The Positivity Paradox


After the election, I did myself a bit of a disservice by unfollowing or un-friending Facebook friends with opposing views.  I knew the dangers of doing this, and I agreed with the idea that “sterilizing” your news feed is perpetuating some of the issues that we currently face.  But on November 9th, I was out of patience and the strength to pass by these posts without feeling the need to contradict my friends’ and family members’ false information or often-hurtful views.   Time has passed, and as we all hoped, the focus has shifted toward action opposed to shock alone. Because of this, I’ve gone back through my “unfollow” list and stepped a bit outside my protective bubble.

And not to my surprise, there does seem to be a separate group emerging, both from people I am close with and people I haven’t spoke to since high school.  Some seem to feel a tragedy did occur on November 8th, but that we must act as if the tragedy has passed and accept the world as it is.  This comes in many forms, many of which sprung from last week’s inspiring march.

It comes in the form of questioning intentions: But do they really care?  These people will just sit back and stop caring after they snag their great Facebook photo.

It comes in the form of their diminishing impact:  This won’t do anything, he’s not going to listen to you.

And most disturbingly to me, it comes in the form of blindness:  I don’t understand what everyone is so upset about, why can’t we all just give this him chance?  —This paired with an unwillingness to hear the answer.

These reactions all come from a place of self-protection.  We naturally protect ourselves from the idea that something is wrong, that we might not be doing quite enough, that we are weak.  No matter the intentions, everyone at that march (and those who wished to go to the march), admitted that something was wrong and something must be done.  Wherever they are on their journey toward active citizenship, this was a literal step away from complacency.  And those who try to put it down, are in a different predicament:

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Social Media for the People, Not the Peeple


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Over the past several days, more and more backlash has been surfacing regarding the hoopla around the impending launch of the app Peeple. It’s pretty rare that I become publicly riled up about something, and I’ve found that often is due to my lack of control of the situation. I will sign petitions, donate money, whatever is appropriate for the cause- but it’s rare that I take to social media to join a cause. In this case, however, I have a place in the debate. The main goal of maintaining this blog over the past five years has been to elevate the viewpoint of negative situations. Suddenly, an app with a great deal of financial backing is on the horizon- and it essentially stands for the opposite of my goals on social media. As much as the founders would like to believe otherwise*(see note below), I believe this App will only promote an outlet for under-regulated personal attacks and the general approval of emotionally-driven judgments about people in our lives. In other words, I am not a fan.

Creative Commons Photo via Wilfred Iven on Stocksnap

Creative Commons Photo via Wilfred Iven on Stocksnap

The Power of Social Media

Though social media constantly gets a bad rap, I give it a great deal of credit for its ability to gather communities. Just look at the unbelievable movements created by Humans of New York, The Ice Bucket Challenge, and countless other crowd-funding campaigns that have launched companies, built web series, and even saved lives—all of which are forces that have rallied communities together for a greater cause.

Now, I do also understand the debate against the rise in social media dependency. We are given a digital wall to hide behind, a place to cower when we feel the need to spout diatribes about social and political topics, of which, quite often, we are not fully informed. And yet, even these promote the process of discovering one’s beliefs and protesting tactics.

Peeple, however, the upcoming app that allows you to “rate” your peers, provides none of these qualities. Here are three reasons the existing social media platforms have succeeded in a supportive culture:

  1. Peeple lacks emotional connection: Hitting “Like” on Facebook can mean many things: I support you, I believe in you, or even, Yes, your brunch really does look delicious. Thought it can be abused, across the board, Facebook is often a place to celebrate yourself or others. Peeple, however, removes the human connection. Instead of seeing one another for our careers, our hobbies, and our life events, we are encouraged to see each other as a tangible score, a confusing subjective opinion– without any humanizing details to back it up. The culture on Facebook has been set- I would never imagine writing a personal attack on someone’s wall. And if I did, it could be deleted by its owner, or defended by a peer.
  2. Facebook/Twitter inspires debate: Though I have chosen, for my own mental health, to unfollow several friends on Facebook who often rant about politics, I give them credit for starting the conversation. Even when things get out of control, these debates will often ignite the pursuit of the greater knowledge. If things become personal, as mentioned earlier, the user has the option opt out or delete the conversation. Others also have the ability to come to your defense. What is perhaps most frightening about Peeple is the inability to opt out the service. The CEO has stepped forward to say that the opt-out situation has changed, though I am still very unclear about whether someone can write the post about you in the first place. If you have a clear explanation of this, please feel free to comment.
  3. It promotes lack of accountability: I work in a middle school. I can only imagine the terror this would create, not only for children, but also for people of all ages who find themselves in situations when someone’s emotions have gotten the best of them. In a society that promotes living up to a particular, pop-culture-approved standard, millions of people who suffer from even the slightest social anxiety would now have a “number” to connect to that fear. This is wrong.

