Online as in person: basic etiquette, boundaries, & choosing your own team.

Online as in person: basic etiquette, boundaries, & choosing your own team.

<em>Image cour­tesy of mpclemens<a href=“https://www.flickr.com/photos/mpclemens/6947413771” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>+</a>.</em> Thanks­giv­ing is upon us, which tends the mark the begin­ning of The Hol­i­day Sea­son for most of us in the U.S. This is a time when many of us gath­er togeth­er with friends and family…and inevitably have to fig­ure out how to nav­i­gate the myr­i­ad pol­i­tics, beliefs, and lifestyles of those we may <em>love</em> but not always <em>like</em>. With the advent of social media, I’ve found that such inter­ac­tions are no longer rel­e­gat­ed to hol­i­days and reunions, but are now part of our every­day dig­i­tal lives. What sur­pris­es me more often than not, though, is the atti­tude with which peo­ple approach social media. In recent days alone, I’ve heard that block­ing some­one on social media is nar­row-mind­ed, pri­vate walls are pub­lic forums where all opin­ions ought to have equal air time, and online inter­ac­tions aren’t <em>real</em><em> life</em> so every­one needs to just calm down. Per­haps I’m a bit a biased, con­sid­er­ing the sheer num­ber of friends I’ve made through online-only inter­ac­tions, but in my expe­ri­ence and from my obser­va­tions, <strong>online life <em>is</em> real life.</strong> It’s an unavoid­able part of life in the 21st cen­tu­ry, and it amazes me that some seem to think online inter­ac­tions sud­den­ly stop hav­ing mean­ing because they’re hap­pen­ing on a screen rather than face to face. It’s as if being phys­i­cal­ly removed from a per­son gives one license to ignore bound­aries and assume a far clos­er rela­tion­ship to peo­ple than actu­al­ly exists. This sort of thing is incred­i­bly famil­iar to me, hav­ing spent 25+ years in <a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/excommunications/2014/11/i-belong-to-me/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>a cul­ture that total­ly ignores bound­aries and consent</a> in per­son (let alone online). This fur­ther solid­i­fies in my mind that the same basic eti­quette you ought to show to some­one in per­son is how you should treat peo­ple online. Not a rad­i­cal con­cept, to be sure, but there are a few things I’d like to touch on any­way. <em>(By the way, if you’re not read­ing <a href=“http://captainawkward.com/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Captain Awkward</a>, I don’t even know what you’re doing with your life and you need to go spend a few hours read­ing the com­mon sen­si­cal social inter­ac­tion wis­dom that pours forth from the fin­gers of the Awk­ward Team. This post is heav­i­ly, heav­i­ly influ­enced by that blog, and you would just be such a hap­pi­er and bet­ter-adjust­ed human being if you made it part of your reg­u­lar reading.)</em> <h3>Listen &amp; eval­u­ate before you join a conversation.</h3> I real­ly think a lot of con­flict could be avoid­ed if peo­ple real­ly paid atten­tion to a con­ver­sa­tion — both the top­ic at hand and the peo­ple involved — then eval­u­at­ed whether their input was help­ful or nec­es­sary before join­ing in. I’m not sure if we just feel like we’ve got to have (and share!) our opin­ions, want­ed or not, or if we’re just too impa­tient to take the time to fig­ure things out before par­tic­i­pat­ing. But something’s got­ta give. Par­tic­u­lar­ly in online group dis­cus­sions, things can go real­ly wrong real­ly quick­ly. Strangers or peo­ple that aren’t close friends assume a tone, lev­el of frank­ness, or enti­tle­ment to someone’s time and ener­gy that usu­al­ly just isn’t appro­pri­ate for the sit­u­a­tion. Have an oppos­ing view? <strong>Pay atten­tion to the conversation.