My wife, Stella, recently shut down her account on the social-media-platform-that-must-not-be-named. “It feels like I’m walking away from a fight,” she said. “Almost everything I read there is a signal as to what side the poster is on. Or an attempt to promote the idea that, ‘I’m smart!’ Or, ‘I’m right.’ It’s all ego. I’m guilty of it, too, in that environment.”
Stella herself acknowledges that her cynicism certainly leaves out a lot of the beauty and benefit of social media, yet no one can deny that something has gone horribly wrong with online communication. We can do better than this.
Whether the degeneration of online communication is a cause or an effect of society’s intensifying polarization, I cannot say. Regardless, I know it is possible to host dignified, respectful, nuanced, and evolutionary conversations on large online participatory platforms. I know it because I’ve seen it, or glimpsed it, anyway. You probably have too, here and there before, to your dismay, one community after another broke down.
How can we hold the vision that those glimpses reveal?
I can’t answer that for sure, but I would like to offer an idea that I will implement in a discussion community I am establishing right now. Really it is more of an invocation than an idea. I offer it here for anyone who wants to use, adapt, copy, modify, or evolve it for their own community. Open-source principles, you might call them.
A Call to Reverence
Instead of patronizing community members with rules or even guidelines about being respectful, I invoke the principle of reverence. Reverent communication carries the awareness that one is addressing a sacred being. It is not the same as solemnity; it includes humor, playfulness, and ease as well.
To maintain reverence means noticing habits of polarization and judgment that arise in the presence of difficult information or difficult emotions. Even a community conceived as a sanctuary will inevitably mirror the divisions and conflicts of the outside world. The answer is not to avoid them or to plow them over with positivity. Rather, the community can hold them in a non-ordinary way.
Specifically, that means that we help each other
- to express anger without diverting it onto hate
- to hold grief without diverting it onto despair
- to share compassion without diverting it onto pity
- to interpret each other’s words generously
- to let go of being right and seeming smart
- to value each person’s unique window on the world
- to be willing to see each other fully, shadow and gold
- to be willing to be truly seen ourselves
Challenging material is sure to come up in any community once it progresses past initial politeness. If we can hold reverence through that process in one community, which mirrors some of the divisions and conflicts of the larger world, then there is a chance for the world to move toward peace as well. To the extent we succeed in holding reverence, we establish a precedent and prefigure a possibility. Here is a chance to cultivate the skills of holding each other through that process.
It is much easier for me to admit I was wrong, when I’m in an environment where no one is shamed for holding wrong beliefs. It is much easier for me to speak my truth, when others are welcome to speak theirs. It is much easier for me to question my beliefs when humble people surround me. In a community that provides such conditions, each member can grow beyond where they could alone.
A Call to Inquiry
Gigi Coyle, my dear friend and a guide in the Way of Council, offers a mantra for speaking in circle that I think can be profitably translated into online conversations. The mantra is W.A.I.T. – “Why am I talking?” On the surface level, it is an antidote to habits of dominating others with one’s speech, or speaking to get attention or approval, demonstrating how smart you are, or signaling in-group membership. All of these habits can dilute the power of our words. WAIT, however, is not actually meant as a device to suppress those habits; it is meant to illuminate them. It is not a rule that says, “Never speak if you are just doing it to gain approval, seek attention, show off, etc.” It says, “If you do that, know that you are doing that.”
WAIT springs from a deep trust in human beings, that says whatever wound or insecurity might drive your habits of speech, who you really are and what you really want is to serve the group, the conversation, and the higher purpose that brought it together.
In WAITing, we understand ourselves as more than separate individuals. Many voices, each with different motivations and goals, murmur within us and around us: the voice of the ego, the inner child, the higher self; the voice of beings of nature, spirits, and ancestors; the voice of social forces like patriarchy or peace; archetypal voices to which we may be attuned…. Which shall we allow to issue from our mouths or fingertips? Gigi asks, “Which one wants and needs to speak? Which one may be heard and actually serve life, healing, and contribute to more love, truth and wholeness?”
In an actual circle of humans, only one person can intelligibly speak at once. On an online forum, many conversations can run simultaneously. Attention-seeking or dominating speech can’t monopolize the group’s listening as it can in a live gathering. Nonetheless, people (hopefully) have lives off line too. If they read your post, then they are not doing something else. So another motivation for WAIT is the recognition that the attention of other people is precious. In fact, if I may wax metaphysical for a moment here, attention is the only thing we truly possess. Whatever we pay attention to is a kind of food. By paying attention to something, we accept its imprint and it becomes part of ourselves. To offer something for another person’s attention is not a trivial act. WAIT recognizes that and helps bring consciousness to that offering. Therefore, it too is a principle of reverence.