And a step beyond that? We are adults, and therefore have experiences overcoming cruelty and negativity. But for children and teenagers? What does this tell them? That yes, there is standard created by your peers, and if you do not abide by these rules, you will be publicly shamed.   And to the people doing that shaming? Here is place for you to release your judgments out into the world without remembering how someone else will be affected. Realizing the way our words can upset or encourage another human being is one of the most crucial stages in personal growth — without this imperative step, our society grows even further apart.

Using what we have

So what can we do? Let’s use the tools provided by our current, functional social media platforms to lift everyone up. We are not numbers, we are not ratings, we are not Yelp reviews. We are human beings trying desperately to connect to one another and feel that we have a place in our day-to-day lives. We are trying, and we do not, be any means, need this effort to be diminished to a meaningless number.

#Boycottpeeple and other similar movements are currently gaining momentum on Twitter and Facebook. Let’s continue to support one another.


*Final note about the CEO’s recent post: If the message from Julia Cordray is genuine, which I would like to believe it is, I hope she begins to understand the reality of the program she is building, and where our frustration is coming from. I never condone threats or attacks on a person- no one should be doing this to the owners of the company or anyone connected. If their intentions are to create a platform for positivity, then I applaud their hopes, but remind them that they may be, unfortunately, a bit disconnected. And, yes, it is a shame that people will use this app to write negative posts about one another, but it is simply a truth that cannot be ignored. It is our responsibility to protect the young people of our society (and one another) from those who will abuse an app of this kind.


If you build it, they will….read your blog?

A lovely idea launched me into writing this morning, and perhaps it will help you as well.  My friend Christina has been writing a lovely blog containing a thank you note a day to different things in her life: people, organizations, inanimate objects.  And this morning, she received a thank you note in return from one of the organizations!  As much as you hope people may glance at your art, it’s still incredibly thrilling and shocking when people do.  It’s especially thrilling when you realize that your writing has effected someone positively.

And then I thought for a minute about what would have happened if Christina had decided to write a post a day about everything she hates. What kind of response would she get, if any?  Essentially, it would be a giant invitation for rage and rants.  What a waste of energy on both ends, and pretty much the most obnoxious blog ever.

Most importantly, it was a reminder that when you send out gratitude, people appreciate it and send it right back.  When you send out enthusiasm, people feel enthused, and when you send out a constructive piece of advice about a problem, people sit and think, which is never a totally bad thing.

In the past several years of having this blog I have discovered a few (possibly obvious) things:

1. If you write it, people will read it.  Someone needs to hear what you need to say.  Hooray!

2. There are many ways you can present one idea.  No kidding, Ginny.

3. The way you choose to present your thoughts will affect the way you live your life and how others feel in theirs.  If you can’t find the best way to say something, hold off, it will come to you later.  Writing about writing?  Getting a little meta for me, please explain.  Also, are you talking to yourself in bold?  Does Ben know you’ve lost your mind?  Hush.

These sound like obvious points.  Why would anyone write a post a day about things they hate?  How exhausting!  And yet, you find it all the time online, just not listed this bluntly. SO I’ve started to think about where all this online negativity comes from.

What an interesting soapbox you have there….

We are human beings that need to feel all the feels sometimes, but it is important to keep an eye on what you are putting out there for public consumption and what you’re instead, putting in your journal.

It seems that negativity is often falsely regarded as confidence.  You have the right not to like something, I understand that.  And the world is far from perfect.  Constructive ideas are needed to fix many terrible things in society.  But the next time you write about how all people should stop doing something because you think it’s dumb and then have no logical take on how to fix it, think about why you are throwing all that negative energy into something that is A. beyond your control, and B. Most likely an insult of someone else’s personal expression.

