Friday, 13 November 2009

Over at The Punch, the recently-launched opinion blogsite of News Ltd, there's a post by Robert Todd, "an Australian lawyer at Blake Dawson who (outside his engaging and challenging legal practice in media and IT disputes) is involved in the debate to improve press freedom in Australia".

It's about compassion and, specifically, a new initiative, Charter for Compassion, that seeks to inject a bit of loving-kindness into international debates. And, presumably, spur people everywhere to act in a more compassionate manner.

The blog post has so far attracted only two comments, one from Brian Giesen, who works at advertising outfit Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence.

The comment contains a link to a video the unit produced showing takes from interviews with various warm bodies. They're talking about compassion. Sometimes they mean empathy, which is different but related to its more warm-blooded confrere.

A number of the people interviewed are social media mavens and the unit, in any case, has as its raison-d'etre the development of online - specifically, social media - ties.

I didn't set out to test whether social media types are more compassionate or empathetic, but it happened that, as I took a lie-down this morning, a thought recurred which has been trying to imprint itself in my mind for a few weeks.

So I tweeted it.

I lie down in bed and my thoughts become moist with the spray of my dreams.

I guess it occurred to me that this sally might attract some censorious replies. I don't really remember. However, I wasn't surprised when I got two replies:

10:14am, Nov 13 from Tweetie ewwww ...

10:19am, Nov 13 from Web oooh, yuk!

I wasn't surprised, but I was disappointed. This isn't empathy, I thought to myself as I hung out the washing to dry on the line at the back of my building. This is something else. It's something I read about recently but ... no, I don't recall the place.

People may behave online, in social media, in a way that does not accurately reflect their normal, day-to-day personas. Because it is all about persona: those simulacra of ourselves that we project - in this case - into the twitterverse or whichever social media platform we prefer.

What is this manner? How can we characterise it? Is it cruel? Is it unkind? Is it flippant and unthinking? Is it a sort of teen bumptiousness? I recall a DM I got recently.

7:14am, Nov 09 Sometimes social media reminds me of high school. Have to have a thick skin. Post, no one responds, u wonder if you're wasting time.

Going back to the new CFC initiative, we read:

In our globalized world, everybody has become our neighbor, and the Golden Rule has become an urgent necessity.

The 'golden rule' being, of course, that you treat others as you would have them treat you. I wonder if my recent interlocutors had this principle in mind when they disparaged my earnest tweet.

CFC was established by Karen Armstrong, a religion writer I've posted about on numerous occasions on this blog. She's normally in the news because they've banned one of her books in some second- or third-world country. It's nice to see her in the news for a positive, rather than a negative, reason. Let's hope that the CFC, which wants to "change the conversation so that compassion becomes a key word in public and private discourse", can also encourage people to be more empathetic.

It's not enough to believe strongly. You've also got to honestly test your approach against a yardstick, like compassion or empathy, to see if you're not just adding to the problem.

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