Last year I wrote a lot of noise. It felt like I was writing from an undigested, frustrated place, a very shouty place. No doubt some of what I was writing valid, however it was often fuelled by emotion that was unrelated to the subject matter.
Often what I was really pissed off about was to do with a conversation I wasn’t having or a situation I wasn’t facing from beyond the kingdom of my browser window.
And when I properly examined it, I wasn’t having the conversation because I lacked the courage, feared the consequences and maybe had even forgotten how to.
I see this everywhere. Somehow social media platforms have become a space for the most incredible streams of vitriol to be unleashed on the world, a plague of so called ‘trolls’. Not to mention the full on word-wars occurring below the line on pretty much every medium from YouTube to The Guardian.
Opinion is a great thing, freedom of speech an incredible privilege to be able to wield, healthy debate is what drives progress. And sometimes we just need to throw our heads back and let rip an unbound howl into the night.
But this is a far cry (hah!) from the strange snarled up rant-culture I feel surrounded by and part of.
I wonder if it is simply a way to avoid actually having face-to-face conversations off line.
For example Trip Advisor. I used to see this as a useful resource to allow individuals to give honest unbiased personal views on places that they had visited. In fact it was one of the earliest platforms that allowed individuals considerable power over organisations and made many establishment sort their shit out rather than just paying for better PR.
It certainly has its place, but like many other platforms it is often used as way for cross people to shout about negative experiences. Nothing wrong with that per se (aside from the instances when experiences are fabricated) but often the place that is being criticised isn’t made aware of what they have done wrong at the time. I’ve done it myself, smiled and told a member of staff everything was fine, when it really wasn’t. Not wanted to make a scene, cause a fuss. But then afterwards felt cross, ripped off, and moaned about it.
Having worked in restaurants and helped run one, I now recognise how vital it is for customers to speak out, to say if something isn’t right (hopefully with tact and understanding of course, and hopefully met with openness and genuine apology from the place in question). This allows for conversation, apology, learning and improvement on the restaurant end, an opportunity to put things right there and then. Strangely quite often in these cases a particular bond forms between the customer and restaurant that brings them closer, a complaint handled well can make a customer into a regular. I have never heard of this happening on Trip Advisor.
As I feel my way back into writing, and at the same time explore the conversations in my work and my relationships, I’m struck by how easy it is to have an opinion online, to draw clear strong divisions, shout about something, even shout at someone, when they are not physically there.
I have to remind myself of the basic online etiquette of not texting, tweeting, posting anything that you wouldn’t be prepared to say face-to-face (and I would add, take the consequence of saying).
I am by no way advocating a path of shrinking violets (which in truth shine and sing from the hedgerows right now). Quite the opposite, I feel so strongly, that we need to have the difficult conversations, we need to question and debate and explore. And we need to listen. Bloody hell, we really, really need to listen.
Real conversations about important things can be hard work and take a good deal of courage. Conversations where both parties come from different points of view, conversations that are not going come to a clean resolution, conversations that are frankly messy, painful and very human. But by having these honest, courageous, vulnerable exchanges extraordinary things can happen.
They bring closeness, they bring understanding, they build a useful appreciation of how we are all in constant flux, they bring light and humour to the darkest places.
So I am actively practicing having the conversations that make me feel uncomfortable rather than using my bottled up emotions as fuel for my writing. I often feel like a beginner speaking a foreign language with someone else’s tongue, it doesn’t always go to plan. Occasionally it’s so easy it knocks me off balance. Often as I go to talk about something I realise it is not as important as I thought it was and I am released from its grasp.
Maybe I am laughably naïve but one small step I feel could transform our lives as individuals, communities and maybe on a wider scale, might simply be to have the conversations, face to face if possible. To speak, to listen, to feel the discomfort and vulnerability, to be honest, to be human.
I’m certainly going to give it a go.
Amidst all your philosophy, be still a (wo)man
David Hume (my parenthesis obvs.)
Have a look at these extraordinary films from Yann Arthaus-Betrand, I found them profound and moving, they got me thinking and talking. http://www.human-themovie.org