There were a number of reasons why I came away from social media earlier this year.
In part, filling my mind with the relentless sadness and struggles of the world had started to feel overwhelming. It didn’t matter if it was one person’s loss or a planet in crisis, it was hard to see how I could help. However, even more than this, was being a witness to a timeline where pettiness and bullying sat ignorantly, arrogantly and all too noisily with grief and empathy.
When something savagely awful happens, like Sarah’s murder, timelines mark our sadness and horror, but then respectful and reflective commentary is all too often drowned out by those who wish to shout their own agenda or spike kindness with something noxious and dark.
I resented, and still do resent, the uninvited intrusion into my mind and I ache even more for the pain it must cause those who are vulnerable and more directly involved. While it is easy to shut one’s phone or computer, once seen it is so much harder to remove the bleak unkindness which corrodes goodness and blurs decency. I decided to walk away for a while, defeated and sad.
Now, however, I have tentatively stepped back, not because it is better, but because pretending it isn’t there is not the answer either.
As I post again, three things are guiding my thoughts.
The first is to use my voice and not to be silenced by the noise others may make. I don’t mean by this that I am some paragon of virtue or that I must be heard; I just mean that I want to support, encourage and care for the people and concerns that are important to me. My silence would not help them, which isn’t fair to them or to me.
The second is a realisation that has come to me late in life, that I do not have to change the world and be disappointed when I fail. I can however influence a few individuals to find their voice, trust their talent and to explore their potential. I no longer seek to be the voice of anything, or to have a big unifying idea, or to say anything original ever again. But I do want to reiterate that kindness, and the opportunity to be kind, are available to all of us, even in the smallest of moments. Twitter and Linked-in are not for me a platform to grandstand, but a space to support, to listen, to offer a little hope and to help where I can. If I stopped using these platforms completely, I would deny myself an outlet for kindness, thoughtfulness and to show that I care.
The third is to be a counterpoint to the hate and the poison. There is an apocryphal story you may know well of a little girl who walked along a beach with her dad after a storm. Thousands of little starfish had been washed up by the storm and were now stranded. The little girl painstakingly collected one at a time and returned them to the water’s edge. After a while her father said that she could not save them all and it was time to go home; but the little girl said in reply, “we don’t have to save all the starfish, but we can save one more”. If there is a seemingly endless capacity for some to hate, let there also be our own limitless capacity to share, care, love and support.
I suspect we should all take a break from social media from time to time, and I know I will need another break one day. Together, however, we can make kindness a relay of caring thoughts carried with love and then passed on. Leadership, in social media terms, is not the strident view, but about letting others be heard whose voices are soft and hesitant. In these ways we can at least hope to muffle the sound of hate and self-regard.
Sarah may you rest in peace, and may your family and friends find some small solace in the kindness of strangers who do care.