Ask yourself if it’s harming you or anyone else.  If it isn’t, maaaaaybe you’re actually upset about something else.  If it is, it is still that person’s belief, and so there are more constructive ways to speak to them effectively.  Let’s be big girls and boys about this.

Pick a nicer soapbox, you have your choice

There aren’t many things in life that you have complete control over.  Your soapbox is one of them.  If you have a particularly open mind about a political problem, and a practical approach about how to improve someone’s life, then by all means, shout away!  I will support you!  (Though I will probably not come to your literal soapbox because I hate crowds.  But I will totally give to your Kickstarter).

If you find joy in making scones and posting scone recipes, power to ya!  Who doesn’t like scones?

Home Baked Scones Tea With...

I had to google “public domain scones” for this one.

Okay good example: Let’s say you hate scones.  Hate them.  They’re dry and your great-aunt made you eat them when you were little while yelling at you about being too skinny (This did not happen to me.  I love my aunts.  And scones).  But damn those dense pastries of doom!  You go on this person’s scone blog and rip into their very being of artistic identity.  And now it’s for all the world to see, not only the writer/struggling baker.

Your negative comment sparks a defensive attack online that somehow causes half your facebook readers to storm away from their computers, yell at their barista, yell at their dog, over-eat pastries out of spite, and then stomp around for part of the day carrying your family issues with them.

I believe it all goes back to fear.  And fear mixed with a healthy dose of ignorance creates a tunnel vision of rage and bizarre soap boxes.

The best example to me is the Ice Bucket Challenge.  I know, I’m late to the game.  But I wanted to wait until the angry people calmed down a bit so we all had some hindsight.  I found that people who ranted about the Ice Bucket Challenge had trouble looking at the whole story, and perhaps were projecting their own discomfort with group activities altogether.

Many people said, “What does pouring ice on your head have to do with ALS?  THIS IS DUMB!”  *throws laptop, pouts, eats scone*  

Now if they had perhaps researched the story of the challenge a little further, they would have seen that the challenge was to raise awareness about a disease that didn’t have a lot of attention.  By spreading knowledge, we realize it’s a problem that perhaps lost fundraising steam, which clearly is something to be fixed.

I also read, “People are just trying to get attention instead of donating!”  *posts on facebook, hopes for likes and comments*

As I used to tell my first graders at camp, don’t worry about what your classmate is doing, worry about yourself.  If you feel that their approach to spreading awareness about a disease is too showy, then don’t do it.  Keep gluing your macaroni.  No one is leaving you out.

And then the ever confusing, “This is taking away from other charities.” (Well, now I’m just getting judgy. I see how easy it is!)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t donate to a list of charities each day, and it took me a while to get used to donating at all.  But one way to get in the habit of giving to ANYONE, even if it’s a smaller amount, is having something inspire you to think of yourself as a charitable person in the first place.  It is easy to assume that a good portion of the Ice-Challenged gang was not planning on donating to Gorillas in Need (made that up, I’m not sure if they’re in need) that day and decided to blow them off.  So it was a good step all around.

Same amount of energy for something more worthwhile

Instead of using the word “better” or “right”, let’s go with constructive or worthwhile.  So much energy goes into choosing negativity without properly researching your point.  Will your rant actually help the situation, or are you a commenter that likes to stir up trouble because you’re speaking from a place of anger?

I have plenty of moments when someone has said something simply asinine online and I have to hold myself back.  If that guy I went to high school with is defending another crazy Fox News Anchor simply because he isn’t exposed to anything outside our small home town, would it be worth me lashing out at him without a plan?  No.  People who carry angry ideas are always looking for someone to be defensive.  And from his point of view, he believes he is fighting the good fight.  Me attacking would get us both nowhere.  Until I have a calm and helpful way to approach it, I will keep my mouth shut.

People do listen!  If you build it….you get the point.

So the good thing is that people do listen!!  I have found that when you put your art out there in the world, people do care and appreciate your effort, even if it takes a little while to make a career out of it (Want to cast me??! *insert tap dance*).  So write that blog!  Start that painting!  Build that baseball field for ghosts!  Just remember that what you build will reach people, and helping them grow in the process is much better than millions of other lousier and honestly, less interesting options out there.