The question “Why am I talking (or posting)?” might not have an answer you can explain in words. The answer could well be a feeling. What feeling-state are these words coming from? Who am I, as I speak this? WAIT is a moment of self-considering, a mental and emotional check-in, that may result in hitting delete, or in changing some wording, or in replacing the words with others, or in no change at all. It helps uncover what one really wants to say (or not say).
As with reverence, WAIT allows light-hearted banter, humor, wit, and customs of etiquette, as well as discussion of personal and social issues. It is not an overriding rule or guilt trip meant to squelch bad speech. It operates from underneath, subtly aligning conversations to their best potential. It also establishes a habit of mindful intention that may bleed over into other areas of life. By maintaining a constant background question of “Who am I, really?” it induces, on the community level, an inquiry and an awareness of “Who are we, really?”
I am curious to see how my experiment hosting a community on these principles will turn out, and I welcome anyone else to use them as they see fit.
Jeff Alexander says
Looking at the circles you run in from the events listed in your email do you need me to act as a token right wing Christian conservative in your discussion community? And I don’t really fit that mold in real life, just overlap it some, but I can act. I have never participated in social media of any kind beyond leaving comments here and there like this one. This is half serious, half tongue in cheek.
The teacher will appear when the student is ready. I just censored my recent social media post with these thoughts rummaging around in my head. I’m truly exhausted by all the hate and anger online. Thank you, Charles, for always articulating what I’m feeling.
lisa cutler says
Thank you for this, Charles. There are truths here that resonate with me. I recently deleted the FB app from my phone. Best thing I’ve ever done, or at least done recently. Trolling the feed brought me no joy but I couldn’t stop myself. Like I can’t stop scratching my bug bites even tho I know I’m only making the itch itch more. I suspect, maybe even hope, that quarantine has been a time of self reflection for many people. I learned that I have a real hard time not comparing myself to others, and that reading FB poked that demon repeatedly. My mind is a lot quieter now and I might even be a little happier.
The WAIT mantra has made it’s way into many circles in my life. Thanks for reminding me of it. I’m going to bring it back into daily use. It strikes me now that I am writing that maybe I should have asked myself Why Am I Writing before I started! Maybe I just want to say thanks, again. I love the way your mind works. I appreciate your humility and your bravery. I’m glad I found you.
Stay smart and stay safe. And stay sane.
Kerry Snyder says
Let’s do this! As our interactions grow more virtual, we need that much more ritual. Asking “Why Am I Talking?” while I am talking allows me to remember myself, in the way Gurdjieff would have us remember ourselves as we tread the Fourth Way. In the same vein, the imprint of the experiences we attend, the impressions left on us by what we choose to notice, are fine food indeed, finer than the vapors we breathe or the tissues we chew.
I devote myself to revering you all. No one wins if anyone loses.
Thomas P Tortorich says
I do not know if my request to join the online group went through. I answered all the questions thoroughly, and submitted them, but the finished page wouldn’t load. Are others having this problem when trying to request to join?
GEORGE JACOBS says
WAIT– Brilliant, Charles! You have such a gift of cutting through to the core with the tool of language. I so look forward to participating!
Why Am I Writing this? So many voices do come up. The most present one is that I am simply called to this.
tom charles osher says
Hola, a voice that is marginalized: perhaps you would like to collaborate with us, to be a part of our team, once you know what we are doing: utopiacornucopia.org, 9/11/2020
We have some very ambitious strategies that we are in the process of manifesting.
We created a 7 minute animation explaining horizontal governing which is virtually incorruptible, needs to become viral: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wywMhg604W8&feature&fbclid=IwAR3CyDmiTFuluUiNVIDDEBh6sO90I6IaTNLbTIAqkX9WLHG0fw5d6jX1Tko
Our focus now is to launch a gigantic network of millions of like-minded individuals and organizations for the purpose of extreme collaboration and organizing, to begin unifying humanity digitally, to give us a voice and power. We are 5 months into this, have a large international team of experts working on this and hope to launch possibly by nov. 30, 2020. We intend to manage for functionality and not control, such that all will be equally empowered. It is not for commercialization of any kind.
In addition we want to foment the municipalism or localization movement by reimagining a large city, using experts from each sector, once we have a huge network to draw from.
