Social media and other online platforms are a ubiquitous part of modern life, and the connectivity they provide has done a great deal of good in the world. However, most of us can cite many examples where someone online has been rude or hostile to us, or where we’ve been made to feel bad by a stranger sat at their phone or keyboard many miles away. Not to mention that irritated feeling you probably get when people on the internet are, y’know, wrong. And many of us probably feel that many of them are wrong much if not most of the time.
In a 2019 survey, 38% of Americans felt that social media had a negative impact on their mental health . Whether you feel bullied or belittled by something you see, or whether you feel outranged and infuriated, social media use can definitely stir up a host of negative feelings on a daily basis.
Spiritual Communities and Social Media
It would be lovely if spiritual people and spiritual communities were somehow immune from the negativity that social media can spawn, but they most definitely are not. I’ve been around spiritual communities online since online was a thing, and in my experience, they are just as full of forcefully opinionated people, who are sometimes rude and hostile to one another, and who sometimes bully other people – often while proclaiming themselves to be ‘love and light’ or the sole holders/understanders of ‘truth’. After all, spiritual people can hold the same wide spectrum of political, religious and personal views as any other cross-section of society.
Not surprisingly then, for the spiritual seeker there can be a desire to surround oneself only with said love and light – to stay completely away from anyone who spoils the party, social media wise. This, however, would be a mistake. Negative emotions are just as important as positive ones, and the truly spiritual seek to integrate, work with and heal their own negativity as well as other people’s, rather than closing the doors on their fairy castle and not allowing anyone else in. It’s also the case that existing in an echo chamber on social media does not help you to learn or grow as a person. Some openness to opposing views is a healthy and necessary thing. And it can be good to share your own understanding and what you have learned. Having said that, it’s also not very ‘spiritual’ to seek to aggressively perpetuate one’s own views, or to denigrate those who hold different views.
So, if it’s not ideal to create your own social media bubble, but nor is it ideal to seek to constantly correct those pesky people who are all wrong, then how can you best interact online as a spiritual being? If you want to maintain your own integrity as a spiritual seeker online (not to mention your own sanity), it can be helpful to adopt a middle way. Make clear your own views and opinions and make yourself available to anyone who wants to explore those respectfully with you (within your own personal limits/boundaries, obviously). But do not waste your time engaging in pointless, heated debates where you can never win (and nor can your opponent).
Easier said than done? Of course. But it can be done. Everyone will find their own path, but here are 10 tips that have helped me to maintain my own sanity and, I hope, integrity, particularly in recent years:
1 – Not Everyone Will Agree with or Appreciate You – and that’s Fine
Make peace with the fact that not everyone will love your posts or agree with your views. And some of them will make that very, very clear. Most of them, hopefully, will be polite but firm in voicing their disagreement; some will be very rude about it. Most of these latter people would never be so rude or critical to your face, so just accept their desire to be mean from a distance and let it wash over you. It’s not your problem. For those who politely disagree with you, you may feel frustrated that they don’t get your point, or indignant because you’re right and they’re wrong. Maybe. If they are wrong, perhaps it’s not their time or their path to understand your point right now.
2 – You May Be Wrong
Alternatively, be open to the fact that it could be you who is wrong. If you genuinely cannot countenance such a thought, then you may have ego issues which are beyond the scope of this article – but hopefully you can at least entertain the idea. Think carefully about what has been said in opposition to you. Is there a kernel of truth in it? Check your own research. If you’re positive that you’re right, well OK then. See above point. If, however, there’s even the faintest chance that you could be wrong, learn from that. Remember, your truth is not necessarily my truth which is not necessarily THE truth. Almost anything can be adopted to suit a given agenda, if you choose the rights stats, assign the right motives, dig back far enough or can formulate a persuasive argument. You may unconsciously be doing this, just as your opponents may be.
