This morning, I was watching Ralph Breaks the Internet. There’s this poignant scene in the film where Ralph is trolling for likes so that he can turn it into money and save Vanellope’s game from shutting down forever. Somehow he ends up in the comments section of Buzztube, and he finds a live comment section where people are talking about him. It’s innocuous enough at first; however, with time the comments turn a bit sour: “Ralph’s videos STINK,” “I HATE HIMm” and “So fat and ugly,” start to pop up on the screen before him. What started out as something beautiful and loving, quickly turned into shame and hate.
I get it. We live in the 21st century. Trolls exist. Speech is free…everyone’s opinion matters.
That’s not the angle for me today. I know people are entitled to their opinions and have a right to say or believe what they will. I know the rhetoric: just try not to hurt anyone. But that’s just it: we think that there are opinions to have that won’t hurt others, and we will continue to debate this ad nauseam until the world ends. That is, unless we shift our thinking, just a little. And this shift makes me think a little about what I do for a living and why I choose do it.
I got into teaching because I wanted to help educate young minds, help them to think more critically about the world around them. I wanted to help children understand that the way they perceive and interact with the world, at any age, has an impact and is significant. For them. For everyone. For anything. And so, when it comes to sharing opinions, I don’t just say opinions matter. Not in the classic sense of the phrase. I try to push them to something more conscious and critical. The integrity, responsibility and humility behind their opinions is the actual thing that matters. And with that, I consider and try to encourage others to consider universal truths with this alternative perspective.
If voiced, our opinions will hurt someone at some point, whether we intend them to or not. It’s an unavoidable fact that necessitates a shift in the current debate of our moral responsibility in communicating online to the actual root of how to engage in open dialogue across cultures. We each have a responsibility to first understand the weight of our opinions before sharing them with others: What is my intention for sharing my thinking? Who is my audience? Do I understand and approach this audience and their culture with openness, with respect, with integrity?
It’s a lot to think about and consider. And it requires everyone to think. To really consider oneself and others in conjunction. It’s hard to do. It takes time and patience. It takes humility. Do you have enough humility to know yourself and to accept the similarities and differences of others relative to you? Do you have enough humility to hold your tongue and first consider the ramifications of what you want to say? Do you have enough humility to change your perspective? These are questions I try to ask myself everyday, to guide my thinking, my actions; to open up a stronger willingness within myself to change my thinking when needed.
It’s so easy to move with the tidal wave of opinions and trends and fads and likes because the internet is infinite, both in time and space. But we are not. We are human and fallible and unpredictable. We are not the internet; we merely have been given the pleasure of exploring and contributing to the phenomena. Therefore, instead of trying to be something we are not, we should rather remember who we actually are and respond accordingly. Take some time to think before you speak. Take some time to really consider your place in the world in correlation to others. That audience has grown so large now, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of herd mentality; to trudge along with others and the opinions they carry without fully considering one’s own. A little critical literacy, integrity, responsibility and humility would be best inserted here when we find ourselves on those paths. And we all will.
Yes, opinions matter. Yes, you have a voice so use it. However, if you’re willing to accept that you are human and not the internet, please remember integrity and humility are not the enemy. It’s at the core of who we all are, who we can choose to be. It’s what can connect us and what can bring us to common ground. To peace. To change. To revolutionary thinking.
(And I say all of this knowing the full irony that what I say here will invariably upset someone out there…)
If you haven’t seen Ralph Breaks the Internet, here’s a link to the scene that jolted my thinking today: Wreck It Ralph: Ralf Reads His Comments (Courtesy of: Alexander)