It may not surprise you to know that I spend a good deal of time using social media each day. It’s a tool. Think of it as a digital Leatherman, or a Swiss army knife that thrives on the binary system. But like any tool, social media can be used for good, or it can create a lot of damage. It’s the user’s choice.
Because I’ve been fortunate enough to have a remarkably interesting life (at least from my perspective) that has allowed me to be a musician in Greenwich Village, a pilot in Florida, a political office holder, and even a novelist, I am connected to a tremendously varied group of people via social media. Some are musicians, but most are not. Some are actors, or writers, or pilots, but that’s not the mainstream of my social media network any more than it is the mainstream of American life. Yet this disparate group of individuals have all come together through the Internet to lurk, or comment, or make plans because we all have at least one thing in common. One thing that binds us together, gives us a sense of connection and maybe even an impression of a common purpose.
Last night, quite late, one of those connections threw their last straw onto an already strained camel’s back. They crossed the line. As a result, I unfriended someone on Facebook. This is perhaps only the second time I’ve done that. The first was because someone I had never met, but had a professional connection to, became abusive and argumentative with other friends who took a position that differed from their own. This second instance was similar. Being abusively arrogant is not attractive, not in any realm.
The world is a wonderful, weird, and thoroughly engaging place. It is made no less amazing by the fact that none of us, and I mean absolutely none of us agree on everything. In fact, a case could be made that it is our diversity of thought that makes life so fascinating. Yet there are those who cannot tolerate a difference of opinion. They cannot allow someone else, even if it is someone they know nothing about, to voice a perspective that differs from their own. No, when presented with such a circumstance they empower themselves with the responsibility of judging the rest of us, convicting us of thought crimes, and punishing us by blathering away incessantly about how wrong we are.
To be honest, I could live with that. I don’t like it, but I could live with it. But then a small number of these types step across that line in the sand and transition from being judgmental bullies into truly mean spirited soldiers of righteousness. It’s not enough to let the world know they disagree with someone else. No. They have to try to ruin the opposition’s life. They hurl insults. They question motives. They pull out all the stops to make it clear to all who might read a given post, that the person who disagrees is evil, vicious, stupid, racist, ignorant, malicious, and possibly even dangerous.
That’s where my button gets pushed. But as in life, I have learned there is a truth in social media. You can unplug. There is no rule that says you must engage these people. You can simply stop reading their posts, stop replying to their taunts, and even close the door to them lurking into your life. On Facebook at least, you can unFriend them.
This matters to the aviation community for reasons that should be obvious, but apparently aren’t. We are a large, diverse group of people. Yet we account for only a small fraction of the larger population. We are largely misunderstood and to some degree, distrusted. That’s unfortunate, but it is true.
As with any large group, we disagree on many points, which is healthy. However, the method of disagreement is important. We each, like it or not, represent the aviation community in some way. Perhaps our thoughts and impressions are noted by only a dozen or so family and friends. Others entertain or enrage thousands, even tens of thousands with ideas, commentary, and visions of what is, or what might be. It is incumbent upon us, all of us, to welcome those differing ideas, even if they fly in the face of our own beliefs. We can discuss ideas. We can share opposing views. But we should not go to battle with each other. After all, each of us at some point has realized that we are occasionally wrong. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong, and sometimes the topic is too subjective to be able to establish right and wrong.
I will concede that it is at least possible that you, the reader, is the owner of the most powerful, insightful, and creative brain to have ever been produced by human kind. And yet, that does not excuse you (or me) from the basic rules of social grace. Be polite. Even in disagreement, show respect for the other party or parties you are engaged with. In the long run, we are much more respected for our willingness to politely entertain a boor, than we would ever be for our efforts to silence or squash them.
The social network has long arms. They wrap all the way around the world. What you put there will come back to you one day as a representation of what kind of a person you are. Do your best. Accept that all of us err from time to time. But try not to be mean spirited. That’s unbecoming. It’s generally counter-productive, too. And that is a true statement no matter what business you’re in, regardless of what the topic of conversation might be.