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Social media and conflict: Eradicating online drama through compassion and peacemaking

4.17. 2017 Written By: Claire Clay 608 Times read

Claire Clay is a junior public relations major from Van Wert, Ohio. She is studying at Bluffton (Ohio) University where she works in the public relations office on campus. Clay’s speech topic came from her work at Bluffton in conjunction with her internship under the director of communications in Congressman Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) office during the fall of 2016. This text comes from a speech delivered as part of the C. Henry Smith oratorical contest at Bluffton (Ohio) University. Clay won first place. 

I begin with a recent news story published in a Pennsylvania newspaper. The U.S. Supreme Court is ruling on a 31-year-old man who may have been wrongfully imprisoned for hitting his girlfriend’s mother with a pot. Why did he hit her with a pot? Because of what was said on Facebook.

This story is an example of how posts on Facebook can lead to physical violence. Facebook provided an avenue for Anthony Elonis to post inappropriate thoughts he probably wouldn’t have said otherwise. But physical violence isn’t the only outcome of negative social media posts.

Do you ever log off a social media site feeling disrespected, dehumanized or dismissed? Even if physical violence isn’t a direct outcome, these feelings are still unacceptable for a site that wasn’t meant for relational harm.

Have any of you seen a Facebook status like this? “If you voted for Donald Trump, you can unfriend me.” What’s up with that? Someone just stereotyped someone else based on who they voted for! This is a common fuse for negative conflict and it was made possible by social media.

We use “social media” a lot, but what is it? Social media is a form of communication where users create online communities to share information, ideas and personal messages. In other words, in order for social media to work well, it has to encourage us to promote ourselves because it’s in our human nature to do so.

This isn’t surprising. The Bible talked about it in James 3: 5-6. This passage comes from the New International Version. The writer says,

“Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

If used improperly, social media can create negative conflict and undermine respect, but through understanding of the Drama Triangle and the use of the Compassion Triangle, social media can also serve as an avenue for compassion and peacemaking.

First, I’d like to touch on some of the hurtful downsides of social media through discussion of the Drama Triangle. This model is based on the social comparisons theory, which basically says conflict is harmful because it’s a way we compare ourselves to others. For example, if you log onto Facebook to look at the adorable pictures your friend just posted, you might end up comparing yourself to that friend.

Ken Blanchard, chief spiritual officer at The Ken Blanchard Companies, says conflict is a necessary part of human existence, and it’s either negative or positive. Emotional, mental and physical breakdowns on social media are a result of negative conflict. This is the same as struggling against, or the process of opposition and destruction. Positive conflict energy is spent struggling with, or the process of mutuality and creation.

According to Dr. Nate Regier, the author of Conflict without Casualties, drama is the result of mismanaging the energy of conflict. He says, “Drama is what happens when people struggle against themselves or each other to feel justified about their negative behavior.” Dr. Stephen Karpman analyzed many situations and created the Drama Triangle from the results.

The Drama Triangle is a symbol of negative roles which play off each other and perpetuate unhealthy behavior. The first role in the Triangle is the Persecutor, the person who believes he or she is okay but others in the situation are not. The Rescuer thinks he or she is okay and more people would be okay if they listened to his or her advice. Finally, the Victim is someone who over-adapts, surrenders and accepts blame. The Victim believes others are okay and he or she is not.

Each of these roles takes part in the creation of drama, but what’s important is how society can transform drama into a peaceful online community by practicing compassion.

Again we return to the book of James, chapter 3, verses 13-16. This passage depicts the type of “wisdom” many Persecutors and Rescuers claim to have and proudly boast on social media networks. It reads:

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 1or where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

To put this into an understandable context, think about the current situation in the United States. For the past two years, social media users of both the left and right political wings have become more vocal and hostile.

Picture this: You just logged onto Facebook. As you scroll through your newsfeed, you see a friend’s post about the Syrian refugee crisis. You aren’t close with this person, but you are interested in what she has to say. You read her original post and are internally conflicted. Her viewpoint doesn’t align with yours and you feel you should share your opinion with her. This is where it begins.

The cognitive dissonance theory explains how people become uncomfortable when their beliefs are challenged. When reading your friend’s post, you experienced that discomfort.

Returning to the thread, you notice there are several comments already. The first couple are in support of the original post’s position, but farther down, you see some opposing opinions popping up. Those give you the confidence to share your opinion with the rest of the world.

Later, you return to the post to see what new comments have appeared. They are flowing steadily, all in opposition to your view and in favor of the author’s. You also notice many of those people have replied to your comment, posting hurtful and distasteful comments directed mostly towards you and not your opinion.

Your aunt shows up late to the party, sees the thread, puts on her invisible cape and gets to work investigating those insulting and harassing you. Maybe she even insults or harasses them in return. She’s just become an online vigilante.

These people are not heroes, despite what they think. They don’t serve “justice” but rather rekindle the Facebook fire already snuffed. This kind of scenario is repeated again and again online with harm that ranges from hurt feelings to actual physical violence.

How can we challenge these harmful social media habits? By breaking out of the Drama Triangle and diving into the Compassion Triangle. The Compassion Triangle was created by Nate Regier and was based off of the The Drama Triangle model created by Stephen Karpman.

Although the Compassion Triangle is based off research, I find that James 3:17-18 sums up the basic principles the best. These verses say:

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

According to Regier, compassion can be defined as “balancing caring, empathy and transparency with boundaries, goals and standards.” These terms are similar to those I just mentioned: peace-loving, considerate, full of mercy and so on.

Compassion doesn’t mean you condone what a person says but rather that you accept them in spite of it.

The Compassion Triangle is the answer to the Drama Triangle and can be completed through the use of openness, resourcefulness and persistence.

Openness means being willing to listen to others’ experiences without judgment. Being empathetic, validating their feelings and disclosing your own experiences can prove your openness to another person. Start your post with “I can see why” or “I wonder about” to show you’re open to the ideas of others.

Resourcefulness means going outside your comfort zone to gather ideas and options. For example, look at different perspectives before you post. If you are a conservative, you could read from The Huffington Post. If you’re a liberal, you could read from The National Review. If you can’t handle the wide left or wide right, check out some publications known for staying in the middle of the aisle. These could be the BBC World News, NPR or even your local regional newspaper.

Persistence reminds others about your commitments or goals as well as apologizes for your inappropriate behavior. To show other users what you stand for in a respectful way, start your comments or posts with, “Well, I’m a conservative, so I see this…” or “I am a social worker, so I feel this…” Announcing where you’re coming from allows other users to gain a better perspective of the situation before reading your content.

In addition, acknowledging that you might have overstepped is an important part of persistence. For example, say, “I see where this was hurtful. I’m sorry.”

These three elements of compassion are the key to promoting peace in a non-peaceful setting.

I’m going to add an additional element when encountering a situation of conflict—respect. As one pillar of Bluffton’s four enduring values, respect serves as an essential part of how members of Bluffton’s community conduct themselves. Bluffton’s Community of Respect Statement reads,

“Bluffton strives to be a community of respect where everyone is held in mutual high regard. Our belief that every human being is created in the image of God demands that we recognize in each human being that divine spark, and that all of us welcome and celebrate the diversity in which we have been created as children of God.”

I urge you to step back and analyze your own words and actions before you judge the words and actions of others. Acknowledge that you might play a role in The Drama Triangle and do your best to counter it. Finally, strive to find compassion for other and respect for all as compassion and respect lead you down the path to peace.

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