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Is who you are online really who are?

Is an outburst of emotion really that bad?

I recently saw something on a youth educator’s page which got me a little cross to say the least. It was a quote saying that we are the same person online as we are offline. Then stating that if we are mean on-line we are just mean. It really hit me, especially because the indication is that it was aimed at young people and the implication being that if I have been mean once on line then I am mean.

woman holding mirror and looking backwards AS I WRITE SO I AM?

It also hit me at the same time I was getting a telling off on Instagram because I had posted something about public flogging and death, as it related to the follow/unfollow brigade. I had forgotten to put the smiley face on so I can see people might have taken it that way. I was told it was hateful and unnecessary, which maybe it was but did it make me all these things too because I had just written them? According to the quote someone had shared I wasn’t a different person on or offline.


It had me pondering what was really going on and I came to one conclusion at the end of the day; we are all just humans. We get annoyed, we say mean things, we think means things, we sometimes miss the lol off the end of our sentences, sometimes we are hurting and hurt back, sometimes we feel ill, sometimes we have hangovers, sometimes we are jealous. We are human and have every human emotion possible we are a mix of them all, all the time. Sometimes we keep them in, sometimes we forget to censor ourselves and sometimes we just let loose because we want to. Does that mean that because we have a lapse at that moment we are that thing all the time? Of course, it doesn’t.


Now imagine you are a young person who sees that statement I mentioned above, a young person who isn’t sure who they are, who can’t censor so well, feels jealous, confused misunderstood, who said a mean thing today online so therefore they must be mean. I mean, how hurtful would that be?


I think if anything, social media seems the nicer version of us and with all this talk of authenticity it appears then when we do show who we are and how we feel at that moment, we get chastised for it. So we are allowed to be authentic as long as we don’t upset people and it’s nice. But nice has never really felt good to me; I’m rebellious by nature, controversial in my statements, and contradictory in nature. I worked at Disney world and the police and I have both sides in me. Will you only accept me when I show up as the Disney version?


Now, my public flogging and death post was a little in your face, even for me, but surely people didn’t take it literally, but they did! So what is this about, is it that we are not allowed to ever stray off the beaten track and have a bad day where things annoy us, do we always have to show up as a happy, nice person or do people just feel the need to curtail us all the time, or better still do people just choose to be offended by the literal interpretation of a somewhat bad placed joke?


So the authentic message that came streaming out the mouths of millennials is only OK if it is censored, doesn’t upset anyone, and is a watered-down, tow-the-line kind of message. Why are we so scared of anger, why are we so scared of mean, why are we so scared to see every side of human emotion? And if there is anything social media is to blame for it’s not that it makes people mean but it tends to sanitize the human experience and make us feel wrong for saying how we feel in a moment, even if it is only temporary. I had always embraced my angry moments as they have always taught me something, I find anger a greatly powerful fire starter for change, I never thought about caging it or repressing it because I think every emotion needs an outlet. If we make people feel bad for their anger if we demand it to be regretted every time, aren’t we also repressing passion, true feelings, and self-expression?


And as for the person who called me out on my public flogging moment; thank you – you made me think twice and I realised that mostly it was perhaps unprofessional and that clearly missing the crying/laughing face in this instance was the difference between a badly placed joke and dubious behaviour.

And to all those young people that may be mean online for whatever reason, please maybe think before you post if you can, but please know what you do online or off out of anger and hurt doesn’t necessarily mean you will be like that forever.


And for anyone thinking it, no I don’t think people should be mean but I also understand that being mean to another stems for so many places and is complicated. I also don’t underestimate how damaging it is for someone who is on the receiving end of such meanness. However trained in restorative justice, I am also a believer that when something happens everyone is caused harm and we as a community need to fix if for everyone.

We are mean, angry, and mad, annoyed because of a reason and rather than condemning that anger perhaps we should all look at how we band together and make it better for all concerned. Even my little outburst stemmed from a frustration about the unauthentic business practices of some people, which left me feeling cold.

So here I am, warts and all, asking whether you will you accept when I show up as the police officer, angry, perhaps feeling a little violent, fighting for justice, even if I don’t put it so eloquently all the time, or will you only accept the happy Disney version?

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