While highlighting examples that already exist. The network will be used to augment and exponentialize utopianizing cities world-wide. To further augment this we are using bots to extract innovations and solutions relevant for cities from the internet and will have an open access website for this.
We believe that the first step is to rid ourselves of control by corrupted entities that put their own fortunes above the needs of the public and waste funds on militarism at the expense of the environment and social issues.
At our eco-community Chambalabamba, since Dec. 2012 in Ecuador (chambalabamba.org) we practice regenerative agriculture and grow many fruit trees and medicinal plants.
Donna M Joywalker says
This youtube link didn’t work
William Martin says
I feel like we’re preaching to the choir. If a person is willing to participate in a reverent and awake discussion community, that person is already part of the solution. I don’t use social media but am willing to hold discussions in a classroom environment, in-person or “Zoom.” The true field of transformation is the one preceding this discussion. What makes a person reach the point where they are willing to discuss and listen? When does a person realize that, “This can’t go on!” on a personal basis?
I submit excellent reading for anyone interested in building community: “A Different Drum: Community Making and Peace” by M. Scott Peck. Yes, he is the author of “The Road Less Traveled” a very individualistic text. Yet, he spent the latter part of his life helping build communities. I am forever grateful for this writing on the topic in “A Different Drum.”
If you pick it up and want to discuss, please let me know. I’d love to chat.
Dawn Mazzone says
M. Scott Peck also wrote People of the Lie which I read close to 30 years ago. I would bet it’d make interesting reading given the political divide / discourse vs what Charles is offering us to look at in this forum.
Abhaya Kathleen Clark says
I’m sad to see our (fairly small) town extremely divided into factions and ideological camps that must exclude the “others”. Whatever I learn in this group can be applied to my everyday experience and for that I am grateful.
Lori kay says
Hi lovely Charles, what a perfectly timed essay. I’ve posted this essay on a thread of passionate yogis and trauma specialists who cannot find a way to communicate on Facebook- not that there is a way. I’ve recently activated a fifteen year old Facebook account to reconnect with old friends and for that, I’m grateful. Everything else that I see is awful and all that you describe. People on the post expressed interest in joining this and I encouraged all ends of the spectrum to join this group- if anyone can facilitate this, it’s you. Thanks for putting this out there. We need it.
Laura Kate Jeffreys says
emoji with stars bugging out of the eyes!!!
This is genuine and loving.
I say yes!
Jill Garsden says
Thank you, Charles. I look forward to participation in this and trust that it will work out well.
Diana Daffner says
W.A.I.T. Why Am I Talking. What a wonderful mantra! Sometimes I start to write a comment on FB, and decide to not post it after all, for various reasons. Now I realize that I must have already been using this, saying something like “WAIT” to myself. Thanks for helping me to see that. WAIT helps create a pause, an opportunity to shift inward to one’s essential being, before responding. (I’m writing THIS comment, mostly, to help me remember!)
Lisa Zoe says
“Why am I talking?” I recently asked myself that very question. In fact, it was the inspiration for deleting my Facebook and Twitter. I had the realization that in this political “crimate” I was talking with the intention of educating. Then I was talking louder. And louder. Using capitals. Exploding profanity bombs between the Capitol and protesters and marshal laws and congressional corruption and the threat of upcoming mandates had me pacing like a caged lab animal… tied to my computer, as fires burning through millions of sorrowful acres now burned hot under my own skin . I’m now sitting calmly in smoke as I type this.
Literally. Just watching beneath the blood orange sun and listening.
It would be interesting to build a bridge, because whether we’re walking on the left or right side of this, we are all going in the same direction. That’s just life. And death.
Thank you for being a leader in this regard. I deeply appreciate the premise you have outlined. I ‘love’ the bullet points.
Sue Kolbe Wallace says
I use to “pay” attention, now I “give” attention.
This was a changed rooted firmly in your influence on the power of gifting.
Lynn Rosenbaum says
I answered the questions and at the end got a message saying I will be notified by email if/when accepted.
Michael Brodie says
Hello, Charles, it’s refreshing to hear from someone who thinks that there has to be a better way.
For my pennyworth, humans are faced with living with a dichotomy, that of being highly competitive, whilst also being social and needing each other. It’s clear to me that our spiritual evolvement has taken us to a place where we are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with dominant heirarchies, but we have no widely available map of how to reorganize.
My lifelong passion has been community building and I suggest that the problem is structural, based in the past, and our joint history of domination and control, creating systems we’ve initiated that reward people with the loudest, most provocative voices, so the voices of respect and community get drowned out. Systems designed, either consciously or not, to favour opinion over collaboration.
