3 Tips on Being a Decent Citizen of the Internet

The internet, and consequently, social media, is feeling very political these days (except for you, Pinterest–keep being you). This makes sense because even if the strangest election in our lifetimes wasn’t creeping slowly nearer, there are still huge social and political discussions going on. “Black lives matter!” “What about police lives?” “What about….” on and on it goes. Everyone has an opinion on something, and we all feel very inclined to share the pieces of wisdom we believe we have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I think social media is a great way to share ideas and engage in these difficult conversations. It’s certainly more productive than binge-watching tv on Netflix, even if it’s not quite as relaxing. And while I don’t condemn stating your unfiltered opinion, I do have a few ideas for ways we can all do this whole thing better.

This is not an exhaustive list. Some things should be common sense (for example: don’t insult people on the internet; that’s just rude), and I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting and ways that I have violated these. I’m not an expert, guys. These are merely the things that have been resonating with me during the past few weeks.

  1. Be critical.

    This one is more on the common sense side, but it deserves to be said because people forget it a lot. You really shouldn’t just accept everything anyone says, even if you greatly respect that person. Try to fact check as much as possible, but only when those facts are an important part of what someone is saying. If the facts are not important, then you’re just being nit-picky and obnoxious. But it’s important to at least consult the facts, even though it’s not necessarily an easy thing to do.

    For example, I was going to write a blog post a month or so ago about why I’m a vegetarian (well, technically I’m a pescetarian, but that’s not crucial). I was going to talk about the environmental impacts of eating meat, and I wanted to give you all correct information. So I started reading up about it, but I became so overwhelmed by all the conflicting information that I just stopped. If I wanted to, I could have cited the articles that agreed with me, but I didn’t because I want to give the full picture instead of spreading my half-formed ideas. To this day I have not done enough research on that issue for me to comfortably cite that as a reason for my vegetarianism. I’ll get back to you when I’ve done more research.

    Another big part of this is checking your sources. I went through a phase where I would only accept articles written in the last five years as truth (I got into the habit because I had regular assignments at school that had us do this). And while I now think that’s a bit extreme, it still goes to show that the more recent something has been written, the more accurate it will be. And maybe Dr. Leslie’s article that cites her facts is more trustworthy than Billy’s tumblr post. Maybe. You get the point.

  1. Read articles you disagree with.
    This sort of goes along with the first tip, but I think it’s so important that it can stand on its own. Part of being critical lies in getting the unbiased facts, and since it’s difficult to get a truly unbiased article, it’s better to read completely biased articles but on both sides of the issue (plus the few random angles that people don’t talk about much but are important nonetheless). It’s just a really good practice, because it stretches your mind to think in ways you hadn’t before.

    Also, if you’re not willing to read an article you don’t agree with because it makes you nervous and defensive, it’s likely you’re standing on a castle of sand. If you’re right, then your belief will stand firm in the face of criticism, and if you’re not, then isn’t better that you’re now on the path to knowing the truth? There’s nothing to lose by doing this.

    Not only this, but I think a big missing link in these online discussions is empathy. From a debating perspective, getting inside your opponent’s head will help you know how to argue with them, so that’s something. But on a basic human level, empathy is hugely important. Maybe you can’t fathom why your neighbor supports Donald Trump, or the thought that your friend supports Hillary Clinton makes your head spin. But they are still people, and they believe those things for a reason. Maybe they don’t have good reasons, but they still have that opinion, and that opinion shouldn’t just be cast aside like a used sweater. When you discredit a person’s feelings and beliefs without at least attempting to understand where they are coming from, you are discrediting them as a feeling, reasoning human being, and no one deserves that. Like I said before, their reasons may be the worst in the world, but at least take the time to listen and then gently, but firmly state your case. It’s just human decency, folks.

  2. Recognize where you may be part of the problem. This part has a specific inspiration that my other tips didn’t have, but it distills down to something completely related to this post: for goodness’ sake, don’t act like you know everything. Because you don’t. So don’t delude yourself or act like an arrogant pig, making the internet lives of everyone around you worse. Chances are, you’re not an expert on the issue you’re talking about, and even if you are, you can never know the full truth.

    The specific inspiration for this post lies in the recent conversation on racial relations in our country. One of the most cogent arguments that I read was written by Karina B. Heart, a white woman who is the mother of bi-racial children. The most convicting, valuable piece of her eloquent words was when she basically said that we are all a little racist, that we all hold at least a small piece of this filthiness in our hearts. It’s not enough to blame your outwardly racist family or friends–we all have to seek it out, recognize it in our behaviors, and eradicate it as well as we can. Legislation might change some things, but we need cultural change to have true racial reconciliation, and that starts in each of us.

    And this isn’t just about racism. This is about all the problems of the world. We cannot be content merely to point the finger at other people when we haven’t examined our own hearts or done anything to change it. And that’s hard. I’m feeling convicted as I write this. But it needs to be said. None of us are good people, as much as we’d like to believe that we are. And man, I am not doing this point justice, but…if we can get it through our heads to be critical of ourselves first and foremost and encourage others to do the same, who knows what kind of change will ensue?