3 – Stop Trying to Persuade Strangers on the Internet
When was the last time you think you genuinely changed someone’s mind via an online “debate”? Probably never – you may have ‘won’ an argument if the other person just gave up and went away, but they won’t have accepted what you said, they’ve just found something better to do with their time. No matter how respectful, polite or right you were in what you posted, you’re almost never going to change someone’s actual mind.
While it’s true that collective online campaigns have sometimes achieved impressive things, on a personal level, your personal integrity and your persuasive power is much better used face to face with people you actually know. If you’re passionate about something, take it up locally. Give talks, give workshops, talk to your neighbours, practice what you preach and be noticed doing it. In real life. Online, you’re probably not convincing anyone of anything much, and trying too hard to do so is not good for your own mental health.
4 – Is it Necessary to Correct this ‘Wrong’ Person?
If someone is being wrong online, is that really your problem? They’re not persuading anyone either, and they’re not going to listen to you correcting them. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression means we all have the right to be infuriatingly wrong in these kinds of online environments, provided we remain within legal boundaries. It is really a good use of your time and integrity to add fuel to the fire? Their story. Their lessons. Scroll on by.
5 – Remember, It’s Only a Snapshot of a Moment in Time
When someone replies to you or comments on your social media, their words are a snapshot of what they thought or felt in that second. Even if it’s a friend or someone you know in real life, you may not know what else was going on at the time which caused them to post something critical or seemingly harsh. If it’s a stranger, you will have no idea at all – but something has prompted it. Maybe they’re ill, maybe they’ve had a really tough day, maybe your post has triggered some hot buttons for them, for reasons you’ll never know and don’t need to know. The point is, it’s not personal. It’s a passing moment. Don’t take it too seriously.
6 – Use Social Media with Purpose
Take a mindful approach to social media, and always have a purpose when you log onto any of your accounts. It doesn’t have to a be particularly lofty purpose – logging on to just chill for ten minutes or to play a game or have a chat; these are all perfectly good purposes to have. But stick to your purpose. Don’t log on for a five minutes scroll and find yourself still there three hours later with steam coming from your ears as you correct yet another wrong person.
7 – Focus on the More Positive Aspects of Social Media
The many good things about social media – the chance to make genuine new friends, to learn new information and points of view, to find inspiration or to relax – are easily obscured by hostility and negativity. By choosing to focus on the more positive activities, you can redress the balance in how you feel about your social media tools.
8 – Make Good Use of Social Media Filtering Tools
If there’s a page, group or individual which persistently enrages or exasperates you, unfollow them. Nobody is forcing you to read what is said. Let groups of wrong people be wrong without your attention or input.
Meanwhile individuals who appear to be deliberately goading you or who are aggressive, abusive or threatening should get the chop. This is what the block tool is for. I’m not talking about people who just happen to respectfully disagree with you, but if you have an instinct to block someone, block them. Life is too short to waste time thinking about this.
9 – Balance Your Online Life with Offline Life
Easy one this. Put away the devices, often. Go outside, get active, chill with your family, enjoy a favourite movie or meal, pet your pets. Real life exists out here, not in your device.
10 – If it Gets Too Much, Delete
If you find yourself feeling truly troubled by social media, de-activate your accounts or delete the apps. Don’t hesitate. You can always go back later if you wish, but you should take immediate action to protect your mental health if you sense that it is a real problem for you – and seek advice from one of the many mental health helplines available. As a spiritual seeker, whatever you’re ultimately seeking isn’t going to be found on a screen, even though you may find community there, or helpful information at times. In your heart, you know it’s not the full answer. Remove yourself from social media for a while if it becomes toxic, and continue your seeking elsewhere.
Above all, remember that social media and online communities are just convenient tools for spiritual seekers. They are not the world. The world is out there, away from your device, away from your screen. Engage with the online world with integrity but take care that in doing so you are not detracting from your time spent in the real world – and your ability to influence that real world for the better.
About the author:
Nikki Harper is a spiritualist writer, astrologer, and Wake Up World’s editor.