I often find myself alternately amazed and appalled at the behavior of some people on Twitter and other social networking sites. Amazed at the kind, caring, generous, selfless nature of some people. Appalled at the crass, rude, selfish, self-centered behavior of others. I have witnessed some of the most thoughtful, philanthropic, kind interactions between online strangers (who do not remain strangers for long). Unfortunately, sometimes it also appears that we have forgotten that there is a human being on the other end of that message we have just sent out into cyberspace. A human being with feelings, opinions, desires and rights.
In kindergarten we learn some very basic rules of behavior. They all revolved around courtesy, thoughtfulness and the “Golden Rule”. Along with learning letters (more on the ABC’s of Social Media in an upcoming post) numbers and animal names, our kindergarten teachers worked hard to teach us sharing and respect.
They read us stories and played games and occasionally scolded us about taking turns with the toys and crayons. Leaving gentle reminders in our forming minds about the importance of letting others have time. By encouraging us to “play nice”, they were working to instill the lessons of courtesy – that everyone, no matter how skilled or not, should get a turn kicking the ball. That by sharing time on the swings, we can make that shy little girl standing on the side of the playground smile.
They tried to instill in us a sense of propriety or at least as much of it as our 5 and 6 year old minds could handle. We sang songs and read books about what not to say and when not to say it. That occasionally we need to stop and think before we talk. To learn that little bit of internal censorship that translates into learning how to say something tactfully. As my kindergarten teachers put it, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.
They taught us about listening. How important it is to stop and really hear what someone else is saying before we respond. That we can’t talk all the time. We won’t ever do the exercise right or have the right answers unless we really listen to the questions or what is being said.
They worked hard to instill a love of learning and growing. Continuing the lessons that started with our parents and communities that life is about learning something new everyday. It is about constantly growing beyond what we feel are our best selves.
Our selfless kindergarten teachers also taught us the importance of a balance between work and play. Our days were interspersed with a mixture of work, play, eating and naps. The essentials that we as adults need to remember. Literal naps are not always possible, but sometimes we need to take virtual naps. We need to step away and refresh ourselves so we can bring value back to our online communities.
So what does taking turns, sharing, talking nice and listening have to do with Social Media? Everything! The key word is and (at least for me) will always be Social. Communities can not exist without some decorum and common courtesy. Or at least they shouldn’t. When we engage in Social Media we are forming relationships, we are building communities. The same rules that applied when we were learning about forming friendships, relationships, groups when we were in elementary school should still apply now. At what point did we begin to think it was acceptable to be rude, condescending, vulgar or just down right mean? Just because that person we are talking to, or worse about, is not in the same room, doesn’t mean that we should treat them any differently.
So let’s all take a moment. Think back to how kindergarten felt. Think about the lessons we learned there about courtesy, kindness, respect, listening, sharing and honesty. Let’s try to remember while we may not always agree, we can always be civil. Remember that our community is only as valuable as each person in it. Remember that it is not all about us, it is about the community and the relationships we build within it. Now, go back to those online communities and spread the word, that everything we need to know about succeeding in Social Media, we really did learn in kindergarten.