I suppose what this all boils down to is the fact that I get really frustrated when people on the internet and social media are arrogant and won’t listen to views that they disagree with. When they don’t have the human kindness to stop condemning and think of how someone else might be viewing their words. And like I said, I have made these mistakes as well. I have been arrogant and foolish on the Internet. And I am not proud of that at all. So I think we all have room to grow in this, right? So at least we can be comforted in that. We can use social media to create positive change in our world. We can use it to educate each other on important issues. Every day I find something on social media that I find informative or helpful. Let’s strive to use it in these ways and learn from each other.

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Every Precious Story

I’m going to talk about politics today. Wow. Crazy, right? Miss “Let’s All Just Get Along” wants to speak about one of the most divisive topics: politics, specifically abortion.

I can almost always see every side to a debate. That’s probably because I value harmony so much, or maybe because I have difficulty making up my mind. I dunno. But with most debates, I see both sides, and then I struggle to make a decision until I see a way to unite them. So it is with this issue. On one side, I see many of my Christian brothers and sisters fighting for the beautiful, valuable lives of the unborn (they’re not always Christians, but Christians are the most vocal in this demographic). On the other side, I see most of my progressive classmates fighting for the importance of choice and the health of the beautiful, valuable women who make that choice. I have a foot in both pastures, but I’m not here because I can’t decide. I am here because I think that there is, in fact, a way to balance both.

I think every life has value. I know I’ve already said that, but I do. I think every life deserves a second chance and that every person can do beautiful things. I want all of those lives to be lived out to the fullest. So I think that every abortion is a tragedy. I think God cries for the unborn children, as do so many who are burdened for them. I think it’s foolish to believe that life starts having value at a certain point in time. From the moment the egg is fertilized, there is life and the potential for a beautiful human soul to walk upon the beautiful earth we call home. Life is sacred, and it deserves to be preserved.

But I don’t think banning abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood are the ways to do that. You can ban abortion, but that won’t stop people from getting abortions. It will probably reduce the number of people getting abortions, but it won’t stop them entirely. And if they do it when it’s illegal, it will probably be much more difficult, dangerous, and maybe even more expensive for them. And if there’s anything we want less than abortions, it’s abortions that are also putting the life of the mother in danger. GUYS. THIS IS HUGE. The problem is not merely that it is legal for women to have abortions. It’s that women feel the need to have abortions in the first place.

The woman who can barely feed the children she already has will feel like she has no choice but to terminate the life of the child inside her. To her, that is more merciful. And that’s tragic. That shouldn’t be the only choice for her. And to solve her problem by simply banning or allowing all abortions is incredibly reductive. I think we can do better than that. Her nuanced, multifaceted problem should not be solved by a single, simple law, but rather with a series of specific, intentional reforms that give her life and the life she carries the dignity they both hold. And yeah, maybe we won’t be able to do all of these things. But we can still try.

So what are some of the problems? Unplanned pregnancy is definitely one. I think there should be better sex education and more access to contraceptives that reduces the number of unplanned pregnancies. What else can we do? Oh, how about rape? Maybe, just maybe (please note the sarcasm), men should stop raping women, which can cause emotionally charged and painful unplanned pregnancies. The objectification of women is a whole other issue that you can read about elsewhere on the internet (not saying it’s not important; it’s just a big topic that I don’t want to get into at the moment but that other people have gotten into. I also want to emphasize that it’s not just women who are raped, but that’s what’s mostly relevant to this discussion.).

Another question: why don’t more people go through with pregnancies and give their child up for adoption? Because society isn’t very helpful to women who are pregnant. I think there should be better health practices that make every pregnancy and birth as safe as possible for every woman, so that health is not a concern with going through538317_293248474104546_166862026_n with a pregnancy. I think society should care for every child that needs a home, whether through adoption or through the foster care system. I think maternity (and paternity) leave should be something employers do more so that it’s easier for a woman not to be anxious about expenses when she’s pregnant. Wow, guys. Treating women like they’re valuable both to do work and to carry life are such crazy concepts, but maybe we’ll get on board eventually.

I also think we should reduce the stigma that women face, whether it’s for pregnancy out of wedlock or for the women who do end up having abortions. Because sometimes, abortion does end up being the best, most merciful option. And we shouldn’t silence those who make that choice. They still have value and worth, and though we may be saddened at the life lost, we cannot do so at the expense of the woman who is standing in front of us. We should be less quick to judge and more eager to listen to each person’s individual story. Fred Allen (don’t really know who he is; I just found this quote in a book) said that “A human being is nothing but a story with skin around it.” Let’s listen to each other’s stories. They are truly gorgeous stories.

In conclusion I suppose I am both pro-choice (more like pro-all-the-choices) and pro-life, as in pro-every-life. I want to reduce the number of abortions happening, even, make this phenomenon disappear entirely, but I want us to recognize that it’s a complicated issue. I think women should have the viable option to choose life. Because life is beautiful, and we all have beautiful stories to tell.

Epylle Spydre

p.s. Here’s the excellent article talking about this issue from a feminist perspective that first sparked the thoughts that went into this post. And here’s another article that is more a critique specifically of the church’s involvement in the pro-life discussion, urging us to consider the full implications of what it means to protest abortion. These are both golden, so please read them.

p.p.s. I am almost certain there are aspects of this that I am forgetting. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you disagree with me? Let’s talk about it, friends!

Edit: 1/22/16 I changed the wording of one phrase in the fourth paragraph to specifically be about the legality of abortion. I also added the second sentence in the last paragraph before my signature on this date.