Pain that is Not Transformed, Will be Tweeted

The social web isn’t populated by people who disagree, it’s populated by people who hurt. Here’s what to do about it.

umair haque on the decline of Twitter, erstwhile darling of the social web:

The problem of abuse is the greatest challenge the web faces today… To explain, let me be clear what I mean by abuse. I don’t just mean the obvious: violent threats. I also mean the endless bickering, the predictable snark, the general atmosphere of little violences that permeate the social web…and the fact that the average person can’t do anything about it.

Richard Rohr writes “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”

Or in the case of the new millennium, tweet it.

Let’s call this for what it is.

We’re in pain. And the internet is the only venue where our pain is allowed its uninhibited expression. The fact that we have a more-or-less egalitarian avenue to express our rage is something to be celebrated. The fact we make use of it so often is cause for sobriety and self-reflection.

The problem lies in that word “transformation.” We simply don’t know how. We haven’t been equipped to engage with our pain and grief and anger and frustration—how could we be expected to transform them? These things don’t go away on their own.

No Use Turning to Google for a Solution

We can propose controls and systems of agreement and legislate our online communities until the whole internet goes self aware and annihilates us for our pettifoggery.

Better to start learning how to transform ourselves.

An emotion is a signal, a message, arising from somewhere in your physiology. That message has to go somewhere. We’re usually quite welcoming of positive emotions. We want to hang onto those as long as possible.

Negative emotions, not so much. But negative emotions don’t fade away by themselves — hence the whole transform or transmit thing. In fact, emotions we choose not to feel literally get stashed away for later in our physiology. These emotions resurface, usually when our minds are unoccupied, we’re tired, or triggered. That’s when we turn to our numbing behavior. The more we numb our emotions, the more “stuck” we become in our pattern of resistance. The next time any potential source of a negative emotion comes around again — be it an email, a tweet, or a comment on our selfie, we enter fight or flight mode.

The internet is FULL of people who are literally experiencing fight or flight.

The only way we are going to change the culture of the internet, or heal the pathology of our society in general, is to halt that cycle of resistance.

Louis C.K. gets it (hilariously) right when he tells Conan that life is incredibly sad, but that there is profound joy to be found on the other side of the experience.

The problem is that we aren’t willing to feel that first taste of sadness, grief, anger, or fear. So the first step to change is to start. Try it once. The next time you’re in your car, or alone at your house, rather than reaching for your phone to see who’s shared your tweet, try to feel whatever emotion wants to rise up inside of you.

Get inside your body.

Step 1) To experience an emotion, place your attention directly on the sensation it produces in your body.
Step 2) Keep your attention on that sensation until it either dissipates or changes. (Raphael Cushnir)

That’s it.

The good news is that intense emotions usually crest after about two minutes, after which the message is received and the wave moves on, allowing other feelings to arise.

If you can do this once per day starting for ten minutes, you will notice two remarkable things.

For one, you’re teaching your brain that potential sources of difficult emotions aren’t life-or-death situations, requiring an all out response of fight-or-flight. That means you’ll have more of you available to solve problems, meet people in the middle, and respond to difficult situations with creativity.

For two, you’ll start to notice that the compulsion to numb out is lessened. That means fewer clicks, fewer trips to the refrigerator. And that starts a chain reaction, because usually the things we use to numb come with a corresponding sense of shame. What will you be able to do if you aren’t stuck in the cycle of emotional repression, numbing, shame, emotional repression…?

Very likely, and at the very least, we’ll all be more civil on the internet.

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