Earlier this week, the video of a prominent lawyer undressing on a busy street in Nairobi circulated widely on social media. It would later emerge that the lawyer has been suffering from a mental health condition. The speed with which the video circulated was shocking. However, it was not new. Social media has eroded basic values like empathy. Maybe it’s time we learnt how to practice empathy on social media.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings. How do you practice sympathy for strangers on social media?
Know when to avoid a topic
While there is a thrill that comes with being the first person to start a conversation, not everything is meant for social media. Subjects that you are extremely passionate about are best kept off social media.
Try walking in someone’s shoes
This may sound like a cliche but it is still relevant and true. Before you troll someone because they added weight, or you make fun of someone going through a hard situation, imagine you were in their position. Would you want your image to be the subject of ridicule? Would you want to be a laughingstock for strangers? I guess not.
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Stand up for others
The amazing thing about social media is that no one forces you to do anything. You are responsible for your actions. You can choose to join the bandwagon circulating videos of people in their most vulnerable state or you can choose to stand up for the voiceless and call out trolls.
Interact and talk to people
Interacting with other people broadens your thinking and exposes you to different ways of life. Interaction can happen both online and offline. Try to engage with people that are outside your normal. For instance, you can strike conversations with people from a different race or nationality or a group that may be marginalized in society. This way you will not criticise people out of ignorance and you will not fall into the pitfall or stereotypes.
Accept that you are not perfect
One of the arguments that people use to justify their lack of empathy is that the truth should not be filtered. While it’s okay to speak the truth, some truth may be hurtful to the other person.
Moreover, there is a way you can speak the truth without hurting people’s feelings. Learn how to recognize anything hurtful from your posts and question everything before putting it on social media. Accept that you are not perfect and work towards becoming a better person.
Take time before responding
If you see something that upsets you on social media, do not respond immediately give yourself time to cool down and respond when you have considered the weight of your words and the impact it will have on others.
You do not know everything
Before making a comment, remember that social media gives only a fraction of people’s lives. Rarely do we get the full details of what people are struggling with, why they behave they do, and why they look like they do. Therefore, avoid commenting negatively on people you know nothing about.