I truly believe that your heart and vision is in the right place, and, as you hint, the problem is how to construct groups where the bias is towards supporting each other. I’ve been working for 16 years on a form of communication who’s intention and design is to build real community. Because real community works when people get that they need each other. Where their life is enhanced by someone they don’t necessarily like or agree with. Where they see that there is a real benefit in doing things together, because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
(if you’re interested take a peek at http://www.ournet.online). The actual site, www ournet.news, is a work in progress.
I’d love your support on this.
Greer Taylor says
I have always had trouble with FB and only engage now and then… I am amazed at how easily it can eat an hour of my time while I have gained no connection with anyone. WAIW? to just say thank you, to say I yearn for deep and meaningful conversations that have the potential to serve life; a sense embedded in a quote of yours that recently (blessedly) came into my life: “Every act of service to life aligns with a world that is more alive. No effort is wasted, even if we cannot see how it is going to make a difference.”
I so look forward to “A New and Ancient Story”.
KATHRYN BRANNAN says
I love this – and the WAIT acronym. Its a shame that Social Media can provide a forum for us to make a difference when we don;t feel heard, and have actually been helpful in getting momentum behind good causes. I am a spiritual seeker and desire to assist raising the consciousness of humanity and engage with other like minded souls on social media and appreciate the potential in accessing people to assist in education and transformation. HOWEVER it also, to me, can at times mean that individuals get very. caught up in their personal messaging and competitiveness and comparison. And that gets exhausting. I welcome this wonderful initiative..
Margaret Harriet Neal says
What excellent ideas expressed … and I hope to use your suggestions!
Often I find myself searching to find kindred spirits expressing my inner feelings of unity, love, empathy. There is so much hatred and evil in the world and those are the emotions I constantly hear on most newscasts and I am left with anxiety.
We must never lose “hope”. This country needs to unite and comfort all those hurting.
Chantal Bezuidenhout says
Hi Charles – from South Africa.
We have a FB group here that aims to have discussions around a Just SA. Most of the conversations are about racism and white privilege and – in the beginning – were sometimes extremely heated.
One of the policies of the moderators is that they never block people or delete comments or posts. There are a very few basic rules in place – I think! But the main means of moderating the group has been to mute people. Which is only done in extreme circumstances where people have been really vicious, rude and problematic. Generally the community ends up dealing with any issues that arise on their own.
The point of the muting is really to allow people to observe, listen and maybe contemplate the question or point of view.
I just thought I’d mention this to you. I can’t imagine that your discussion group will be as tumultuous…but I guess given our current global state of agitation, you can never be sure.
I agree with Chantal’s sentiment here. Having the ability to temporarily mute someone under extreme circumstances and repeated threats seems to be a measure of good mental hygiene, just as we might temporarily walk away from a conversation if it is too intense to be beneficial at that moment.
On a related note, I’m really getting the sense that the anger and frustration I/we experience is in response to a growing identity crisis, like the growing pains of inhabiting the story of separation and the story of interbeing at the same time, with the role of anger being to notify us when we are being threatened. I would love to flesh out how to traverse this ground as part of this community, as it seems to be a primary experience for myself and many others I see online.
Hollie Bernards says
kamir bouchareb st says
Marcus T Anthony says
This is a very helpful post. WAIT looks like a wonderful and simple tool for responsible engagement, and I love the idea of reverence. I will share this.
I personally have almost no trouble with FB, and I’m a bit surprised many people commenting here see it as a hostile or unfriendly environment. I just unfollow or unfriend anyone who abuses the platform with aggressive or ad hominem comments and posts, and rarely read more than a sentence or two of anything I see which is not cognitively or emotionally responsible. I never post anything ad hominem or aggressive, but I do reasonably often challenge people and ideas when I feel they are misguided or that there is an alternative angle or data set which the author hasn’t considered. I suspect the approach comes across as a bit blunt sometimes, but I rarely respond to aggressive responses to my own comments. I just place my attention elsewhere. This eliminates most “drama.”
By the way, I employ a process which is somewhat similar to WAIT, and it functions through the the dual concepts of embodied presence and cognitive responsibility. Embodied presence is essentially mindfulness, and cognitive responsibility involves the witnessing of thoughts and feelings as they emerge from the mind and body.
In practice, this means that whenever I enter an online forum I bring attention to what is moving though my body. Quite often there is fear, anxiety and a sense of threat when I open a web page where I sense (or expect) some hostility or atmosphere of conflict. I keep my attention on my body, my breath and my feelings, not on my thoughts, and not on what anyone else is saying. When I read something, I maintain that presence with my body and my feelings as they continue to emerge in response to what I am reading (or interpreting or projecting). When I feel anger and fear (usually from being “triggered”) I stop and become fully present with those feelings, and my body.
