By Hayley Doyle
In the words of a little rabbit by the name of Thumper, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all." The classic Disney film Bambi was sure to make us all weep, but this cute and fluffy character definitely had some wisdom.
And yet, here we are, in 2022, surrounded by hate speech. Twitter has a lot to answer for, and well, social media in general. Everybody’s voice is amplified via the power of text, making it possible to hide behind a digital mask and say whatever you want without being punched in the face. Then, world famous celebrities use their status to promote hate speech further (cheers, Kanye) and it feels like the world is taking one step forward and running a mile backwards.
When we were little, we were taught to be resilient with sayings such as, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This, we know now, to be inaccurate. Words are powerful and can cause longterm harm to an individual or a group. You can never take back thoughtless words that you are very likely to regret later. They’re there forever, whether in print or imprinted in your memory.
As a kid, I used to compete in regional dance festivals. Often, we’d be up against the same dancing schools so became familiar with other kids, parents, and teachers. Once, when a ten-year-old girl skipped onto the stage to begin her tap solo, I overheard one mother say to another, “I can’t stand this kid’s face.” Now, there might have been a certain context behind this comment, for example, what if this kid had been a bully? What if this was a private in-joke? What if I’d somehow (unlikely) misheard? The thing is, I remember that woman, her clear voice, her self-righteous stance. It’s never left me.
Even if you aim to surround yourself with well-meaning people, there’s always that friend, isn’t there? You know the one. Always passing subtle judgement on what you do, what you eat, how you parent, how you let loose. They say, “I’m just being honest,” like that makes it okay. But if their comments are causing you to feel uneasy, then it's best they keep their feelings to themselves, or better still, figure out a more supportive way to communicate.
So should we walk around tense with fake positivity all the time? Shielding our honesty? Pretending life is hunky-dory when it’s crumbling around us? Not at all. You can still be true to yourself without using words that hurt others. Don’t shut down. Repressing your - very valid - feelings is definitely not the answer. But you don’t need a microphone for your inner thoughts to be expressed. There are ways to tackle negative energy that you can instill into your everyday life.
To start, simply…Pause
Online or offline, it would really make a difference if we acted responsibly in putting stop to the spread of hate and misinformation. The United Nations even have a #PledgetoPause campaign, stressing the importance of taking a moment to pause before you share content online. Whether you’re forwarding a message, retweeting a story or watching a video in your feed, the things we share online can spread like wildfire and a small share can have big consequences. The same goes for words, too. Once they’re out in the open, you can’t take them back. Just pause before you spill some negativity. Breathe. Now, is it worth saying it?
Listen More, Interrupt Less
It’s a skill, listening. The more we practise listening, the more we learn. Don’t just talk about yourself. In conversation, ask yourself, are you still actually listening to what the other person is saying? Or are you cooking up a clever - and perhaps self-serving - comment? Instead, why not think of something to say that will be helpful or supportive. If you were on the opposite end of this chat, what would you want to hear?
Call It Out
If you don’t agree with the content of somebody’s statement, and it’s targeting yourself or others, don’t be afraid to say. Do not remain silent. The key is to calmly speak up, taking a strong step towards shutting down the bad vibes. Check the facts and if you can, provide reliable sources to back up your argument. It’s important for hate not to be the dominant narrative in a conversation, in real life or on the net. Why not counteract any nastiness by spreading positive messages about tolerance, equality and truth?
Negative words = Negative Life
I get it. We all need to have a good old rant now and again. It can be liberating to complain and moan with your mates, especially when they’re on the same page and had an equally horrid experience. Solidarity! But after many negative words have been expressed, revisit your thought process. Did this make you feel better? Especially if the negativity was one-sided, ie. coming from you. Or did it just create even more negativity? Try to remove words such as "awful" and "hate" from your day-to-day vocabulary. Think before you post. If your sentence is going to spread bad energy, should you post it? Or will this only make the situation worse? Sending out positive vibes is always met with some form of love, so beware, the same can be true of the opposite.
Value Your Time (and your words)
Your time is utterly precious. Do you really want to spend it typing viciously away, adding fuel to the fire? Are you going to engage in toxic chit-chat when you get the opportunity to hang out with friends or acquaintances? What does it say about you if you waste your time spreading hate? Those with a positive energy just don’t have the time to indulge in hurtful words. And remember, you may regret words that go unsaid, but you’ll regret the words that hurt somebody else even more.