issue simply because I happened to be a couple of decades older. Being a child doesn’t mean that one has to do everything adults want. Yes, there are times when Aiden’s parents made and make decisions that he isn’t developmentally ready to take responsibility for yet but even a toddler is still his or her own person.

And a funny thing happened a few minutes later: he leaned over and gave me a hug after all.

Respect

…is for everyone: the Prime Minister, the homeless person sitting on the corner, your 88 year old grandmother and your two year old son or daughter all deserve a basic level of respect simply because they are fellow human beings.

It makes no sense to withhold this basic respect (or dribble out more of it) based on how old someone is or what has happened in their life so far.

…is earned. But, yes, respect is also something we can earn more of based on what we do and how we treat others.

Someone who is courteous, kind and generous is almost always going to be more respected and well-liked by those around them than someone who who is rude, selfish and cruel.

…cannot be demanded. In fact, demanding that someone respect you (outside of a rare handful of situations) is one of the fastest ways to lose it. It would be like walking up to a significant other, close family member or friend and saying, “I demand that you love me!”

Whatever emotions or behaviours that are dredged up may give the appearance of love or respect but you can never attract the real thing through force.

Am I saying that we should disrespect our elders?

No.

But don’t let something as out of our control as age determine who deserves your respect.

The Third Option: A Response to Take Nothing Personally

This post was originally published on February 10, 2014. I will have a fresh topic for my readers on Monday!

Feed the real hunger, which is a plea for understanding. It’s their cry for help. The question is how we answer the cry. It starts with compassion. I’m not talking about pity, or pop psychologizing someone in the heat of their rage. That will make it worse. I’m talking about genuinely feeling compassion for the other person, and hearing their pain.

From Take Nothing Personally.

I strongly recommend reading the entire post I linked to above. It’s short and has an extremely powerful message.

By no means should this blog post be construed as a criticism of “Take Nothing Personally.”  I’ve seen how genuine compassion can transform people that you’d never imagine would be capable of such great change, but I would argue that there’s a third option other than responding with anger or compassion.

Compassion-LogoTake a step back.

Not every battle has your name on it. Not every person you meet will be willing to (or capable of) changing. Sometimes the kindest and most compassionate thing you can do is stop trying to fix someone who hasn’t reached a place in his or her life yet when they’re ready to take that step.

I’m not saying that we should completely cut off people who cry out for help through their anger, abrasiveness, or overwhelming desire to control others. Life isn’t always that black and white.

But you can turn the dial down. Call once a week instead of every day, or visit a few times a year instead of twice a month. There are many ways to set limits, and doing so can be really good for your mental health. Some relationships work better with a little distance.

The beautiful thing about steps is that they’re flexible and reversible. The limits you set today might be completely unnecessary tomorrow. Or they might need to be drawn in tighter in order to keep the relationship as healthy as possible.

By all means practice compassion, but remember that it can be used in a wide variety of ways and from any distance.

People Aren’t Projects

Originally posted on March 11, 2013.  “Let’s go talk to the street preachers!” Drew teased this past weekend. I raised my eyebrow and glanced over at him, trying not to roll my eyes. Muslim, Jewish or Christian, street evangelists in Toronto share the same goal: to convert you. Certain groups loudly berate (female) strangers they… Read More

Anger Isn’t a Destination

There are a lot of things in this world that rightfully stir up anger,  but this isn’t a post about them. Neither is this a post about not being angry. Sometimes you need to get mad about the injustices in this world. A well-placed rant can be a great way to grab people’s attention and… Read More

I’m Happy to Visit, but I Don’t Want to Stay

A while back Drew and I were talking about weekend plans. The thing we were planning on doing required much more travel time than we normally commit to on weekends, and as we discussed it I felt my stomach tense up. I really didn’t want to tie up an entire day with this particular get-together.… Read More

Can People Change?

Barring a serious brain injury could you wake up tomorrow, decide to change your personality and successfully go through with it? There was a time when I thought this was possible but with every passing year I believe more and more strongly that we might be able to change our minds about specific issues – religion,… Read More