“The gas is on the right!” I yelled at the driver who had merged into my lane in front of me, not at high enough speed to enter the freeway. She couldn’t hear me, nor did she have any idea I was shouting at her. My blood boiled. I muttered under my breath.
As I jetted past her and my heart slowly returned to its normal rhythm, I questioned if I would have reacted the same way if I had met the woman under different circumstances — such as in a grocery store, with shopping carts instead of cars. I had to admit I wouldn’t have yelled to her face if she had cut me off with her grocery cart. But I had no problem giving her a piece of my mind when hiding behind the protection of my vehicle.
We often apply that same hiding-behind-protection mentality to our social media presence, saying things there we wouldn’t say if the person were standing in front of us. Something about the shield of our profile makes us feel as if we can say anything that pops into our heads, regardless of how it might affect the recipient(s).
Have you ever been on the receiving end of something like that? I have, and it wasn’t fun. Just as in my freeway encounter, my heart started pounding as adrenaline flooded my veins. But this time, I couldn’t think of anything else. The offense consumed my thoughts. The words in black and white had pierced me deeply, and I wanted to revert to before I had seen them.
Eventually, the social media offender apologized, and our friendship was restored. But that’s not always the case.
It’s easy to become careless in our treatment of others when we forget real people are on the receiving end of our outbursts. We have to remember tone doesn’t convey in written settings — or in driving with windows up settings, either. You may mean something in the nicest way, but if the person on the receiving end is having a bad day, your message could be completely twisted.
Maybe it’s time we stop hiding behind our masks and admit we’re human, that we do feel hurt. And it would probably be a good idea for us to envision the recipient of our communication standing or sitting directly in front of us. It might change our words, tone, and actions. That’s what I’m going to work on. Are you with me?
Christian, wife, mother of 5, breast cancer survivor, marathon finisher, writer and editor, author of "Help! I'm a Science Project"