What this process does is it dissipates the illusion that it is the other person or the outside world that is “causing” me to feel or think stuff. Secondly it removes the tendency for the mind to believe that what it is about to say or write is going to return any sense of agency or control to “me.” That agency is always with me, and the belief that it isn’t is an illusion – a pretty persistent one, I might add.
Doug Macbeth says
Thank you Charles – This strongly reminds me of David Bohm’s call for Dialog. It is clearly a huge part of the solution, but so difficult in times of fear and anxiety when many derive their sense of identity from their judgments
Mary Beth says
Thank you Charles, I deactivated my FB account earlier today before reading this. Because I spend much of my time at home in a very small town and do not watch TV , FB became a way to stay in touch with people and the world. I also know it was through a window of algorithms and distortions. I see the benefit in not participating and also the cost. Maybe a connection to ,and expression for, the world is no longer necessary. IDK. It does feel like a loss but for now the fierceness of it is too much for my heart to bare. Thanks for all you do. You are a gift.
hi charles and team!! thank u so much for this sacred writing.
would it be ok to translate to spanish to share with my latin world ?
I would love be in on that .
this is what i shared elsewhere just now. . this is how i read it, maybe this in answer to your conversation with Dr Zach . . for me. .. this resulted from some one sharing a meme about the vaccines . . .
well, i see it like this, earth airs life, and had trees see green was best for needling heaven to earth
heaven being the air you breathe which puts a smile on your face
this said. ALL the remains in our exHale is met by the universe working its magic through the trees and indeed all of the plants . . .
like water, liquid light, in my book of life, lending itself to any give the universal conductor and carrier of consciousness.
so what ever ails us, give it to the trees. best the same ones for their ability to doctor us with every breath as they raise their energy to fix any which ails us.
This is why
Paul Stamets had mycelium tested . and they ancient trees all had active anti viral properties for pox, flu’ and all manner they recovered people work
we haven’t let the trees up date since they started cranking up the engines and stinking up the air.
then when super markets came in, no more back yard gardens and there went the symbiotic relationship of letting the plants doctor us along with the trees in the neighborhood
it is taking its toll. which is why nature broadsided our busyNess send us home to get grounded as in stay put
kamir bouchareb st says
W.A.I.T. Similar to, Will my words improve the silence?
“It is much easier for me to admit I was wrong, when I’m in an environment where no one is shamed for holding wrong beliefs.”
Sorry to burst your bubble, Charles, but you NEVER admit you are wrong, about ANYTHING. I’ve never once seen you acknowledge even the existence of the various negative critiques I’ve read of your work over the years. And even on the rare occasions you address these criticisms of your opinions (and that’s all they are, opinions, since you only rarely offer any actual evidence for your views), you invariably caricature the other person’s view and reply only to a straw man version of what they said. I cannot think of a single exception to this, and I’ve been reading you for years.
Needless to say, I disliked your last several pieces, including your awful Conspiracy Myth and Coronation essays, and I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of your books or essays until you drop the patronizing tone and New Agey delusions of grandeur that now infect everything you write. I find your Messiah Complex increasingly wearisome, and as somebody who is well versed in both world history and philosophy, I find that you make countless factual mistakes in your various writings that I’m no longer willing to overlook, especially since you never admit you’re wrong about anything or acknowledge your errors when they’re pointed out to you.
It’s a shame. You could have been an important voice, but you instead chose to bask in the fawning admiration of worshipful New Age acolytes who can be counted on to gush over every last thing you say, no matter how poorly argued, and to passive aggressively claim that “we can do better than this” when confronted with any criticism of your very real and numerous flaws as a writer, no matter how legitimate. Sad to see someone as smart as you choose the path of self-deception rather than admit the truth that your various detractors have made many valid points about the weaknesses and shortcomings of your work.
Thank-you for sharing this Mantra. I have been playing with the idea the last couple months of keeping my mouth shut more often because being a better listener and/or asking better questions has not gotten me as far as I would like in the opening of space for others in conversation. I have often felt I do not share equal space or attempt to in conversation enough because I tend to be a talker. The WAIT mantra gives me a deeper tool to play with in my quest to be a more loving human on this planet.
Stella said: “It feels like I’m walking away from a fight”
I believe that’s sometimes the wise route to take.
Thank you for an inspiring post.