How To Cultivate Kindness on Social Media

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

“To belittle you have to be little.” Khalil Gibran

Twitter flame wars, Facebook ambushes and social media mobbing, can infuriate the most Zen-like among us. Kindness may seem like a cute, but wimpy and naive indulgence. Yet neuroscience research reveals great health benefits from the cultivation of kindness and compassion. With political polarization tearing apart families and communities, people are suffering from a deficit of kindness. It helps to fight back with some weapons of mass compassion.

Many of my clients report feeling less happy, more stressed and frustrated the more time they spend online. Recent studies show that social media stress can be hazardous to your health. Many have decided to stay off social media platforms completely. If you want to stay connected online, but feel happier, connect with kindness. Studies show that when we behave kindly toward others we lower our nervous system arousal and feel happier. It helps to begin with some kind actions for yourself.

When you cultivate kindness in yourself, you become the change you want to see. To connect with kind thoughts, feelings and attitudes it helps to pause, and take a moment to attend to your own needs. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself:

What am I feeling?

What do I need right in this moment?

How can I help myself feel better right now?

When you take the time to be kind to yourself, you open space inside for kindness toward others. It helps to look for opportunities to show kindness in everyday life, beginning with yourself, then those at home, and then those around you. You can feel happier just by thinking about ways to show kindness.

To cultivate kindness online, even after falling into a sea of Trolls, try these three techniques:

  1. Pivot to the positive: When someone blasts you with an insult over your opinion, shift to an expression of appreciation, a positive observation or an inspirational comment. There are several good examples from the teenage survivors of the Parkland, Florida shooting. When survivor Daniel Hogg was interviewed on CNN the reporter asked him how he felt about the internet hoax accusing him of being a paid crisis actor. He replied that the trolling helped increase his twitter following and that he was grateful for that.
  2. Focus on your goal: Identify what you want to accomplish with your online presence. Do you want to learn, connect, inform, promote, persuade? If your goal is to persuade someone, kindness proves a more powerful long term connector than does cruelty. Before you tweet ask yourself, “how does what I want to say relate to my overall goal for social media?” Will this comment help you attract the followers you want? Does the comment contribute to the culture you want to cultivate?
  3. Lead the conversation: Just because a troll baits you with hostile comments doesn’t mean you need to take the hook and respond. Instead change the subject, redirect the discussion, start a new line of inquiry or share something that you find uplifting or interesting. Say something kind, empathetic, caring, or supportive. Shift the tone and watch what happens.

We can cultivate kindness, friendliness, a generosity of spirit,  even when the world appears unbearably cruel. It helps to practice a daily requirement of kindness for yourself and others.

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” Lao Tzu

Photo courtesy of Serra Boten