Social media seems to have made us all into armchair experts on the things going on around us in the world. We see and hear something on TV, in the news, on Twitter or Facebook, and it gets repeated as fact, over and over again by strangers, family, friends. How many times do we see this happen, but we know better, and set out with the determination of a game hunter to correct them? It becomes the battle of will – who has the strongest message, the most compelling point. If only they would just listen!
We even think out our strategy: What is the best way to explain it in simple terms so they will understand without getting offended. If I could just get one person to understand, the world would be just a little bit better place!
How frustrating it is when they just don’t get it, even after you’ve wasted valuable time trying to enlighten them! I’m never doing that again! I’m just going to keep my mouth shut and let them make themselves look like idiots! Until the next time someone spews out something ridiculous and ignorant. And so the cycle begins.
Well, occasionally, that effort to be the font of wisdom and the source of all enlightenment backfires. Karma teaches us where the truth really lies, whether we want it or not. Or whether we are expecting it or not!
This lesson is a hard one, and incredibly humbling. Imagine, someone is clearly confused and misguided, and you see that little door open – those four little words: “I just don’t understand…” Never mind what comes next. It’s a clear cry for help. A desire from within to achieve better insight, and clearly you are up to the job, so you jump in. You understand exactly what it’s all about, so you fly in to the rescue by virtue of your wisdom for having thought it all out already and researched it.
You think hard, and plan your words carefully – that’s it! That’s exactly how I will say it, and she is sure to get it. You have a conversation and it goes very well. After having to explain three different ways, she finally understands where you are coming from, and it makes sense to her. She no longer has anything to complain about. She even thanks you. She has seen the light! And you have achieved your goal. One down and seven billion to go to make the world a better place!
Then someone else questions what you said. You try to explain again, but you just don’t feel like explaining it all over again, so you give the Cliff Notes version. They still aren’t buying it. They question you on something you’re sure you know the answer to, and a little voice inside you tells you to go back and double check your facts. You go back and find out that what you said hadn’t been accurate. You had misread or misinterpreted it. Your heart sinks. You realize that your Nobel prize-winning lecture just became yet another mindless Internet rant!
Dear Lord, now what do I do?! Do I go back and apologize? Oh, how humiliating. Do I just pretend that I never found out the error? Oh my, someone else might read it and think I’m an idiot. Do I go back and try to erase what I wrote on that post? No, it will make her look like she had been having a conversation with herself. What to do!
No matter how confident you are that you “know” the facts of a situation, sometimes it is better to count to ten. Or a hundred, if you have to. Or a thousand if wi-fi isn’t handy. Fact checking has become a valuable tool for people who live in the public eye. It will work for you, too!
Make sure you know what you are talking about before you open your mouth, even figuratively with a keyboard or a pen. Once the words are spoken/typed/read, it’s hard to take them back. And with the powerful dynamic of the “butterfly effect” (or maybe the flu), your words spread far and wide to become the “alternate facts” of people you never met, jeopardizing world peace, and triggering global famine.
We create with our words. Even before they are spoken. Choose your words carefully and make sure they are not causing more harm than good before you speak them. What would you rather be remembered for?