A science fiction writer in the 1950’s may have envisioned a future time when all people would be given a magical crystal ball through which the sum total of all knowledge and wisdom could be accessed. Such technology might have seemed fanciful to people using index cards and the Dewey decimal system to look up facts in dusty tomes of encyclopedias. Practically magic when slide-rules and compasses were still being used for rudimentary math.
The internet affords us countless opportunities to grow and learn and teach and experience things our ancestors could only imagine. Like any tool, learning how to use it correctly is paramount for a successful experience. As functional as a screwdriver is, it doesn’t help much when trying to drive a nail into a piece of wood.
Breaking Down Barriers
One of the most powerful effects of the internet is that it allows us to communicate with people from different cultures, religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities all over the world. The diversity of perspective and experience enriches us all in the great wide human family.
Historically, geographical and language barriers prevented us from interacting with nearly everyone out there. Consequently, we humans have developed an instinctive wariness towards outsiders. This wariness towards people we don’t understand can lead to demonizing and mistrusting them, and in some cases even lead to active dislike and even hatred.
So, what is the best remedy to combat this instinct? Actual experience and interaction.
When I lived in Argentina for two years as a missionary, I was able to see first-hand this process in effect. We would say hello to someone who had never met an American before, and their wariness was immediately evident. But, as we talked and they got to know us, the assumptions and rumors they had heard were replaced with actual experience and interaction, and they came to understand that the things we have in common far outweighed our differences.
This simple contact had a secondary ripple effect throughout the community. Weeks later a group of neighbors would be talking about the Americans, and what they had been told they were like, only to have someone pipe up and say, “Oh, I actually talked to them, and this is how they really are.”
Thus, we see the immediate and positive effect that can occur when people interact with those outside their normal circles. But this must be done with care, for just as positive communication can break down barriers, negative communication can erect them.
Guidelines for Online Interactions
Here are some simple yet effective guidelines when interacting with people online that you have never met in real life.
- Keep it Civil. Even when people disagree, they can do so with respect and kindness. It is not necessary or even rational to consider everyone who disagrees with you as an enemy. When we share our own perspectives without trying to argue or debate, both sides come to a greater awareness about the world and about one another. Even if we never come to agreement, we can still be good neighbors by at least understanding each other. Make it your goal to comprehend, not to win or score points. When we treat differences in opinion as a competition to be won, we prevent genuine communication from occurring. Here’s a good litmus test: If you can accurately argue their position for them, even if you do not agree with it, then you truly have listened to them and understand them.
- Don’t isolate yourself from other points of view. It is quite common and sometimes even considered fashionable for some people to place themselves in a bubble where only the words they agree with are spoken. You may have seen such sentiments on social media, such as declarations that “anyone who thinks this way should unfriend me immediately” or another variation of that command. This is dangerous for two reasons: First, by limiting our exposure to other perspectives and experiences, we limit our ability to learn and grow, and we inflate the instinctive wariness discussed earlier by mentally labeling everyone outside of our bubble as “the enemy.” Second, civil discourse is the foundation for solving the real and pressing problems and issues of our day. If one or both sides refuse to engage in any kind of dialogue, then compromises cannot be proposed, solutions cannot be found, and consensus cannot be reached. Once we remove civil discourse as a tool for solving problems, the problems only grow and fester, even spilling over into physical violence at times.
Learn Something New
We humans naturally love to learn, and this is where the internet offers us up some amazing opportunities. Did you know that you can audit all of the classes from Ivy League schools online for free? You won’t get a degree of course, but you’ll get the most valuable part—the education. Skills are also available. Do you want to learn how to knit? There are YouTube Channels which will teach you step-by-step from start to finish. Do you want to learn how to fix your dryer? There are hundreds of videos that you can follow along. Not everyone can afford to go to an expensive art school, but you can get the next best thing for free online. Almost any skill you can think of is within reach, just think of all the things you currently don’t know how to do, pick one, learn it, and then cross it off the list. After a year of acquiring new skills, think of how much more capable you will be, how much more you’ll have to offer, and how much more you’ll be able to accomplish!
The Secret to Self-Esteem
Much has been said about the importance of feeling good about yourself, but most advice about how to improve your self-esteem misses the core issue. We humans are creators, that’s what we are, that’s what we do. We create families, we create cities, we invent things, we build things, we forge things. When we are creating, we are fully expressing what it means to be humans. And, while consuming the things that other people have created can be fun and enjoyable, that will never be as fulfilling and satisfying as creating something yourself.
Write a song on an ocarina, paint a painting on the back of a postage stamp, carve a statue from piece of driftwood, build a fairy garden in your backyard. If you don’t know how to do those things, learn how and then do them. It doesn’t matter if they are perfect, or the best, or even good. What matters is that they will be your creations, in a profound and meaningful way.
I am a blacksmith. It is one of my hobbies, and I can tell you, there is nothing more satisfying than taking earth and fire and forging them into something useful. It’s so primally beautiful. Sure, I could buy a knife from a store, and quite honestly, it will probably be better than the one I made myself. But the knife from a store is made in a factory, and identical to countless other knives. This one though, this one right here that I made, it is unique, a one-of-a-kind. It belongs to me. I crafted it myself. I have added to the substance of the world. I have created evidence that I existed. I have effected change.
One reason so many people have low self-esteem is because they never learn to create. I urge you, gentle reader who has made it this far, go out there and learn a new skill. Learn a language, learn how to sew, learn how to make your own ragdoll. Learn how to make an ice sculpture, learn how to cook a dish you have never made before. Create something, and share it with others.
You have a magical crystal ball in your hands with which you can summon the collective knowledge and experience of the entire human race!