I have long had a love-hate relationship with everything “online” when it comes to professional groups and interaction. This includes the now disabled OTConnections, Facebook, and Twitter. There is indisputable value and joy in the exchange of ideas with colleagues around the globe! I have benefitted and grown from exposure to culturally and politically diverse viewpoints. I have had positive interactions in both one-to-one and in group dialogues and encountered colleagues who exude passion about a wide range of topics and do so with respect and self-awareness. Not one of these colleagues would knowingly offend another and respond with a “you need a thicker skin” sort of attitude.
Then there are toxic colleagues and toxic groups. These are the people and places where win-lose conflict is the general operating principle. Winning is best achieved by being willing to 1) out-post your opponent, 2) question the intent, values, or morality when you are in danger of losing, and 3) if you are in a debate with someone unwilling to accept behavior that would be unthinkable in a workplace or in a professional meeting, telling your opponent that they are the problem. You can’t handle debate. You need to toughen up and not be a snowflake.
It is said the first step is recognizing and accepting that you have a problem. I accept that I have a problematic attraction to toxic discussions. It takes everything I can give NOT to respond and get pulled in. Time and time again, I think that I will be able to guide the discussion to a positive place, to gently nudge someone to being polite or to even give the slightest damn about offending others. Time and time again, I find myself in the same spot. Kicking myself for getting into the discussion to begin with.
Just about a month ago I left 3 professionally related OT groups on Facebook. They were toxic. Not every member was toxic of course and not every discussion thread was unhealthy. But in general, few posts were positive, few of the most frequent participants seemed to want to be helpful to others, and many of the discussion maligned people and groups not involved in the discussion (but of course that is because they can’t handle rough and tumble debate. I mean C’mon, toughen up!).
Over the last week I have observed that my mood and my experience of getting on my computer have both generally improved. My life is not absent of debate, I am not living in any echo chamber where I only interact with those who think like I do and I continue to have my worldview and opinions challenged and sometimes changed.
I am following the simple rule when discussing professional issues online. If I would not accept your words or behavior at work or at a professional meeting, then I will not accept them online. I am also holding the words “When someone shows you who they are, believe them” closely.
I have colleagues who I honestly consider a friend, and with whom I have seldom agreed on politics or on important issues related to our profession. Quite a few actually. I can trust that they will call me out when I am wrong. I can trust that they will challenge my thinking and my beliefs. I can also trust that they are infallible in their show of respect and in their steadfastness in finding ways to say tough things without ever needing to suggest negative intent on the part of others. They are true professionals.
I know that I will probably stumble and come back and read my own blog to get back on track. But for now, I am reveling in positive interactions online.
Oh, and in cat videos.
The opinions expressed in my blog are personal and neither represent the views of my employer nor any organization.