Friday, January 20th 2017. The Inauguration of the 45th President was an emotional day. Many in this country experienced grief, fear, and anger; others felt elated, hopeful, and proud. In our current political climate it looks like our emotions are the leaders ― they’ve run away with us and are ruling our actions. We saw it during the campaign, after the election, and pre-inauguration. Now, we have our worst example yet: the cyberbullying of Barron Trump. When is it ever OK to punish a child for one’s feelings about his parent? This 10-year-old boy is part of our human family ― flawless just like you and me. This needs to serve as a wake up call for us all. Can we set aside the emotions that would lead adults to mock a child, and instead make the conscious choice to lead with love and compassion at all times?
From Donald Trump using Twitter as a megaphone for name-calling and shaming, to public figures making cruel comments about his son, to journalists sharing misguided commentary — the careless use of social media as a platform to spread hatred must stop. I wrote a blog on this topic two years ago, and again in November, and am stunned that we seem to be regressing in our online behavior.
Some try to justify their hurtful comments on social media by saying that they are simply following the lead of the “other.” In the case of Barron Trump, cyberbullies point to Donald Trump, and I’m reminded of the classic outcry in children’s disagreements: “He started it!” Have we really so quickly forgotten the words of Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high”? In October, Hillary’s campaign and supporters embraced these words as an informal motto, yet what we’re seeing on social media from those who oppose our new President is some of the lowest of the low. The famous quote of Martin Luther King has also been a favorite, appearing everywhere from Facebook walls to signs carried by protesters around the country.
But we can’t claim these words if we don’t practice them in our speech -- both online and off.
Instead of attacking outward, we can make the brave decision to turn the focus inward, asking ourselves how we can show solidarity or serve as a voice for compassion within our own communities. We’ve seen inspiring examples of this from NBC -- who took a stand against cruelty by suspending the SNL writer whose tweet drew the most attention -- and Chelsea Clinton.
Instead of remaining silent, she publicly called for a stop to the cyberbulling of Barron Trump, reminding us to speak up in support of our shared humanity, no matter how heated the political climate gets.
With social media, the onus is on each of us to self-regulate. Feelings are running high, but when we lead with emotion, we risk causing real harm. If, instead, we can pause to identify our emotions and inquire about them -- asking, “Why am I feeling so triggered” -- we create enough space to respond with more wisdom and empathy.
We all experience a wide palette of emotions. It’s part of our humanity, and it’s worthwhile to get familiar with your dark emotions so they don’t rule your behavior. As Dr. Marc Brackett of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence says, “If you can name it, you can tame it.” We are capable of managing any emotion that comes up -- including intense anger, hatred, or fear -- but we must first recognize its presence within us, take ownership, and do something constructive with it. Tapping into our emotional intelligence so that we can talk to one another is not optional at this point. We need to create a culture of kindness and work together for peace. If not, we risk the future of our country, our children, and our planet.
Many argue that empathizing is conceding. That if we don’t react with force it implies we’ve given in to the arguments of the “other side” or aren’t as committed to working for what we think is right. But where do we get the idea that attacking is a solution? For the past year and a half we’ve been cancelling one another out in a contest of who can be the meanest. But finding common ground is possible. Dr. Robin Stern, also of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, wrote an important piece about how we can understand one another and repair differences. In it, she includes a number of examples of initiatives that promote bridging our divides so we can approach one another from a place of open-mindedness, curiosity, and recognition of the light in every human being.
There is no doubt that seeing the perfection in everyone, especially in those with whom we disagree, is extremely challenging. After a time of so much heated discourse, many of us are wondering, where do we even start? It takes practice and support. If you’re ready to take Flawless Action, and become an agent of unity instead of division, here are some of our favorite resources and ideas for ways to put this into practice.
- Commit to your own self care, participating in activities that contribute to your emotional health. Some examples: exercise, spirituality, mindfulness or yoga.
- Seek professional help with a therapist if you are having challenges moderating your emotions and behavior.
- Before you post on social media ask yourself if you are seeing the light in the person you are about to post about. Are you looking through the eyes of judgement or love?
- Practice self-acceptance, forgiveness, and self-love. Compassion starts from within.
- Learn to love when you’re feeling anything but loving. Here is an example how to do that.