I used to love drama.
Not the awesome spoken word kind, or plays about people kind, or even the crazy Greek ones that had weirder sex than Game of Thrones. No, I used to love hearing all the scoop, all the kerfuffle, all the flibbertigibbet. I was the undercover scandalmonger, who would just happen to be around when the most chaotic people would appear, obviously full of angst about someone else. “You can talk to me about it,” I’d say, “you can get it out.” And I wouldn’t just drink it all up. I would gulp it. I would gorge myself on it.
This only got bigger and stronger with my increasing online presence after college. The Internet is a lot like an adorable card and gift shop. You can walk around forever and ever and keep finding things to pick up and marvel at. Comments sections of news articles about things I already didn’t agree with were the best. Lists of all the things guys find wrong with women? Sign me up. Articles about how awful things I love are? Yes, please!
And I always found these things through my best friends, the people who think like me, the people who go, “This is so messed up” and “Am I crazy to think that this person doing this is not okay?” so that I could join the loud, cheerful choir of “Yes! That is the worst! It’s all awful and we are such better people for not agreeing with that garbage!” Because who doesn’t want to have that with their friends?
At some point, though, I realized that I wasn’t actually enjoying this feeling. I would start getting angrier, and I would seethe and look for any place to release all the fire I thought was building up in my stomach. I got into angry fights with people I had never met, and I would rip them apart. And despite the fact that, sure, most of the causes were pretty justified, I found that a few truths were becoming clear:
- Many of these things were either outside my control or distant to my circle of experience.
- A lot of it was pointless anger and frustration.
- There wasn’t anything I was doing about whatever I was feeling not good about.
- Most importantly, when I came back to the screeds later, I really didn’t like the person I was seeing online.
This step back also brought a lot of other things on the Internet into focus. I saw how often I just complained and griped. I saw how I would rant about these things that seemed like nothing a few days later. Mountains, molehills, anthills. It became very clear to me how negative I was, and I really didn’t like that. I also realized it wasn’t just on the Internet, that this was affecting the Real Life Me. I had started hiding away when I was angry instead of confronting people close to me. I would seethe and snarl in private, backstab, hurt under a cover of darkness. I had been for a while but now I knew that I was not being a good person. That is something that still haunts me.
So the first thing I did was decide that I was going to stop being utterly negative, both online in social media and in life. I started to recognize when I was repeatedly complaining without taking action. On Facebook and Twitter, instead of posting about how bad my day was, I’d share a cute video that made me smile. Instead of talking about how much something sucked, I would bring up something that I really enjoyed. I used the Internet as a force of good – literally, good things, good news, good times. I felt a lot better.
Recently, it’s become much more apparent that there is a part of the web that is what I call a Hateful Shame Machine. A lot of people use it as not a vehicle for their anger but more like a remote-controlled car they can run into people’s lives. They capitalize on the safety of distance and anonymity to respond in a way that doesn’t directly impact them and hurts the subject of their disdain. But, like with a remote-controlled car, they think what they are doing is only annoying at most and couldn’t actually do any lasting damage.
Have you ever imagined what could happen to a single person being struck by a hundred remote-controlled cars? A thousand? A million?
I’m not saying that it isn’t okay to be mad or to react to something unjust. But once you realize that what you’re doing is not only making you feel toxic but is raising a red flag in your subconscious that says, “This really isn’t good, is it?” it’s time to take a step back. Are you making a difference, or are you just adding to the screaming? Are you being the person online that you are in your heart, or are you wearing a mask? Are you treating everyone the way you would to their face, or are you exploiting the fact that you can attack them without attaching yourself to it?
Most importantly, though, you can stop. You can change. Get some distance. Unplug. Go do something by yourself and clear your head. Forgive yourself. Say you’re sorry, if it isn’t too late. Understand that you deserve love and comfort and every human is cracked and flawed. And if you are the victim, these things all apply to you, tenfold.
I dare you to walk away. It’s never too late.