By: Jacqui Mackway-Wilson

This is a thought that flashed across my mind quite unexpectedly sometime last week while scrolling quickly through my Facebook News Feed. It sprang to mind when a friend’s post on vaccination caught my eye.  This is not the time or place for me to elaborate on my personal story and stance on vaccines – I’ll save that for my personal blog.  What was, however, instantly glaringly apparent to me was this:  wherever people gather en masse, there you will find opposing opinions, polarizations of ideas and experiences.  Social media has not facilitated this, it has merely highlighted it.

We tend to congregate around ideas and find ourselves drawn to those whose opinions and/or perspectives mirror or are at least in some way, congruent with our own.

Glance across social networks and the evidence of “two camps” existing for almost any given debateable topic abounds – whether the vaccine debate, religious beliefs, political affiliations, sexual orientation right down to opposing schools of thought on parenting styles or fashion sense.

While our differences ensure there’s never a dull moment, they create the illusion of separation. In reality, we have more in common that we sometimes care to admit because no matter where you stand personally on any given topic, one thing remains:   you have a story.

It’s your story. Unique to you. But what we have in common is that we each have one.  And every day that we live, our story is unfolding, it is becoming. For those who use social media regularly, your story is literally being written on a daily basis across Twitter streams, Facebook walls, Instagram feeds and YouTube playlists.

Be considerate of that. Pause and let it sink in before you ‘advocate or berate’ someone’s post.  It’s easy to criticise; easy to pass snap judgement when you don’t know someone’s story.  For the purpose of context, I’ll return briefly to the vaccine debate. My friend  was openly berating the ‘anti-vaxxer movement’ and decrying how it is reducing our ‘herd immunity’. This stung me deeply. Not because I consider myself part of that movement, on the contrary, I neither advocate vaccines nor do I discourage parents from electing to get their kids the jabs. As someone with a brain-damaged sister following a vaccine injury and a young son who also suffered a neurologic vaccine injury, I simply encourage others to make informed decisions with regards to vaccinations. It’s all good and well to berate someone or something when you’ve only walked on one side of the fence. It’s different when it’s your story.

You are a publisher.

Think before you tweet or post that Facebook status update. This is advice that we’ve heard so many times before, it’s become stale. We often see the disclaimer on Twitter bios: “Retweets are not endorsements”.   I hate to break it to you, but you retweet, like and share online is a reflection of YOU.

You are what you share online.

It’s part of your story and tells the rest of the world what you are all about.  From a personal branding point of view, this is not something to be ignored.

What message are you sending?

Before you cling to your all-important opinions and jump hastily on the advocate or berate band-wagon, consider our common ground. Consider human compassion.  We spend so much time behind keyboards and screens, absorbed in the world of text and two-dimensional images where the subtle nuances of body language and tone of voice get lost.

Let us not forget that sometimes what we (and what others) share may come across in a way that was perhaps not intended. There is so much room online for ambiguity! Let’s also not forget that like us, everyone else has a story – many chapters of which we couldn’t begin to know.  Let’s act with compassion.  What the world (and our country) needs now, more than ever, is love, sweet love.

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