</strong> Is there an explic­it or implied call for debate? Pro­ceed — with respect. Are they voic­ing con­cerns or sad­ness or emo­tions? Maybe pass — you prob­a­bly don’t need to stop in with, “Well, actu­al­ly…” or “Explain to me why you think or feel this way.” No one owes us an expla­na­tion for their views or their feel­ings, par­tic­u­lar­ly peo­ple that we don’t have a close rela­tion­ship with. I think a good rule of thumb is the famous say­ing by Craig Fer­gu­son. Before you say some­thing, ask your­self three ques­tions: <ol> <li>Does this <i>need</i> to be said?</li> <li>Does this need to be said <i>by me?</i></li> <li>Does this need to be said by me <i>right now?</i></li> </ol> <iframe src=“//www.youtube.com/embed/VZvSdHD6LCY?rel=0” width=“560” height=“315” frameborder=“0” allowfullscreen=“allowfullscreen”></iframe> <i>Language alert for the end of the video.</i> <h3>No mat­ter how pub­lic a con­ver­sa­tion is, that doesn’t mean it’s an open forum.</h3> And this goes dou­bly or triply for those who <em>don’t</em> have pub­lic pro­files. My blog and Twit­ter account are pub­lic. My Face­book account is not. In fact, my Face­book account is frag­ment­ed into groups, and only cer­tain groups get to see every­thing I post. The rest are fil­tered, because while I want to inter­act with my friends and fam­i­ly on there, I <em>do</em> need to lim­it some of their inter­ac­tions with me on sub­jects I know will be sen­si­tive or con­tro­ver­sial. But even on my blog and Twit­ter, <strong>I’m not oblig­at­ed to let some­one talk at me</strong> until they run out of breath or things to say. These are still <em>my</em> spaces. They aren’t courts of pub­lic opin­ion. I’m not oblig­at­ed to allow oth­ers free speech. My social media isn’t a democ­ra­cy. I have the final say in what I allow, and no one else can change that. Think of it as my house. You don’t get to come into my house and say what­ev­er you want and expect me to put up with it. You don’t get to do that in my online spaces, either. Even if we’re meet­ing some­where in pub­lic, nei­ther of us are oblig­at­ed to make our dis­cus­sions open to the pub­lic, or put up with any igno­rant thing we might spout at each oth­er. It’s the same online. You might not like that. But guess what? <em>You can total­ly do the same on your social media pro­files and in your life. </em>You get to decide what you post, who is allowed to com­ment, what kind of con­ver­sa­tions you want to have, whether you’ll delete com­ments or not. <em>The pos­si­bil­i­ties are endless,</em> so if you have some­thing you just <em>really</em> need to say, go to <em>your</em> spaces to say it, just as I’ll keep using my spaces to say what I need to say. <h3>You’re allowed to choose who and what you want in your life.</h3> This, for me, has by far been the most lib­er­at­ing. I real­ly can’t empha­size enough how impor­tant it is to have a Team You. A term that orig­i­nat­ed with Cap­tain Awk­ward as far as I can tell, Crim­i­nal Reviews describes it thus in their handy-dandy <a href=“https://criminalreviews.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/a-captain-awkward-glossary/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Captain Awk­ward Glossary</a>: <blockquote><strong>Team You</strong> The peo­ple you gath­er around you to sup­port you, who are on your side and want what is best for you. Can be friends, fam­i­ly, pro­fes­sion­als – what­ev­er the sit­u­a­tion requires – and includes your­self (you are the Found­ing Mem­ber of Team You!). For advice on how to build Team You, see <a title=“this post” href=“http://captainawkward.com/2012/12/31/4719/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>this post</a>.</blockquote> The best part of Team You? Is that you get to build it. You’re the Found­ing Mem­ber and the Cap­tain, and you get to choose your play­ers. Which also means that you get to choose who is most def­i­nite­ly <em>not</em> on Team You. Does some­one con­stant­ly stress you out, manip­u­late you, monop­o­lize your time and ener­gy or just rub you the wrong way? <em>You don’t have to be friends with them.</em> <strong>You’re under <em>no obligation</em> to expend pre­cious ener­gy on a rela­tion­ship that is tox­ic to your men­tal, emo­tion­al, or phys­i­cal health.</strong> <a href=“http://captainawkward.com/2014/05/26/579-being-pushed-to-forgive-because-faaaaaaaamily/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Yes, even if it’s family.</a> And the even cool­er thing is that you can decide how you want to han­dle it! Depend­ing on your rela­tion­ship lev­el (and the tox­i­c­i­ty lev­el of said rela­tion­ship), you can severe­ly lim­it your inter­ac­tion with them or even cut off con­tact. You can decide that you’ll only deal with them in cer­tain group set­tings, or hol­i­days, or on your turf (house, pub­lic restau­rant that is mutu­al ter­ri­to­ry) or what-have-you. <em>It’s total­ly up to you.</em> It’s <em>your</em> life, it’s <em>your</em> health, and you are total­ly with­in your right to lim­it your inter­ac­tions with peo­ple who have proven them­selves tox­ic to you. What about that friend or fam­i­ly mem­ber you love to pieces except for That One Thing (pol­i­tics, pet sub­ject, reli­gious or non-reli­gious beliefs)? <em>You can total­ly set a bound­ary with that person</em> and say, “I love you and want to spend time with you, but let’s not talk about xyz, okay?” If they insist, “I’m sor­ry, this isn’t a con­ver­sa­tion I want to have. How about we change the sub­ject?” Or if it gets <em>really</em> bad, “I said I don’t want to talk about this. Excuse me.” Then leave. <em>You can total­ly leave.</em> It will total­ly be awk­ward, but <em>let it be awkward.</em> If they are try­ing to cross the bound­ary you’ve set, it’s <em>their</em> awk­ward to deal with, not yours. Let them own it. Here’s the thing, though. <strong>All of this goes both ways.</strong> Has some­one indi­cat­ed to you that they don’t want to be friends or hang out? <i>Respect that.</i> Don’t keep push­ing your­self into their lives. <em>That’s not okay,</em> even if they’ve just com­plete­ly cut off con­tact. Silence <em>is</em> an answer, and that answer is alter­nate­ly <em>“no”</em> and <em>“leave me alone.”</em> You’re absolute­ly wel­come to have sad or angry feel­ings about it. You can’t help your feel­ings, and they are total­ly yours to feel, but don’t have your feel­ings <em>at</em> them. They’re <em>your</em> feel­ings to deal with, not theirs. Has some­one asked you to not talk about The Thing? <em>Then don’t talk about The Thing. </em>Even if it’s real­ly impor­tant to you. Even if you think that if they just saw your side, every­thing would be awe­some. You don’t get to make that deci­sion for them. They’ve already decid­ed The Thing isn’t some­thing they want to dis­cuss, so drop it and move on to a safe top­ic you know you both can talk about with ease. <a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/nope.gif” alt=“nope” width=“476” height=“253” /></a>Last but not least, it’s impor­tant to remind your­self often: <strong>setting strong bound­aries for the sake of your well-being is nev­er nar­row-mind­ed, self­ish, or cruel.</strong> Peo­ple assum­ing that your inten­tions aren’t up to snuff are being nar­row-mind­ed. You don’t owe them an expla­na­tion. No one can oblig­ate you to keep them abreast of all of your deal­ings and rea­son­ings. If some­one wants that lev­el of con­trol over your life, it’s prob­a­bly a good idea to give them Major Side Eyes and shuf­fle out of the room before you lose all sense of your­self to the “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST ACCEPT EVERYONE NO MATTER WHAT” peo­ple who will drain you of your auton­o­my and health. <b>You get to set your own bound­aries and make your own deci­sions about your life — and respect that oth­er peo­ple get to make those deci­sions for them­selves, too.</b> &nbsp;

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